Sunday, May 16, 2004

BBC - Paris wakes up to English radio

Frankly, I'm shocked that there weren't any English-language stations available in Paris before now; that must really have taken some doing on the part of the French government. What's even stranger about this is that it's easy enough to hear French, German and even Dutch radio stations from the heart of London - though whether these stations are actually being broadcast from London is another matter. Anyway, how are the Parisiennes receiving this new broadcasting facility?

Parisians woke up to a new sound this week - Paris Live Radio, the city's first commercial English-language radio.

The French capital already has a vibrant radio spectrum, offering everything from Jewish radio to Serbian and Arabic stations, but until now nobody had thought about the needs of its 400,000 English-speaking expatriates.

But what do the French themselves make of it? Is this yet another example of the creeping Anglo-Saxon challenge to the French language, French music and French culture?

On the Champs Elysee, Parisians of all ages seemed surprisingly keen on the idea.

"It's necessary in Paris, because French people don't speak very well English," says one smartly-dressed French businesswoman. She says she may well listen in to improve her own English.

"Personally, I prefer English to French music," admits one Parisian in his mid-thirties.

"I am in favour of a strong Europe, and more cultural exchanges between different countries so having an English-language station here is great news."

New music

One French teenager also seems enthusiastic, though for rather less exalted reasons.

"It could bring more English girls to France, " he says with a hopeful look. "And that will make Paris a more cosmopolitan place."


Founded by an Australian barrister, Renzie Duncan, it's aimed mainly at expatriates, and the millions of tourists who visit each year.

Fans of English-language music, though, may be disappointed. By law, radio broadcasters in France have to play a minimum of 40% of their music in French - a law passed to protect French pop from being swamped by Anglo-Saxon imports.

Paris Live says up to half its music will be in French - including show-casing young up and coming French bands. The station's staff are just as international as its potential audience - with presenters from Britain, Australia, France, Japan, and Ireland.

Judging by Parisians' enthusiastic response to the idea, Paris Live could prove a surprise hit in this usually rather conservative city.

One can't help laughing at the explanation offered by the quoted teenager about his enthusiasm for the new radio station: "more cosmopolitan" indeed! There's nothing quite like the prospect of sex, especially with "exotic" (and therefore presumably "easy") partners, to render a new development favorable in a young man's mind.

One thing that does irritate me about this article, and which I think illustrates perfectly the dirigiste cast of mind that is par for the course with BBC reporters, is the fact that Caroline Wyatt, the author of the article, sees fit to mention that Paris Live could prove to be a "surprise hit", when in truth there's nothing really surprising about it: if the French authorities weren't aware of their own countrymen's strong preference for Anglo-Saxon programming, why would a 40 percent native music quota be necessary to begin with? Linguistic and cultural protectionism are the marks of weak cultures, rather than vibrant and confident ones. You won't see Japanese politicians legislating how much gaijin programming should be allowed on their airwaves.