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From linear to nonlinear television services : the representation of ethnoracial minorities in French audiovisual contents 


This Carism study day will investigate the evolution in the modes of representation of ethnic minorities (Safi, 2013; Cervulle, 2013) in France, in the context of a provision  of audiovisual content that is increasingly drawn from online and often foreign media, and therefore free from most of french regulations and policies.


The question of the representation of minorities has been preoccupying the public authorities since the 1990s. It took the specific form of the establishment of various safeguards during the 2000s: in 2005 a support fund was allocated to the development of film projects ‘promoting the diversity of our French society’, supervised from 2007 onwards by an ‘images of diversity’ commission co-directed by the CNC (National Centre for Cinema and the Moving Image) and the Agency for Equal Opportunities. The CSA (Superior Audiovisual Council), meanwhile, included a ‘representation of minorities’ component in its annual report for 2000, and was then provided with a ‘Diversity Observatory’ in 2008, bringing together mainly media professionals in order to ‘monitor actions implemented by television and radio channels to promote diversity in French society and to fight against discrimination.’

At the same time, several successive institutional reports were produced in the context of this policy. The pioneering surveys by Marie-France Malonga (2000) and Éric Macé (2008) raised two issues, the first theoretical, the second methodological.

First, ‘diversity’ is understood in these different reports in a broad sense, gradually covering several criteria: socio-professional category, gender, and finally ‘ethnic markers’. For this last category, the problem of conceptualization turns out to be a challenge: the term ‘non-White people’ was used in 2000 and is found in the 2013-2018 CSA report in its study of representations. This category is meant to cover several populations, under the terms of ‘Black’, ‘Arab’, ‘Asians’, and ‘others’ – a word that rubs shoulders with other terms in official discourse such as ‘diversity’, ‘visible minorities’ and ‘invisible minorities’. These are sometimes euphemistic formulations, often taken up by the press to designate a social reality that is in political and philosophical tension with a universalist vision of the French Republic (Fassin, 2006). Secondly, these reports reveal a degree of methodological trial and error, noted by the sociologist Maxime Cervulle in 2013. Cervulle stresses the need to supplement the quantitative studies favoured by the CSA with a qualitative approach. While the regulatory authority has since provided sometimes highly informative case studies, these latter nevertheless demonstrate a need to come up with new tools capable of studying the place and the representations of ethnic minorities in the media.

Twenty years after the publication of the first report, a new challenge seems to have emerged from digital convergence (Paris, 2006). For several years now, the regulator has been faced with online media companies guided by the logic of audience figures and by a language and style quite different from the major national media. Indeed, the rise of legal or illegal video-on-demand, targeting a particular audience and aimed at ethnic diasporas (of the Afrostream type) can be found alongside amateur YouTube channels intended for a specific community (Sobande, 2017). These content providers, often influenced by the English-speaking world but accessible to French citizens, are independent of the charters and other checks set up by national authorities. At the same time, French public service provision has suffered a setback: the closure of the France Ô channel was finalized in 2019, due to insufficient audience figures – even though this channel had played an essential role in the visibility of Black media figures on French television.

In our opinion, such a disparity between the linear and the delinear might well raise two major questions. The first is of a socio-economic order. A demand-driven economy does indeed seem to be taking over and even making up for the shortcomings of the highly regulated content provided by the major historical media. Therefore, might a commercial and liberal logic, freed from some of the historical, symbolic, political and editorial contingencies of the major national media, help to create a better representation of French ethnic diversity?

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