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Culture More Than Trip Down Memory Lane

Culture and media always intertwine; supporting yet challenging, an exhausting synergy. One moves, the other follows, roles reverse, the dance is complete. Commerce and technology also intertwine, now the most irresistible energy. Other interests intersect and, too, there is the passage of time. The dance shows us that nothing stands still.

old time funThe shuffling of French government ministries last week surprised many, but not all. President François Hollande, politically precarious a little more than a year before elections, appeared to promote loyalists and Green Party MPs. The troublesome, overwhelmed and, arguably, lower priority are out. Such is the nature of politics.

Culture and Communications Minister Fleur Pellerin was one of those replaced. The Culture Ministry is charged with protecting and promoting French art, culture and language as well as media development. She was promoted by President Hollande 18 months ago from a brief stop as State Secretary for Foreign Trade, Tourism Promotion and French Overseas after 20 months as Minister Delegate for the Digital Economy. She replaced at the Culture Ministry hapless politician Aurélie Filippetti, who served a bit more than two years.

Priorities in the work of nations can be clarified by the weight given particular ministries and departments within the State executive. Agriculture, finance, defence, foreign affairs, education, labor, health and justice ministries are common to most national governments. So, too, is culture. With more need in larger countries for complex tasks ministries have been created to mind the environment, economic development, minority rights, infrastructure and more recently some facet of digital technology. Designations, responsibilities and names change, typically with each change in administration, sometimes more often. So, too, the ministers.

Mme Pellerin’s appreciation of the digital world as a new and important reality didn’t sit well with cultural warriors in publishing and film-making, not insignificant in France. She irked commercial radio broadcasters by strengthening French-language music quotas while leaving services streaming music to French audiences to proceed without restriction. Indeed she professed great admiration for public radio. Surrendering a tax break to film producers for location shooting she did not pursue confiscatory taxes on Netflix or Amazon. Along the way she managed to bring under control the Culture Ministry budget, no small task in France, and open several cultural heritage landmarks to many more people.

Confusing the culture war regulars she championed the quite remarkable French video game industry. Passing on a compliment, the French video game producers association (SNJV) managing director Julien Villedieu said Mme Pellerin “did much to help the digital industries remain competitive,” quoted by Le Monde (February 13). “She ventured out of the usual canons. It was bold. It will be forever useful for French creativity.”

Culture and media are given common space in many government ministries and departments. In the UK it is the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), referred to as the “ministry of fun” by the snarky (and brilliant) tech news portal The Register. Last week DCMS updated its laborious reporting ahead of the impending BBC Charter Review with notes about executive pay.

Sweden’s Ministry of Culture and Democracy oversees all the expected cultural agencies as well as the media regulator and public broadcasting. Last year Minister Alice Bah Kuhnke, appointed in 2014, drew a halt to the previously proposed FM radio platform switch-off.

Newly appointed Polish Minister of Culture and National Heritage Piotr Glinski, also Deputy Prime Minister, moved quickly in recent weeks to reverse encroachment of popular culture in the media. “There are ways to tame… the popular culture that invades us from all sides,” he said, quoted by news portal (February 10). “We will continue to push out public media people who decide that high culture is only for connoisseurs and the elite.” All directors and many subordinates at Polish public radio and television were replaced shortly after Minister Glinski’s arrival.

Replacing Mme Pellerin with immediate effect is Audrey Azoulay, most recently special advisor for culture and communication to President Hollande. Before that she was deputy director and chief financial officer at the National Film Board (Centre national de la cinématographie - CNC). With a French civil servants pedigree (Sciences-PO, ENA) she joined the Ministry of Culture in 2000, working in the audiovisual sector. Mme Azoulay is the sixth French Minister of Culture and Communication in a decade.

"I think there are few countries that would allow a child found in the slums of Seoul and adopted by a French family of modest means… to become a minister,” said Mme Pellerin at a press conference introducing Mme Azoulay, quoted by La Parisian (February 13). “I have infinite gratitude for (Prime Minister) Manuel Valls for proposing my name.” She did not mention President Hollande.

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