Does ARTE, as a Franco-German coalition, manage to create European television without national boarders ‘where culture brings people together'?
The television channel Arte was recently celebrating its 20th anniversary, still continuing to pursue their original plan of creating a channel where borders don't have to set limits and where national consciousness can open towards another cultures, overcoming their differences, focusing more on understanding and unification rather than underlining the impossibilities of connecting two different countries.
From its beginnings Arte had a clearly defined focus and purpose. It concentrated on creating programs with a high quality content that would appeal and be understood by both French and Germans, measured with the same level of identification values. "Creating a television channel for two audiences was a first in television’s history and is still an exception in the global TV market to this date" (Arte, 2008). It also had in mind to introduce a new won consciousness that originated from the establishment of EU and that is a status of a "European citizen", thriving to identify not only with its own country but also with Europe as a unit. Underlying all those attributes Arte wished to connote three stages of viewing patterns: national, cross-national and European.
Culture is Arte's main domain, as culture in Arte's point of view "brings people together" (Arte, 2008) and spread intercultural communication. Arte's "mission is to provide cultural programming that promotes unity and understanding among European nations" (Arte, 2008). Indeed Arte's programming content truly focuses on past, present and also future culture, embracing not only established artists, performances or cinematography but actively taking part in showcasing new talents. Yet Arte also includes documentaries about foreign countries, news and discussions around European and global affairs, adapting and pointing out current social challenges. This way their definition of culture extends to wide field of many definitions, taking into consideration more than "art" per se.
In order to see if Arte as a Franco-German coalition managed to create a television without borders and is still successful in creating a cross-cultural televisual experience, it is important to understand how Arte established itself, its internal structure, aims and difficulties, that I would like to exemplify with one of their programs; "Karambolage".
Arte's pre-birth began with the establishment of the television channel La Sept in 1986 in France, with an aim to widen the cultural awareness and serve as an alternative to commercial programming. Arte started to air from 1992 in both countries, Germany and France. "The challenge, at first, was a political one –as can be deduced from the fact that the reason for creating Arte was a political one, too. The interstate treaty of 1990 expressed the objectives of the new channel: It was founded in an endeavor to tighten the relationship and the closeness between the peoples of Europe, offering them a common TV program, which would serve as a portrayal of the cultural heritage and of the artistic life in the various states, the regions and the peoples of Europe and the world" (Rothenberger, p. 6). The German chancellor Helmut Kohl and French president François Mitterrand were apparently the initiators, yet in reality France's Minister of Culture Jack Lang and the Baden-Württemberg minister-president Lothar Späth were responsible for the emerging of Arte. "...the Franco-German cultural television channel ARTE jointly funded by the two governments, is a new example of transnational cooperation in European television management" (Kuhn, 2006, p. 210). The structure of Arte's channel was from its beginnings very strictly implemented with the emphasis on equal fairness when it came to the programming and input of both countries France and Germany.
Arte is mainly financed by the state and sponsored in 95% from the TV license in both countries. It has three quarters; the main head quarter is in Strasbourg (Arte G.E.I.E - European Economic Interest Grouping), responsible for the main issues: strategy, programming concept, planning, language co-ordination, program presentation and members’ communication. In 1994 it employed 140 people, while now the number goes beyond 400. Arte Strasbourg is represented by 12 members (6 French and 6 Germans) and meets quarterly to discuss all issues concerned, with other 4 members of Arte G.E.I.E, 2 members from Arte France and 2 members from Arte Deutschland.
