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Audiovisual: a GATT tug-of-war.

Although, there is a new French government, very little has changed in French policy when it comes to the question of American film and TV influence. The objections to, and the resentment of it, are as strong as ever before. The new GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs) talks have brought the French to a fresh boiling point.

The issue that triggered all of this is quite simple. Various nations, led by the U.S., want to liberalize trade under the GATT agreement, which would also cover the audiovisual industry.

In other words. no more protective national quotas and, perhaps more important, no more subsidies for local industries. Certainly, this would have a severe impact on the French film industry which, without government help, literally couldn't exist.

As far as the French are concerned, a new GATT rule -- if enforced -- would deliver a death blow to French movies and would virtually leave the marketplace to the Americans.

Of all the Europeans, the French are the only ones who. for years, have argued that American dominance, in either the film or the TV field, in fact destroys the local culture At this moment, the French still turn out something like 140 pictures a year, which includes the product financed by a couple of very successful French television networks like TFi and the rich Canal Plus pay-TV chain. If these subsidies are removed, the French argue, a key pillar of French culture would be removed to the detriment of both France and the world -- an argument long made by Jacques Lange, the former Minister of Culture under the Socialists.

The new man, conservative Jacques Toubon is also towing Lange's line. He has pointed out, for instance, that just one U.S. movie, Jurassic Park, has been playing in no fewer that 25 per cent of all French theaters.

The Americans, according to Toubon, collect close to 60 per cent of French box office. Europe, as a whole, imports something like $3.8 bill ion per year in audiovisuals from the U.S., while exporting to the US. only $250 million per year. The French have long maintained that this isn't fair and that this imbalance in trade should not continue. However, nobody has come up with a solution i.e., a way to increase the showing of French and other European movies and TV shows in the U.S.

The French want the audiovisual end excluded from any new GATT deal. They recently went --in force -- before the European Parliament in Strasbourg to protest the notion that cinema and television should be bound by it. They have made it clear that the French government isn't going to sign such a deal, much as Jack Valenti, the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, apparently has made it quite clear to Paris that President Clinton wouldn't go along with a new GATT unless the audiovisuals are also regulated under it.

Claude Berri, the French director, told the Strasbourg politicians that, if the GATT provisions are passed, "European culture is finished. And he added: "What we need to do above all is to defend our cultural identity." A similar tone was struck by Alain Carignon, the French Communications Minister, and by Gerard Depardieu, who claimed that inclusion of the cinema industry in GATT would prohibit "a fight on equal terms" against American power.

How far the French will carry this argument was shown when the Paris government banned the new Turner Cartoon network from French cable. The Turner service just recently started on the new Astra 3 satellite. The French government argues that the Turner cartoon channel doesn't incorporate enough French material.

Underlying all this is the evident French concern over the growing American influence on news and culture in Europe. "Think of a world in which there is only one image," director Alain Corneau warned in Strasbourg. envisioning the rise of American monopoly.

While France has long led the drive to limit the spread of American movies and TV programs, the rise of the commercial stations has led to a rapid increase of American-made material on the air. Valenti has long held that this is simply the result of audiences enjoying the U.S. style in terms of scripts, pacing, topics and even casting.

The Europeans say this is only partly true and that the situation is due much more to American bargaining power and the fact that the Americans generally can sell their product much more cheaply than the Europeans, whose export markets are strictly limited. with access to the U.S. virtually shut.

The big question raised by the French, and already a vital factor on the Continent, is: If GATT includes audiovisuals, and knocks out quotas and subsidies, how can the government keep the airwaves from being flooded with American shows when, now, already. Europe doesn't even produce enough of its own to satisfy the quota?
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Title Annotation:General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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