Richard Barbrook, Media Freedom. The Contradictions of Communications in the Age of Modernity, London and Boulder Co.: Pluto Press, 1995, 218 pp. ISBN 0-7453-0943-7 and Jean-Pierre Chamoux, Droit de la communication, Paris: PUF, Collection Que Sais-Je ?, 1994, 127 pp. ISBN 2-13-046486-6.


Hugh Dauncey


The title of Richard Barbrook's stimulating contribution to the study

of contemporary communications is perhaps somewhat misleading.

Rather than being a general theoretical survey, the book is in fact a

detailed study of the history of the French media, concentrating on

the issues of individual freedom which are contained within the

transition of the French media system from   its original stress on

'popular participation' to its current domination by 'corporate

centralisation' and regulation.   In contrast, the little Que Sais-Je ?

text from Jean-Pierre Chamoux on media law has the more modest

ambition to present in succinct and summary form the main legal

features of press, audiovisual, telecommunications and advertising

communication in France.   In a different way, Chamoux

nevertheless covers much of the issues discussed by Barbrook, thus

as different as they may appear on first sight, it is perhaps

instructive to consider these two contributions to the study of the

media in France together.

Barbrook's study proceeds chronologically through the

consideration of a series of 'models of media freedom', commencing

with the model applicable to France in the Revolutionary period and

culminating with that obtaining in the late-1980s and early-1990s

under the Socialist government of Michel Rocard.   In all, there are

eight models of media freedom representing different (theoretical

or actual) balances of power and freedom between the state and

individuals, and different mixes of individuals, communities,

institutions and organisations in the communications/media system.

Thus the first model Barbrook considers is 'ahistorical and abstract',

interpreted from the principles of individual natural rights

expressed in the Revolutionary Declarations of 1789 and 1793 and

from the framework of legal requirements for the private

ownership of printing presses contained in the Press Law of 1881.

This model, in which individuals are considered as 'Bourgeois and

Citizens' is called 'Girondin', in opposition to the 'Jacobin' model in

which individuals are 'Citizens of the Nation-People'.   Like the

Girondin model, the Jacobin model is 'ahistorical and abstract'

(although Barbrook asserts that certain aspects of it may have

briefly obtained during periods of the Revolution), and together,

these two models provide the initial conceptual framework (of the

relationship between the individual and the state) for Media

Freedom's analysis of the evolution of the French media during the

19th and 20th centuries.

All eight of the models are in fact described as ahistorical and

abstract, which is in a sense rather confusing, since most seem to

derive relatively concretely from the discussion of particular

periods and phenomena in French media which Media Freedom

provides.     Thus the final model refers explicitly to the approach to

the media engineered by the Rocard government (1988-91), which

is identified as 'regulation'; the model characteristic of the media

politics preceding this period is that of 'neo-liberalism', which

applies to the media policies of the Pompidou and Giscardian

administrations; the 'Self-Management model' derived from the

theories of the Situationist International was exemplified in practice

briefly during the period of the 'radios libres'; the 'Gaullist model'

describes the domination of the audiovisual sector of the media by

de Gaulle himself, and before the decentralization of the ORTF by

Giscard d'Estaing; the 'Public Service model' represents Popular

Front, Resistance coalition and Fourth Republic approaches to media

freedom; the 'Totalitarian model', also and finally drives from not

only Nazi and Soviet state control of the media, but also from the

practices of the Vichy government in occupied France.   It rather

seems that only the Girondin and Jacobin models should really be

termed 'abstract and ahistorical', in that they embody two timeless

opposing tendencies in society and politics, admittedly neatly

formulated in the conflict between two groups during the French

Revolution, namely that of natural rights and common consensus in

a society of atomised individuals and that of political rights and a

consensus based on a Nation-People.

The common thread running through the analyses of different

periods of the French media is of course the issue of the individual's

right to a combination of participation and democracy within the

media.   The question is, for each period and model of media

politics, how far does the media system enable the 'media freedom'

of all-way communication between individuals and between

citizens and the state.   And as Barbrook rightly points out in

considering the French television coverage of the 1989 Bicentenary

celebrations, a definition of media freedom which assumes the

passive consumption of the opinions of others is not enough.

Media Freedom seems pessimistic in its conclusion that 'The

electronic agora has yet to be built', after the failed attempts of the

New Left and the New Right in France to create the right balance

between participation and democracy in the media of the 1970s

and the 1980s, and the disappointment of the 'social compromise' of

the regulation model in the early 1990s.   Despite the French

Constitutional Court's ruling that the regulation model fulfils the

requirements expressed in the Revolutionary egalitarian principles

of 1789, Barbrook is surely correct to suggest that the stresses

which will be imposed on French politics and society by continued

unemployment and social fracture, and by the move towards

European integration will lead to questioning of the mixed economy

and the regulator state. Moreover, as Media Freedom also suggests,

but perhaps does not develop quite enough, the continuing advance

of new media technologies will further contribute to the inevitable

invention of another 'model' of media freedom.   Despite is recent

publication, and its forward-looking analysis, Media Freedom can

appear in some sense already out of date, since the last days of the

Rocard government seem to belong to a previous era.   Indeed, the

pace of developments in politics and regulation has been such in

France that changes of government and president between right

and left have already intervened, and plans for new technologies -

such as those of the Information superhighway - are proceeding

apace.   The value of Media Freedom is however to have provided a

stimulating framework of analysis of past and future developments

in the French media.

In Droit de la communication, Jean-Pierre Chamoux ends by

echoing Barbrook's emphasis on the fluidity of the media system in

France, even going so far as to assert that there is as yet no such

thing in France as 'communications law'. Droit de la communication

approaches the problem in two ways, firstly considering

communication as the concrete expression of individual rights and

secondly, looking at the legal regulation of various media sectors.

Chamoux presents the way in which freedom of expression, defined

as a 'liberté individuelle' or 'right of Man' in the Revolution has

progressively become the subject of legislation which has made it a

'liberté publique'. In his presentation of the legal regulation of the

media sectors, Chamoux sets out the essential features of the laws

applying to the press, radio and television, telecommunications and

advertising. As is the aim of Que Sais-Je texts, this provides a brief

(60 pages) and comprehensive synthesis of all the major facts and

issues, but it is perhaps regrettable that space does not permit

presentation of slightly more of the historical background to the

developments of the 1970s and 1980s which form the basis of the

discussion here.

Taken together, these two very different studies of the French

media provide a very stimulating and comprehensive grounding in

the political, legal and philosophical bases of the communication in

all its forms in contemporary France.