PARIS — France’s television dream of mounting a challenge to CNN and the British Broadcasting Corp. has suffered an embarrassing setback after reports that the new channel would broadcast most of its output in English.
Starved of realistic funding for a 24-hour news station, CII is scheduled to go on-air in December for transmission initially to Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Its annual budget, met by the French taxpayer, will be $88 million, about an eighth of CNN’s.
President Jacques Chirac promised a “CNN a la francaise” in the 2002 election campaign and is committed to a station that will “spread the values of France and its global vision throughout the world.”
It was always known that part of the channel’s output would be in English and Arabic, but champions of the French language were appalled at suggestions that its output in French be less than four hours a day.
The satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine quoted Jean-Pierre Paoli, right-hand man to CII’s head, Alain de Pouzilhac, as saying: “It could be half in English, half in French or a different proportion.”
But the weekly said CII executives told counterparts at the state-owned France Televisions, a partner with the private TF1 network in the venture, that French-language transmissions would be limited to three hours each morning. The rest, Le Canard Enchaine said, would be “in the language of Shakespeare.”
Mr. Paoli was reported to have defended the proposal on the grounds that English was a universal language, adding, “We are hardly committing an act of high treason.”
Marc Favre d’Echallens of the Association for the Defense of the French Language expressed outrage that a station designed to give a “French vision” of world affairs would contain so little in French.
“After celebrating Trafalgar with the English and making light of our own great victory of Austerlitz, it probably follows that a publicly funded French television channel should end up broadcasting in English,” he said.
“If all we get is a poor man’s version of what is already available, what is the point of doing it at all?”
A spokesman for the new channel said: “Eighty percent of our target audience will be Anglophone. If we want pluralism in the field of international television news, we cannot ignore this.
“Our viewers will be opinion formers, journalists and people who travel a lot, and the language most common to them is English.”