New demands for Breton television as TV Breizh experiences difficulties
Nouvelle campagne pour une télévision bretonne suite aux difficultés de TV Breizh
by Yann Rivallain
TV Breizh, the private Breton television channel set up three years ago by Patrick Le Lay, head of Tf1, the number one French television channel, has revamped its programmes to cater for a wider audience. While replacing a lot of French language programmes produced in Brittany by international series and films, Patrick Le Lay has however insisted on keeping the same amount of Breton language programmes.
TV Breizh was launched as digital satellite channel three years ago as it was the only medium which could be used without the authorization of the French government. However, with only 10% of Bretons subscribed to satellite TV, the channel soon engaged in a battle to obtain terrestrial frequencies from the government, to reach the whole Breton population and finance its huge investments in the local independent production.
'Since the CSA refused to allow us to broadcast over the whole of Brittany, we decided to apply for local frequencies one by one to cover the whole territory gradually', explained Rozen Milin, former director of TV Breizh to Eurolang. CSA, the French broadcasting authority however turned down the application by TV Breizh for a local frequency in the town of Nantes last spring. According to Rozen Milin, 'everyone felt that we had the best project among companies competing for the frequency. However we had to face a strong anti-Breton lobby which also favoured local television instead of regional channels.'
With no prospect of TV Breizh reaching the majority of Breton homes in the near future, TF1 which meanwhile became the main shareholder of the Breton channel, requested that TV Breizh be profitable in two years. On the air, this translated as a new mix of series and films and more general-interest programmes which replaced a lot of the local production, even if some of it is still shown at weekends. At the end of September, Rozen Milin, who remains in the channel’s board of administrators chose not to remain in the director’s seat as the channel’s programming had departed too much from the original project.
'I don’t have any regrets about the TV Breizh experience, we did all we could given the refusal to allow us to reach all Bretons.' Regarding the Breton language, Rozen Milin told Eurolang that the channel 'had fulfilled two of its original ambitions: to make an important space for Breton in a modern media and to develop a dubbing industry'. Since TV Breizh was set up three years ago, with the support from the Regional Council, hundreds of hours of cartoons for children have been dubbed by professional translators and actors and broadcast by TV Breizh. Although there were many repeats, most agree that TV Breizh helped to produce very high quality programmes in the language. Some of them have now been released on DVD. When working on the new programme schedule, Patrick Le Lay insisted on keeping the Breton language programmes for children although they are now shown earlier in the morning. He also decided to keep the daily news programme which is the only one to cover the whole of Brittany including Nantes and its area. This daily news programme also includes one report in Breton.
It is too early to say what will happen to the 200 or so people employed in the production industry via commissions from TV Breizh. Some hope that technical or legal solutions will be found by TV Breizh to broadcast all over Brittany and return to a more regional schedule.
When asked about political support for the channel in Brittany, Rozen Milin admits she was disappointed by the 'silence of many politicians who were all there praising the channel and its strong cultural identity when it was first launched, but were very discreet when we ran into difficulties. We still have a long way to go before we will see a local politician going on hunger strike for a Breton channel !'
As the news broke out that TV Breizh was cutting down on regional programmes in September, a group called 'Les amis de TV Breizh' was set up to gather support for the channel. Few days after Mr Sarkosy, French Minister of the interior, announced that a Corsican public service channel was to be set up on the island, a dozen media and cultural personalities met on Friday in Lorient to launch a campaign to obtain 'A Breton Television for everyone'. This includes the creation of a web site (www.tvbzh.org), petitions and questions which will be put to candidates to the forthcoming regional and European elections. The association being created hopes to gain support among the Breton public, personalities and politicians for a free-to-air Breton channel with programmes in French and Breton. European personalities and television managers from other European countries will also be contacted to support the campaign ahead of the elections.