A different kind of free press

Olivier Montariol

Olivier Montariol speaking at France3.

On June 29, our group visited the France3 studio in Perpignan. As we walked into the TV station, which covers local news in the Pyrénées-Orientales département of France, a short, energetic man named Olivier Montariol greeted us. His bright green-blue eyes lit up as he showed us around the studio.

“Every morning starts the same,” he said, while gesturing around a medium-sized room with 12 red chairs shoved against four desks that had been pushed together.

Montariol, once the editor-in-chief of the TV station, now holds the position of a reporter, which he seems to enjoy more.

The thing that struck me most about our visit was the relationship between the government and the media in France.

“Just because [the station] is state owned doesn’t mean we belong to the government,” Montariol said. “It means we belong to the 64 million people living in France because it’s [funded] by their tax dollars.”

The local broadcasts must be 10 minutes exactly during most of the year and during the vacation seasons they are cut down to seven minutes. This ends up being the busiest time of year for the staff because many workers take their vacation then.  I noticed a bed in the corner of the broadcast room. I suspect it gets a lot of use during vacation months.

Montariol also told our group that many jobs were getting cut because some technical tasks are now performed by machines.

For example, the camera is controlled from Montpellier, capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon région. Over the past three to four years, France3 has promised to catch up with the digital revolution that is hitting the globe. However,it lags behind, according to Montariol. In addition, he said that France3 does not have the right to put the broadcasts or any information produced in Montpellier online.

The Higher Audio Visual Council of France does guarantee freedom of communication. However, it has to adhere to the specific rules of the governing channels, which are made by the département.

The government involvement seemed a bit strange to me coming from the United States where people constantly throw the phrase “freedom of speech” around. It makes me appreciate some of our privileges a bit more. Although certain broadcasts may be criticized by the masses, I think it is important to acknowledge the fact that we are allowed to broadcast without government interference.