The late Andrew Malraux, onetime revolutionary turned mystical and political adviser to Gen. Charles de Gaulle, once soberly asked John F. Kennedy how he could govern the United States without controlling television.
Alain Peyrefitte, who has served often as a minister in the governments of the last 23 years, recalled his surprise when he inherited the Information Ministry console with buzzers and bells linked directly to various radio and television bosses. Peyrefitte acknowledged that soon he was ordering France's government-controlled media officials around like so many corporals.
These examples of a supposedly incorrigible official propensity to interfere in the electronic media here demonstrate why the new Socialist government of President Francois Mitterrand is facing growing skepticism in insisting that its administration of the French state radio and television monopoly will be different.
Although the country's newspapers and magazines are outside direct government control and often criticize government actions, the idea that the government should run radio and television remains entrenched. And the Socialists seem as determined as any other French government in the past to maintain the state monopoly, no matter how hard that may prove to be in the era of cable and satellite television.
But at the same time, the proclaimed Socialist goal is to ensure professional autonomy for radio and television, remove the electronic media from any government's whims, make them responsible to the nation at large and improve quality in news and cultural offerings.
There also are some unproclaimed undercurrents. Convinced that the former ruling conservatives -- and their media minions -- have given them short shrift for nearly a quarter of a century, the Socialists seem torn between firing the offenders and turning the other cheek to show they are above witch hunts.
Communications Minister Georges Fillioud, who was fired from television 16 years ago for his socialist leanings, at first hoped the radio and television bosses would take the hint and quit on their own. When they did not, Fillioud suggested that their underlings rise up and refuse to work for those bosses.
Over more than a month, the former governmenths media moguls were either cajoled, pried or bought out of office. Those who resisted least were two career diplomats who had assured salaries, if not jobs, when they left their posts as television channel managers.
Jean-Louis Guillaud, a tough-minded journalist who stayed at or near the top for nearly 20 years under the conservatives, gave way as head of the most popular television channel only after drawn-out negotiations and rumors of a handsome indemnity. Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy wrote him a letter noting his accomplishments and acknowledging that his departure "was in keeping with the logic of the present situation."
These events have delighted conservative commentators who have compared and contrasted initial Socialist promises of keeping hands off with the number of severed heads. They gleefully have quoted trade union leader Edmond Amire criticizing Fillioud for "inciting professionals to do the dirty work that he did not want to do himself" and Mauroy's remark that while he was not asking anyone to leave, he was not "asking anyone to stay, either."
Yet these somewhat unsightly happenings have spared the working journalists and produced a surprising happy end of a kind. Named to run the country's second television channel was the nearest thing France has to Walter Cronkite, a bear-like, 61-year-old survivor named Pierre Desgraupes.
In and out of favor for decades, at one time denounced as a "dangerous leftist," Desgraupes from 1969 to 1972 provided the nearest thing the French have seen to uncensored television news. Eventually he ran afoul of the government, lost his television news job and survived by doing widely admired medical programs.
In his new job, he is likely to hear voices from the newsroom that have suddenly become audible since power has changed hands. Indirectly encouraged by the Socialists, the electronic journalists have formed committees to defend and define their status. Working together are those who genuinely suffered in the past and those who jumped on the Socialist bandwagon after the elections.
An earnest Mauroy recently promised on television that neither he, his staff nor his ministers "would pick up telephones and dictate the news."
"You'll see," he said. "My government will not do that."
But already some French television-watchers have noticed a certain subservience to the new authorities, a form of virtually subliminal bowing and scraping that only the true courtier knows how to dissimulate.
In the same Mauroy television performance, the deference of his questioners was striking. Almost without exception they avoided asking tough questions as much as they and their predecessors have in the past.