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French Radio Quota Gives More Air Time To Native Artists

Rock-and-roll, meet George Orwell, Gaullist politicians, and desperate record execs. As of Jan. 1, 40 percent of French radio waves must be in the language of Moliere - or else.

Many of France's 1,500 radio stations that had played as little as 5 percent of home-grown artists are furious, saying they will lose their young and hip audience. Record companies and defenders of French culture welcome the new law.

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"The law was made to defend French culture and economic activity," argues Dominique Devidts, a spokesman for the official Council on Audiovisual. "If we're taken over by American music, we won't be economically viable anymore."

"I think it's rather stupid. Just because we're in France doesn't mean we have to listen to French music," says Audrey Ullman, a French dancer who prefers Prince and the Grateful Dead, as she browsed for CDs at the Louvre Museum's shopping mall.

"It's a bit like Big Brother," says Catherine Breteche, another CD shopper who favors the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, and world music.

Effective Jan. 1, radio stations can be yanked off the air for up to a month and face fines of up to 5 percent of their annual revenue which can reach into millions of dollars.

The law, passed in 1994, is among the latest French legislation aimed at staving off the steamroller of Anglo-American music and other entertainment that dominate the world market.

While French record sales account for about half the country's music market, and French music like that of Charles Aznavour and Enzo Enzo is alive and kicking, youth-oriented radio stations favor foreign pop.

Sweden's English-singing dance outfit Ace of Base led France's radio chart in late December, and only six French groups were in the top 20, according to Music and Media magazine, a leading European music publication.

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The law forced radio stations to gradually - and grudgingly -increase the percentage of French music, and by late 1995 it was already 34 percent at Fun Radio.

"There just aren't enough French artists. The quality is mediocre," says Caroline Davigny, program director at Fun Radio. "We've felt rather negative effects in the last six months, and now it'll be worse."

Record companies argue that US bands "can sell their music in a large market. We have to create barriers," says Olivier Descroix, an executive at Barclay, a division of Polygram. "If it blocks free expression, it's a way to survive."

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