Two seemingly distant events, come before us once more, and they tell us a lot about our times and our future: the sudden closure of state broadcaster ERT, a move that reportedly affects about 2,700 jobs and the battle to include or exclude the film and audiovisual industry in the major EU-US trade talks which will soon begin.
The first is part of Greece’s commitment to reduce its public debt. The present government in particular has agreed to dismiss 2,000 public servants by the end of June. At first the issue was the dismissal of 2,000 corrupt public servants. The Prime Minister has not managed to achieve this and has taken the decision to close state broadcaster ERT, known as a den of waste and clientelism, hoping ultimately to continue broadcasting with a minimum of programming and a lot of repeated broadcasts.
The second is part of the long history of troubled cultural relations between the United States and Europe. The gradual implementation in France of obligations to invest in cinematographic and audiovisual production, broadcasting and exhibition quotas of national and European works by TV stations, has allowed France to become the third biggest film market in the world; France cinema’s market share is close to 40% whereas it only represents 20% in Germany and Spain, and less than 10% in Greece and Ireland. U.S. attempts to gain access to the French market, to counteract a competition considered unfair, resorted to all sorts of tricks. The most recent ones were the OECD project of an overall reduction of subsidies, and then the European Commission’s efforts to include culture in the global trade talks, which will soon begin and which the U.S. so desperately need. They have both failed.
The shock from these two issues, the intense emotion caused by both, can be explained by the new place taken in daily life and in the economy, by culture and information. They must absolutely become available, but no one wants to pay for it at the right price. It is therefore necessary to go through public subsidies, condition of access to culture for all and to a range of sources of information and creation. Money can be the worst enemy of democracy. It is also the necessary condition for its existence.
But that does not mean allowing waste of all kinds. And all what just happened in Greece, as well as recent debates within the French cinema, show that there may be a much better use of public money invested in culture and information than the one consisting all too often of maintaining small coteries, and funding only films from the same people, by the same people, for the same people. Of maintaining mechanisms of excessive subsidies of intermittency, and irresponsible wages for some actors.
It is therefore time to put an end, in this field as in so many others, to established positions, and use new technologies to create differently newspapers, radio, television, films, live performance; to rethink the distribution channels of online movies and to develop new digital services (Catch-up TV, video-on-demand, new media) on European platforms with European products.
Let it be a lesson to all the dimensions of our public life, where the taxpayer’s participation should be constantly defended and reinvented.