Raymond Kuhn, The Media in France, London and New York: Routledge, 1995. 284 pp. ISBN 0-415-01458-1.

Hugh Dauncey


Raymond Kuhn is the author and editor of numerous studies of

various aspects of the French media, particularly broadcasting

policy. In this work, his most recent contribution to the analysis of

the politics and economics of the media in France, he gives a

comprehensive and interesting overview of the press, of radio, of

television and of the emerging new media. The book is intended as

an up-to-date and easily accessible textbook for students of French

area studies, European studies and Media studies, and therefore

covers the development of the written, audiovisual and new media

from 1945 to the mid-1990s, although adding, (where appropriate)

useful historical background, for example on the press and radio.

In his introduction Kuhn provides an interesting and limpid

exposition of why and how the French media should be studied,

briefly presenting a checklist of the political, ideological and social

functions the media can be thought of as performing in French

society and describing the factors which influence their functioning

and development. Thus students of French media are invited to

identify the information, communications, watchdog,

socialization/legitimation, entertainment/cultural functions of

newspapers, radio, television, cable and satellite, and to consider

the ways in which these media and their effects have been

influenced by geography, demography and linguistics, by

technology, by economics, by social modernization, and by politics.

Kuhn identifies the state as the key political actor in the process of

the media's evolution since 1945, and throughout the book care is

taken to constantly emphasise the complex interrelationships which

obtain at various junctures and in various ways between the media

sectors and government.

Two chapters are devoted to the press, covering firstly its

history and economics and secondly, its politics. The treatment

provides useful factual details on circulation and financial aspects of

this traditionally very important sector of the French media and

emphasises the difficulties experienced by many newspapers in the

cut-throat competitive context of the 1980s and 1990s. In a link to

the other elements of the book, there is a handy reminder of the

interrelationship between the written and audiovisual media, and a

brief consideration of how technology (surely a major feature in

explaining developments in communications in France as

elsewhere) has affected the traditional print media. Politically,

Kuhn develops not only the usual aspects of newspaper sympathies

with different parties, but also, in deference to the unifying thread

which runs throughout the book, discusses the interactions between

the press sector and the state (the 1881 press statute, the ordinance

of 1944 and the statutes of 1984 and 1986), and identifies the state

as the 'primary definer' of press coverage.

The chapter on radio contributes to rehabilitating the status of

this sometimes neglected media sector. Undeservedly

overshadowed by the glamour of television and handicapped by its

own image as an archaic technology, radio remains, as Kuhn points

out, important precisely for the lessons it can give about the rise of

television and of certain exploitations of television, (such as political

communication) whose techniques have been modelled precisely on

the examples provided by radio in former decades. A substantial

part of this chapter deals with the history of radio up to the late

1970s, and it might have been interesting to have slightly more

analysis of the developments in the sector in 1980s and 1990s

when, as is rightly emphasised, new technologies and new forces of

commercialism and privatization have been catalysing rapid

developments.

Television is covered in four chapters, corresponding to the

four phases of the post-war industry. Thus the development of the

sector is traced from its domination by de Gaulle in the 1960s,

through the disbanding of the Office de radiodiffusion-télévision

française (ORTF) in 1974 and the gradual move during the 1970s

towards the system of market-oriented commercialism of the 1980s

and the 'liberal' era of the current decade. The treatment is

generally comprehensive and detailed, leading the reader easily

through the often complicated events and issues of state

interventionism and regulation, privatization and liberalization, and

presenting the sometimes tortuous interactions between the state

and the sector via the High Authority, CNCL or current Conseil

supérieur de l'audiovisuelregulatory bodies.

The treatment of the 'New Media' constitutes the final

element of the panorama of the different media sectors. Perhaps

unavoidably, given the preponderant place already attributed to

television (and its comprehensive analysis), the discussion of cable

and satellite technologies seems in a sense to end too soon. Such a

fate for what is in a sense the future of the French media is

unavoidable equally in that the rapid development in the field of

new media technologies mean that any textbook with the wide-

ranging ambitions of The Media in France will inescapably sin by

the relative tardiness of the publication compared with the pace of

the media it is trying to describe.

Kuhn's concluding chapter brings together the recurring

themes of the preceding sections of the book and draws out the

issues which appear to characterise issues of press and broadcasting

policy in the 1990s and beyond. Thus the 'mixed impact' of the

new technologies is evoked, explaining the ways in which

technological innovations in radio, television, cable and satellite

have not always had the revolutionary effects that were anticipated

for them. The implications of cross-media ownership and

internationalization are considered, and the book concludes finally

with the reminder that the French state will continue to be an

active player in the media sectors, despite the apparent lessening of

its interests in television and radio in the 1980s and 1990s through

liberalization and privatization. In its continued role as 'primary

definer' of media issues, Kuhn reminds us, the state will remain

strongly interested in newspapers, radio, television and whatever

new media which will develop.

The notes to each chapter and the final select bibliography

provide a useful resource for anyone wishing to gain an overview of

the literature on French media in general, or to delve into a specific

issue or theme, and the comprehensive index makes rapid

consultation of the book easily accessible. All in all, a very

interesting source of information and analysis on French media,

useful for students and researchers alike.