Radio broadcasts on a regular basis began in France in November 1921, transmitted from the Eiffel Tower. In 1923, broadcasting became by law a state monopoly, though certain private stations were permitted. License fees on receivers, initiated in 1933, provided finance for the broadcasts. Television was introduced experimentally during the 1930s, and an embryonic television service began in 1938.
One of the key problems in French broadcasting after World War II was its relation to the state; at various times it was supervised by the presidency of the council, the ministry (or secretariat) for information, and the ministry for industry and commerce. After a long debate, R.T.F. (Radio-Télévision Française) was finally established by statute in 1959 as a state undertaking with an independent budget, operating under the authority of the minister of information.
In 1964 a new statute established French state broadcasting as the O.R.T.F. (Office de Radiodiffusion et de Télévision Française). The statute described O.R.T.F. as a broadcasting monopoly entrusted to Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française as a public service essential to the national life. The body entrusted with its operation must function efficiently and impartially and satisfy the needs of the public and the higher interests of the nation.
The authority of the minister of information over the director general and his staff was reduced to "power of oversight", while the governing board was composed half of representatives of the state and half of representatives of the press and public. Nevertheless, O.R.T.F.'s money came from license fees collected by the state, which supervised broadcasting expenditure. Government influences remained more evident in French broadcasting than in the parallel case of the BBC in Britain. In 1989 the government formed the Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel (CSA) to oversee all radio and television.
French radio broadcasting is divided into a number of specialized programs transmitted over three channels: France Inter, a general entertainment and informational program operating round the clock and divided at periods into Inter-Variétés (for adults) and Inter-Jeunesse (for young people); France-Culture, offering literary, philosophical, scientific, and art programs; and France-Musique, broadcasting high-quality music. O.R.T.F. maintains 16 permanent orchestras and choral groups.
Emphasis is also placed on drama, with some 3,000 dramatic and literary broadcasts a year; and on education, including broadcasts to schools, language teaching, and Radio-Sorbonne, designed for students in higher education and those with professional occupations. The news-information section maintains regular programs of news, comment, and discussion. Over 5,400 hours of broadcasting are transmitted overseas annually in 15 languages.
Television is transmitted over two networks, the second of which, initiated in 1964, concentrates mainly on entertainment, while the first is of a more general character. Educational television is correlated with radio broadcasts. Television finance has been assisted by a limited amount of advertising. Color television, using the French SECAM system, has made regular transmissions since October 1967. In more recent years, programming has included an increasing amount of light fare, with a large number of imported films, primarily from the United States. Cable broadcasting was initiated in 1987. Despite the 1992 collapse of La Cinq, the entertainment channel, and the competition of videocassettes, viewers have had an increasing number of options.
Roger Manvell, author of This Age of Communications.
Source: Encyclopedia Americana, Copyright © 2003 Grolier Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
Guide to French Radio Broadcasting
FM Radio Stations (by frequency)