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France's Parallel Media Universe: Ethnic Media

New America Media, News Feature + Video, Russell Morse Posted: Dec 09, 2005

Editor's Note: French President Jacques Chirac recently blasted his nation's media for failing to reflect the demographic realities of France. But growing along with France's immigrant communities are ethnic media organizations that give voice to the nation's minorities and bring them out of the shadows.

Video: French media discuss ethnic issues.

Hortense Nouvion wants love stories. Black love stories. She is the founder and editor of Cite Black, a magazine based in Paris that reflects the rich and flourishing, though largely unrecognized, African culture of France.

She started the publication as a response to the absence of black faces and voices in French media, from movies to the newsstand. "You never see a love story between two black people," Nouvion says. "We don't have love stories, we don't have our TV, we don't have our media...The magazine is for a lot of people who don't see their face on TV."

Early in November, just as the violence in France's minority neighborhoods was dying down, I spoke with a number of young people who live in these areas. From these conversations, it became clear that they feel invisible in French society, and a lot of the frustration that led to the violence came from this yearning to be recognized.

I also spoke with a number of people who are fighting for that visibility -- the producers of and advocates for ethnic and youth media in France.

Reynald Blion is a program director at Panos, a global organization with offices in Paris that specializes in media issues and what he calls the "pluralism of information."

His work in France is to promote awareness of ethnic media there and create an exchange of sorts. He explained that ethnic media in France didn't really start to emerge in measurable numbers until the early 1980s, when the government "liberalized" the airwaves with the aim of diversifying radio programming.

It worked. Today, 25 percent of the local radio stations in the Paris area are categorically ethnic. That growth has been limited to radio, however. In the entire country there is no ethnic newspaper that publishes daily and not one television station. It is Reynald's hope that by building a network and promoting awareness, this can change.

"One of our aims is to let people know that this media exists and that they produce a different understanding of what happens in ethnic communities," Blion said. "One of our challenges is to put them under the light and to highlight what they are doing, what they are producing and what they are thinking. And especially to highlight the very deep relation they've got with ethnic minorities, the deep relation they have with their roots."

The absence of these voices is particularly obvious in the wake of the riots, as white faces float across French television screens trying to decipher the "mystery" of minority discontent.

As they alternate between short shrugs and wild gesticulation, it becomes clear that what the French mainstream media is missing in the story is their own role in that discontent. Essentially, because there is no coverage of the social issues that minorities are facing, nothing changes.

Blion has heard this sentiment from several minority journalists he's spoken with since the violence began.

"The mainstream media is focusing now on understanding why this happened, what are the causes and how we can stop this," Blion says. "What is the real situation of the youth regarding discrimination, racism? To some of the (minority) journalists with whom we have spoken, it seems obvious that the lack of these issues in the mainstream media is the main point to cover."

One independent media outlet that noticed this omission years ago and built a pool of writers to combat it is a youth magazine called Respect. Rjane Ereau is deputy chief editor for the magazine, which is based in Toulouse, a city in the south that was the site of some of the most destructive and dramatic protests.

Rjane conducts regular open editorial meetings with the young people in their network to discuss the issues that are now confounding most of the country. Out of these mostly informal discussions, they develop content for the quarterly glossy magazine, which is distributed throughout France.

On a recent cover, they ran a dramatic photo of a black man and white woman embracing with the headline, "Sex in the Ghetto." She explained that the term ghetto could be interpreted to mean more than a literal, physical neighborhood.

"This is sex going outside the ghettos. All kinds of ghettos, all kind of clichs you can have. 'I'm not pretty enough, I'm not like everybody'...Your own ghetto. Also ethnic ghettos, to match (or hook up) with people who are not from your ethnic group."

On the magazine's cover, beneath its title is the slogan, "Decoloniser nos Imaginaires," literally, "decolonize your imagination." Rjane translates it more accurately as "blow away what you think." She explains that this is what the young people she works with are after -- to destroy stereotypes and present themselves accurately, as French society would never otherwise see them.

She explains that the enthusiasm of Respect's contributors comes from this desire to see themselves, their stories, concerns and lives addressed, published and publicized. "All they want is recognition. That's what all of us want -- recognition."

PNS contributor Russell Morse is an editor at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia (www.youthoutlook.org), a project of Pacific News Service.

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