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Europeans Want Less U.S., More Homegrown TV

October 02, 1989|TYLER MARSHALL | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — About 300 leaders from Europe's film and television industry debated Sunday how to deepen cooperation as a way to revive their sagging fortunes and better compete against American imports.

Large new markets inherent in Europe's satellite television revolution are at stake.

The sessions, organized by the French government and due to end late today with a set of concrete recommendations and proposals for action, unfold amid a heated debate in Europe over the need for quotas to limit foreign--mainly American--productions.

The 12-nation European Community is scheduled to decide Tuesday whether to adopt a legally binding directive calling on member states to ensure that broadcasters--"where practicable and by appropriate means"--reserve a majority of their transmission time for European works.

The directive excludes news, sports, advertising and teletext services from the quota provision.

"It's not a question of barriers," insisted Claude Santelli, the head of a French audiovisual artists group. "We are an endangered species. You can't have a tree unless you nourish the sapling."

U.S. government and film industry officials have strongly opposed quotas.

"Creativity can't be fenced in," Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, said in a telephone interview from his Washington office. "American movies have been in France, Italy, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe for 60 years, and I've not noticed any cultural collapse in these countries."

While American government officials and film industry leaders have argued strongly against quotas, participants at the Paris meeting believe the likelihood is good that the directive will win acceptance.

In its present form, however, the provision on European content would appear to have little practical impact.

According to EC figures, imported American programming presently constitutes about 40% of total entertainment broadcastings.

EC officials involved in drafting the directive also noted that the words "where practicable" effectively provide an escape for any nation not wanting to follow the spirit of the proposed legislation.

Indeed, France, the key opponent to the directive, is opposed precisely because it believes it is too weak.

France is pressing for tougher language that would bind countries to the majority quota without loopholes.

A French vote against the current proposal would likely begin a search for a more strongly worded directive on quotas rather than mark any end to the issue, observers here predicted.

"It's all completely up to the French," declared an EC official who helped draft the directive.

Those opposed to quotas see greater cooperation and more co-production among Europeans as the key to developing the size and financial muscle required to compete against American products.

At stake is one of the world's most lucrative, yet complex, television markets.

According to a study compiled by the London-based consultant Deloitte Haskins and Sells, the West European broadcasting market currently consists of about 140 million television households fragmented into 23 distinct broadcasting markets.

As cable and satellite television comes of age, the study predicts, the number of channels available to European viewers will double over the next decade from about 3 1/2 24-hour channels to about seven.

The present debate in Europe centers heavily on who will provide the programming for this expanded market.

European producers are struggling to meet the existing demand in Europe. According to French President Francois Mitterrand, who delivered Saturday's keynote speech, European program demand was 125,000 hours last year, but European producers turned out only 20,000 hours.

The majority of those present at the Paris meeting believe that the key to the industry's revival lies not in quotas but in greater cooperation and improved education and training.

"There seems little support for quotas over the long term," said Colin Young, head of Britain's National Film Theatre School.

The three-day meeting marks one of the first-ever attempts by representatives of diverse European nations to search for common ground in an important cultural field.

The meetings, organized under the auspices of the European Community, reflect the growing breadth and momentum on the part of the 12 countries to forge a deeper unity.

The EC countries are already pledged to create a single, unified market with a free flow of goods, services, people and capital by the end of 1992.

"We cannot be content with an economic Europe," Mitterrand told the opening plenary session Saturday. "Perhaps now there is a need to start thinking in terms of a European culture. . . ." One session at the meeting addressed the question of European identity, with delegates attempting to define it.

But free-wheeling sessions on such emotive subjects as creativity and copyright demonstrated how deeply fragmented Europe remains culturally.

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