- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 7, 2004

PARIS — France’s grand plan to create a global television news channel to rival the British Broadcasting Corp., CNN, SkyNews and Al Jazeera has been shelved indefinitely, to the embarrassment of President Jacques Chirac.

“There is no money for the project,” Foreign Minister Michel Barnier conceded to the Foreign Affairs Commission of the French National Assembly last week.

Mr. Chirac had trumpeted the idea of a CNN a la Francaise in March last year, making it an electoral promise even though less than 4 percent of people in the world are Francophone. He pledged to have it up and running by the end of this year.

Mr. Chirac seized on the idea of the International News Network, whose French initials are CII, in irritation that an overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon view of global events was being beamed into millions of households around the world.

The French president is said to have been particularly irked when CNN and the BBC tuned out of a live United Nations address he made on the American-British invasion of Iraq.

The aim of the channel, according to an initial report from Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s office, would have been to “ensure that France has a more important and more visible presence in the battle for world images.”

With a staff of about 200 journalists, CII was initially to broadcast in French, English and Arabic to Northern Europe, Africa, India, the Middle East and Central Asia, and to New York.

Yet the channel’s projected annual budget of $86 million does not figure in the government’s spending plans for 2005 and the money is unlikely to be made available in 2006, according to Mr. Barnier, who took over this year as foreign minister from Dominique de Villepin.

“I still need a few days to hear everyone out and make a decision on this matter, which I found when I arrived and for which there is no money,” he said.

The government has denied that it has lost the political will to launch the channel, but it is waiting for permission from the European Commission to set it up.

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