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Les Yeux on France: The French CNN

Les Yeux on France: The French CNN

By Yasmine Ryan

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Roxanne Tillier came from Cannes to see her idol, Nicholas Sarkozy

Scoop Audio.Scoop Audio: (click here to listen) Les Yeux on France – The French CNN

After nearly a twenty year wait, President Jacques Chirac finally saw his vision of an international French televised news channel, France 24, launched on 6 December ( Click here to visit France 24 in English) .

Now, at last, the French have their own horse in this influential ring, dominated for so long by the Anglo-Saxon giants CNN International and BBC World (and, to a lesser extent, by the pan-European EuroNews and the German Deutsche Welle). The Qatar-funded Al Jazira has already shaken things up since its beginnings in 1996 and has itself launched Al Jazira International, an English-language channel, a month ago.

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(PARIS – December 2006) – France 24 is broadcast on two channels, one in French and one in English (well 75 percent). Arabic is scheduled for 2007, and a Spanish version is due in three years. Accessibility is the key concept: viewers can access the 24 hour news channel by satellite, cable, ADSL, and of course, the Internet (streaming).

At this stage, it is broadcast in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and in New York and Washington D.C. Next it should expand throughout Asia and the Americas.

The ideological motivation behind the project is explicit. The French Government intends that through France 24, the 'French point of view' on international events will be more widely understood. In its press kit, France 24 elaborates on this: 'Overall, the French perspective on the world is more multi-polar, respectful of diversity, and attentive to differences and to political and cultural identities'.

All journalists must sign a statement supporting the channel's 'principles and values'. The channel's CEO, Alain de Pouzilhac, has said that: 'We will set ourselves apart in that the values we represent are different from those expressed by Anglo-Saxons'.

President Chirac first championed the concept in 1987 in his role as Prime Minister. It was sidetracked until Chirac picked it up again in 2002. In a speech at the Palais de l'Elysée on 12 February 2002, President Chirac argued that "It is excusable that year after year, we continue to lament the persistent inadequacy of French information and audiovisual content at the international level? Admittedly, we can be consolidated by the existence of Agence-France Presse, a remarkable information tool… However we know that we are still far from having a major international television station in French, capable of rivalling the BBC or CNN. And recent crises have underlined the handicap suffered by a nation, a culture, which is inferior when it comes to the battle fought by images and transmissions.'

Despite this political backing, Pouzilhac has insisted that: 'It's the television that President Chirac wanted but it's not Chirac's television.' Business Week, for one, has suggested that the state support could make France 24 closer to Voice of America than CNN.

Managing editor Grégoire Deniau has been quick to deny such claims, saying: 'We will never be a mirror that reflects the French government's policy, but rather we seek to reflect authentic journalism that comes from fieldwork. We will not adopt a nationalistic French tone, again, our aim is to present press coverage that is actually based on fieldwork… We are now witnessing a wave of extremism that is sweeping the world, and I do not refer to Islamic extremism alone but to all its other forms. We will thus distance ourselves from all parties, so that our message can be humane in recounting events, condemning injustice while offering a mouthpiece to everyone and all players in the field.'

Financing is the weakest link in this ambitious vision: 86 million euros in 2007.

This sum is dwarfed compared to the 600 million BBC World works with annually; even more so by CNN's 1.2 billion.

Some say this sum is justified as France 24 builds upon the established networks of its many partners (including TF1, AFP, Radio France International, France 2 and France 3…) The station is run by a contested alliance between the public and private domains.

The crucial role played by information and images in forming public opinion and in gaining support for political initiatives has long been evident. The world watched the Gulf War in 1990-1991 through the lens of CNN International.

More recently, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have really stimulated the French desire to reach out to international audiences.

In February 2003, for example, the French were outraged when CNN, Fox News and MSNBC censured the enthusiastic applauding Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin received from the UN Security Counsel after a speech criticising US conduct over Iraq.

The indignation expressed by many in the West over Al Jazira's apparent deontological differences has proven the impact different approaches to televised news can have.

Critics have jumped on the fact that the Qatar-based channel has aired clippings from Al Qaeda videos and more graphic images of war victims than Western audiences are accustomed to.

Others have applauded the fact that viewers now have more information than before. We can now access a more nuanced and representative view of the Arab world than that presented by BBC World or CNN International.

President George Bush's apparent ambition to hit the Al Jazira headquarters (according to the Daily Mirror) during the bombing campaign in Iraq underlines the extent to which the station has succeeded in unsettling global information networks.

For Chirac, France 24 is a means of France maintaining a strong and influential presence in international relations. It is a continuation of the de Gaullian tradition and a crowning achievement as his days as president come to an end. As is often the case with French foreign policy, then, audiences can expect an independently-minded and vocal counter-weight to existing news sources. Let's hope the tight-fisted budget doesn't undermine this vision…

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Yasmine Ryan is a graduate of the University of Auckland, in Political Studies and French language. She is currently completing a Masters degree in International Journalism at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques, Aix-en-Provence.

ENDS

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