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The bright side of ARTE. Not everything is dark.

Belgium has recently joined ARTE, the new French-German culture channel, which aims to weave a culture net all over Europe. It will be followed in quick succession by Switzerland and Austria where German and French is also spoken.

The word comes from Jerome Clement, the president of ARTE and a former head of France's Centre du Cinema. ARTE went on the air last Hay, and for the moment, is anchored in La Sept in Paris and ARTE Germany in Baden-Baden. The main ARTE base is Strassbourg.

Total ARTE financing to date is set at an impressive $300 million, shared equally by La Sept and the two German public television channels, ARD and ZD F. ARTE took over the wavelength of the defunct La Cinque in France last September. La Sept is state-backed.

Clement works in close cooperation with Michel Anthonioz, co-director of La Sept, which has been France's basic culture channel.

"The purpose of ARTE is to allow the Europeans to learn about one another, to demonstrate to them the realities of other people," Clement said. "When we abolished the borders last January, creating at least the outline of a new Europe, we did away with the frontiers, but not with the borders of the mind.

"The new Europe is meant to be more than just a place where cars and goods can circulate freely. We want to be able to watch what our neighbors are doing. How they live. Understand how they think and create. It takes time, effort and will."

Clement pointed out that ARTE represents an effort quite unprecedented in European television. "You might call it a noble experiment, but it is much more than that. It signals a new kind of unity based on better understanding. And, with that in mind, it's worth every penny we all spend on it."

The ARTE channel uses visual material contributed by its partners but voiced by local speakers. Obviously, a lot of the material is dubbed, which is normal for Europe.

The range of programming is wide and is expected to be wider still as ARTE catches on, which admittedly is a slow process. So far, ARTE's viewership has been very small. Whereas its core will be cultural, the term is being interpreted broadly. Clement said shows also cover economics and politics, and there are regular nightly news bulletins. However, ARTE will draw the line at sporting events, game shows, and other similar fare.

In the past, cross-frontier television in Europe has been largely confined to game and variety shows, and some news, with a unique cooperative European news channel now operating via satellite along with the BBC World Service and some other satellite carried news transmissions.

Plans call for intensified o-production, at least between Germany and France. A committee at ARTE headquarters in Strassbourg decides on which joint projects should go forward.

The culture channel intends to acquire programs as well as produce them. "We have movies, documentaries, shorts concerts. discussion shows, you name it,' Clement reported, adding that, while most of the programming originates in the participating countries, it does not include Europe per se, and also will take in some American productions.

Clement defines the term 'cultural" as a way of looking at the world - "how to see other people, their economy, their history, their sciences, their politics and of course their art." Does ARTE's ultimate goal include a "unified culture" on the Continent?

Clement bristles at the thought. "We are different, and we want to stay different,' he said emphatically. "But television is a very national medium, and we want to show that it can be internationalized in a very positive, European way.'

The ARTE programs, currently running from 5 pm to one in the morning, are carried by three satellites: ZDFIY, Copernicus (in the PAL system) and Telecom (in SECAM for France). ARTE transmissions are currently available to some 32 million TV households in Germany and France, and Clement said public reception of the ARTE shows so far has been very encouraging.
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Publication:Video Age International
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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