Home Entertainment Trepidation Grows in French Art and Culture Sector Over Far-Right Win

Trepidation Grows in French Art and Culture Sector Over Far-Right Win


France goes to the polls on Sunday for the second round of a snap parliamentary election in which far-right National Rally (RN) party looks set to come out on top.

With less than 48 hours until the booths open, polls are forecasting RN is on course to win between 200 to 230 seats in France’s 599-seat National Assembly lower house.

This will not give it an absolute majority but could result in the party’s 28-year-old president Jordan Bardella becoming prime minister with the backing of its leader Marine Le Pen.

Emmanuel Macron, who called the election in response to hefty far right gains in European Parliament elections in mid-June has vowed to stay in place as president until the end of his term in May 2027, although it is not clear what power he will wield if there is a majority RN government.

The prospect of RN taking political control is weighing heavily on the country’s traditionally left-leaning arts and culture sector. Culture is a major driver of the French economy; and the sector fears an RN victory will result in cuts as well as hit diversity and freedom of expression.

Bardella made little mention of culture in an address in late June laying out his party’s priorities, focusing instead on planned anti-immigration and law-and-order initiatives.

However, in other interviews he has talked openly about his ambitions to scrap public networks France Télévisions and Radio France, a move he says would save $3.2B (€3B).

France’s independent producers’ union (SPI) warned in a statement that such a move would threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The Spi suggested that beyond direct job losses, some 300,000 salaries are linked to the public broadcasting sector, more than the fishing and pharmaceutical industries, which it said accounted for 273,000 and 100,000 jobs respectively.

Dismissing Bardella’s money saving claims, culture sector professionals say RN’s plans to sell off the public networks is rather a ploy to seize control of public discourse.  

In the backdrop, there has been scrutiny of the role Vivendi-owned media outlets such Le Journal du Dimanche (LeJDD), Europe 1 and CNews, regarded as the Fox news of France, have played in shaping the country’s current political leanings.

There has been much talk around whether famously conservative tycoon Vincent Bolloré, who officially stepped down as Vivendi boss in 2022, is still pulling strings at these outlets to push a right-wing agenda. He has repeatedly denied any sort of interference.

France’s audiovisual watchdog Arcom served notice on radio station Europe 1 at the end of June, reprimanding it for a lack of honesty and political plurality on the talk show of controversial presenter Cyril Hanouna.

The notice pointed out that 16 of the 29 politician guests between June 17 and 25 had been affiliated with far-right parties.

Hanouna, who has a reputation for ridiculing centrist and leftist politicians on live TV and radio, responded that guests from across the political spectrum had been invited to the show but that many had not responded.

Another key concern is that RN will dismantle or reduce the scope of the country’s Intermittence du Spectacle employment scheme.

The contribution-based system, ensuring regular income for arts and entertainment workers employed under temporary contracts, underpins many activities in these sectors, from film production to live entertainment.

There are also expectations that the party will attempt to put sympathizers in key posts across the sector or influence the board of independent bodies such as Arcom with political appointees.  

An immediate testing ground could be the country’s National Cinema Centre (CNC), which was left without a president last week when Dominique Boutonnat quit the post after being found guilty of sexual assault.

In other concerns, there are suggestions that the RN’s obsession with heritage (patrimoine) will lead to a shifting of funds into the restoration of historic buildings and reviving folkloric traditions, over living and breathing contemporary art and culture.

“Culture is completely absent from the programs of the far-right, yet it is the first victim when they come to power,” read an open letter spearheaded by the l’ARP Cinema guild and posted on the website of Le Monde newspaper on June 23.

The letter brought together 50 orgs representing the arts and culture sector. To date, more than 1,300 professionals from across the sector have signed the letter, ranging from small town bookshop owners to actors and directors such as Gilles Lellouche, Bertrand Bonello and Cédric Klapisch.

The collective statement pointed out what has happened to arts and culture in Hungary and Italy, under far-right prime ministers Viktor Orbàn and Giorgia Meloni.

 “Italy and Hungary, once major players in culture, have set an example,” it read.

Following the victory of Orbàn’s Fidesz’s party in 2010, his government radically reduced the country’s state media, merging it under the umbrella of MTVA and firing 1,600 employees in the process.

At the same, it also took control of the media council which stopped renewing the licences of independent radio stations and TV channels not aligned with Orbàn’s right-wing agenda.

France blazed a trail in 1959 with the creation of the world’s first Ministry of Culture. Art and culture have been at the heart of government policy ever since, whatever the ruling party’s political persuasion.

In the ensuing 65 years, a sophisticated ecosystem of subsidies and supports has grown up, which is the envy of creatives across Europe and beyond.

France’s Ministry of Culture benefited from a 6% rise in its budget in 2024 to $12.9B (€11B), with $4.7B going to culture and media missions, and $4.3B early marked for the public audiovisuals sector.

In turn, arts and culture directly employs around 600,000 people and generates more than $100B in revenue a year, not including the added value to the economy, which is twice that of the automobile industry.

“France has long been a country associated with culture and its defence of human rights, but today, it’s beginning to resemble the France of Pétain,” says one cinema professional, referring to the leader of the authoritarian Vichy regime which controlled southeastern France during WW2 in collaboration with Nazi Germany.

RN has its roots in the National Party founded by Marie Le Pen in 1972, with co-founders including Vichy Milice fighter François Brigneau and Pierre Bousquet, who was a member of the French division of the SS.  

Against this backdrop, professionals from the arts and culture sector have their fingers crossed that RN will win fewer seats than forecast and that the left-wing New Popular Front alliance and centrist presidential Ensemble bloc will find a way to work together to temper more extreme right-wing policies.

If this does not happen, they fear that the virtuous circle that has long put culture at the heart of the country’s identity could be broken for the first time since 1959.


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