Exchange With Doug Ireland

From "Letters," THE NATION, June 16, 1984


New York City

I hate to disagree with my confrère Daniel Singer, whose reportage I much admire, but I think he has missed the point in his comments on Mitterrand's policy on the free radio stations ["Schools, Sculptors and Spring Fools," The Nation, May 5].

During his campaign, Mitterrand pledged cultural decentralization and an end to censorship, promises that won him the support of the overwhelming majority of independent artists and intellectuals. But the illusory nature of those promises has been a significant factor in the disaffection of the avant-garde's most liberated cultural circles with the Socialist government. The media laws Mitterrand promulgated after May 10, 1981--denying "free radios'' the right to accept paid advertising, thus forcing them to survive on pitifully small state subsidies--effectively eliminated the ability of those stations to produce significant news and public affairs programming, including that critical of the more restrictive aspects of Socialist policies. It is important to understand that the 900 free radio stations, especially those outside Paris, are the center of whatever exciting cultural activities exist in the stifling atmosphere of the provinces; they provide the only leaven to the heavy-handed quality of "official" radio and television.

The new laws are, in fact, an extremely effective form of censorship, especially since they are coupled with raids on a carefully selected (read: most radical) list of stations. Police smashed broadcasting equipment and destroyed the elaborate studios of Captain Video, the first pirate television station in Paris (in whose first broadcast I participated) which operated only one hour a day in the early morning after the close of the state television's programming, thus posing no problem of "cacophony," as suggested by Daniel.

Among the stations targeted for elimination by the Socialists was Fréquence Gale, the world's only all-day gay radio station. It won the right to share a frequency with 'another free radio station only after a series of demonstrations and a considerable outcry that proved embarrassing to Mitterrand. The President had received the endorsements and the votes of the overwhelming majority of France's homosexual communities, to which he had also made a raft of campaign promises. Culture Minister Jack Lang had earlier promised to revivify the French film industry, yet the largest part of the budget of the commission that controls those state subsidies has been awarded to big-name foreign directors, while l'autre cinéma, the independent, avant-garde filmmakers, has got next to nothing. Further, there has been a recent attempt to control independent video production by a repressive scheme of taxes. along with proposals to renew some of the more censorious provisions of the notorious law "X," which deals with pornography--shades of Pompidou and Giscard! That law is perceived to be aimed at sexual minorities and cultural radicals. This is not a small issue. In Spain, the Socialists are grappling with the same problem and are apparently following Mitterrand's lead (as are the Socialists in Greece, who are, frankly, much worse). I am no fan of either capitalism or the market economy, but many of us believe that even under a Socialist government, independent artists and broadcasters have the right to sell their works in any way they can. To say that we are somehow celebrating the myth of the "free market" is to misunderstand both the nature of the debate and the Socialists' establishment of a "second-class citizenship" for creative people who criticize the government, not from the right but from an independent and radical standpoint.

I would also be curious to know what Daniel makes of the recent series of frightening police raids on Paris gay bars.

Doug Ireland



I always read Doug Ireland with pleasure, whenever I get the opportunity, and usually we find ourselves 0n the same side of the fence. Is this an exception? Let's first clear misunderstandings. In a short diary item I had no space to describe in detail the "merging" of various free stations or to make value judgments. Some streamlining, however, was inevitable (one wealthy conservative station, for example, with a strong transmitter, was jamming some poorer radios libres). Also, I didn't have Doug in mind when writing about the naked power of money. Giscard and Chirac have since been arguing whether the bulk or the whole of public radio and television in France should be handed over to commercial interests.

I could duck the issue by answering that under socialism, nobody will sell his or her labor as a commodity. But Doug writes only about a Socialist government so let's get to the heart of the matter. Nowhere did I present the rule of the establishment, ruthless or subtle, as my ideal. I merely suggested that in our societies as they stand, the alternative to the power of the state is the direct power of money. Does Doug really believe that the forces of the market will provide much room on radio and television for "creative people who criticize the government ...from an independent and radical standpoint"? The American and, more recently, the Italian precedents tell a different story.

Individually, as he points out, we have to sell our work the best we can. Collectively, we must seek a way between the twin evils of Big Brother and Big Business. Would a genuine socialist government have taken us along this uncharted road? Yes, but such a government would have replaced the capitalist state with something else and would have started at once dismantling its institutions. Neither of us expected anything of the kind from Mitterrand.

We are both against the Leviathan. But I think state power will neither vanish nor wither away until we eliminate the class differences, the social inequalities and injustices upon which it rests. Is this where we differ? We obviously agree that this achievement will not come from above, thrust upon us by some "socialist savior."

As to Doug's final question, allow me to treat it as rhetorical. I hope that none of my Nation readers have doubts about my answer.

Daniel Singer