Different local radio models in France

In addition to ensuring that broadcasting is guided by principles of respect for human rights and the maintenance of public order, France’s broadcast regulator (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel – CSA) is charged with ensuring that the broadcasting system meets obligations regarding plurality of information, the defence and promotion of the French language and culture, and contributions to the development of local and national content.

In addition to public radio, there are five categories of private radio in France:

  • Category A: Non-commercial local, community, cultural or student services;
  • Category B: Commercial Local/Regional services that do not broadcast national programming;
  • Category C: Commercial Local/Regional services that also broadcast national programming;
  • Category D: Commercial National services that broadcast specialist programming; and
  • Category E: Commercial National services that broadcast general programming.

This categorization aims to guarantee the diversity and balance of radio in each region and guides the work of the CSA, which also has a mission to guarantee that truly local/regional stations are available. The steps involved in the licensing process are as follows:

  • Every five years the CSA publishes a list of areas and categories of licences available and invites applications;
  • Applications are considered by Comités Techniques Radiophoniques (Broadcast Technical Committees) in a regional pre-selection process; and
  • The CSA examines the applications in detail and awards licences for a maximum of five years. These licences may be renewed for two additional five year periods.

Radio fund
The Fonds de Soutien à l’Expression Radiophonique (Radio Expression Support Fund - FSER) is a unique aspect of French broadcast policy. The fund, which is made up of a special tax levied on radio and television advertising expenditures and paid by advertisers, is used to support the activities of Category A local non-commercial radio.

Established in the mid-1990s, qualified stations can receive between USD 5,000 and USD 150,000 annually. The actual amount received depends upon a number of criteria, including the previous year’s budget, the amount of funds secured from other sources (stations that receive local funds can receive more from the FSER), the quality of their programming, and the purpose of the funds (new radio stations can receive more to help defray the cost of their installations). In return for accessing the funds, the stations must agree to limit advertising revenue to no more than 20 per cent of their total annual turnover. They must also broadcast at least four hours of local programming daily between 06:00 and 22:00.

In 2004 the fund distributed approximately EUR 21 million, including the following allocations:

  • 14 new radio stations received an average of 15,228 to help pay for their installations for a total of EUR 213,200;
  • 584 stations received an average of 40,496 to subsidize their operational costs for a total of EUR 23.65 million; and
  • 76 stations received an average of EUR 5,722 to subsidize equipment purchases for a total of 434,870 euros.

By aiming to ensure all citizens have access to various categories of radio, France has, in only 20 years, converted a state monopoly into an extremely dynamic and pluralist broadcast system with well over 1,000 stations.

Additionally, the FSER assures the financial sustainability of almost 600 local non-commercial radio stations so that all citizens, including those in rural areas, have access to diverse local informational and cultural content.

There have been some less beneficial effects. For example, some stations have become wholly dependent on the subsidies received from the FSER and eventually lost their innovative nature and distinctive local character. Also, while they must broadcast a minimum of four hours daily of local content, the quality can vary dramatically.

Source: Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel – CSA http://www.csa.fr/infos/operateurs/operateurs_radio_privees.php 

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