When it comes to the two separate branches, Arte France has 215 employees and also many freelance journalists and is responsible for 50% of the production. Additionally Arte France has three subsidiary companies: Arte France Cinema and Arte/Cofinora, two film productions companies and Arte Development. Also there is Arte Editions that produces Arte France books and multimedia products. Furthermore Arte works with channel Histoire and Festival, Canadian culture program ARTV, TV5 and Canal France International. Arte Deutschland on the other hand is a company (GmbH) and employs 20 people in Baden Baden with 50% responsibility from ARD and 50% from ZDF, both German channels also sponsored by the TV license. They produce, buy and are responsible also for 50% of Arte's programming. "Es lasst sich daraus erkennen, das die Pole in Baden-Baden und Paris vollkommen verschieden organisiert sind. Arte France is durchaus ein eigensteandiger Sender, wohingegen Arte Deutschland eher eine Koordinationstelle ist" (Martin Marcel Bauch, 2005, p. 14). ("It is clearly visible that the branches in Baden-Baden and Paris are organized in different ways. Arte France works independently, where Arte Germany serves as a coordination office"). Also Arte as a whole works together with other European channels, building this way relationships and buying films or programs; SRG -Schweiz, TVE-Spain, TVP-Poland, ORF-Austria, RAI-Italy, YLE-Finnland, NPS-Netherlands, BBC-UK, SVT-Sweden. The market share of the Arte screening time from 7pm to 3 am was 0,9% in Germany and 2,1% in France in 2012.
Considering its organizational structure within the company Arte seems to underlie the importance of building a channel with not only high quality of programming but also a high level of their employees. The channel employs only German and French speaking stuff with many polyglots, who are able to relate to both cultures. They also have well educated translators and linguists, making sure that the translations of the text are always accurate. The programs are discussed in detail, with the purpose to fit both countries perfectly, trying to find a middle ground when it comes to the cultural preferences and televisual viewing patterns, tailoring them accordingly.
It is acknowledged that at times Germans and French see things differently possessing various perceptions and not sharing the same point of view. An example would be an issue with cutting/editing of some of the programs, where French people prefer long takes with images moving continuously in a slow pace and Germans are used to more cuts within one scene, accompanied by a sound or more frequent voice-over. "Over the years, France stuck to a very low cutting frequency. Sometimes, single shot lasted up to ten seconds. Laurent Andrès affirms the results: ‘The French episodes were very low in cuttings. These were features in which analysis and reflection played an important role, very classical’. In contrast to their left-Rhine counterparts, the German features increasingly exhibit a faster cutting frequency of every three or four seconds" (Rothenberger, p. 10).
Also there are conflicts when it comes to the choice of programs, where Germans see the factual programs like news or addressing social concerns part of the definition of "culture", the French on the contrary are drawn to 'culture' that signifies art and its connotations. "Die Franzosen bevorzugen Kultur im engen, elitaeren Sinne mit einer begrenzten Themenpalette, 'waehrend die deutsche Seite (...) einen weiten Kulturbegriff verankern wollte, der auch das Alltagsleben, Wirtschaft, Politik, Nachrichten und Unterhaltung umfassen sollte" (Martin Marcel Bauch, 2005, p. 10). ("The French prefer to experience culture with fine and narrow topicality while the Germans wished to extend the definition to everyday life, economics, politics, news and entertainment"). These differences are dealt with on a daily basis, yet with conclusions to be drawn and solutions to be established. 'We dilly-dally around quite a lot in the newsroom,’ says editor Patrick Schulze-Heil. ‘The French and Germans don’t often share the same point of view on something, or even the same vision when it comes to the hierarchy of information. They’re always in the middle of explaining themselves, and that’s important, because a huge responsibility lies behind their opinions.’ (Strzyz, 2012). Yet the key in Arte's point of view is to try to understand each other and come to a mutual understanding in order to create a programming structure that works for both parties.
When it comes to the programming priorities, Arte follows a pattern of 30% French themes, 30% German themes, and 30% European themes with 10% of international intake. Arte's mission is described by themselves as follow; "The objective of this consortium is to create and produce a television programs of a cultural and international nature in the broadest sense, to be broadcast by itself or by other channels, via satellite or any other medium. These programs should aim to promote mutual understanding and unity among the peoples in Europe" (Arte, 2008). 75% of Arte evening programs are screened for the first time with an aim to create an original format that can appeal to different demographics and promote more knowledge, awareness and entertainment, showcasing Arte as "the voice" of Europe. Arte initially was screened only in the afternoon but yet can be viewed 24 hours a day with multiple way of viewing via digital, satellite or cable network with extensively developed Internet presence.