- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

PARIS

A round-the-clock inter-national news channel France plans to introduce next month will challenge the “Anglo-Saxon” views spread by market leaders BBC and CNN by relying on “French values,” the network’s chief said yesterday.

France 24, as the network will be called, will begin broadcasting in English and French on the Internet on Dec. 6 and via satellite two days later, its chairman and chief executive, Alain de Pouzilhac, told Le Figaro newspaper.

Like its British and American rivals, it is homing in on “opinion leaders” around the world by dishing up a diet of news, features and discussion. But those viewers, Mr. Pouzilhac said, have become increasingly “skeptical of the world vision offered by the Anglo-Saxons like BBC World and CNN International.”

Instead, he said, they “are looking for contradictory opinions — which is what France 24 is proposing by relying on French values.”

Mr. Pouzilhac did not define what those values were beyond saying that the channel would highlight “diversity [and] … confrontation, without forgetting the culture and French art of living.”

Financed to the tune of $100 million a year by the state — and run as a joint operation among France’s top commercial and public national TV networks — France 24 will start out as a minnow to the BBC or CNN, which have both built up global networks and enjoy established reputations.

BBC World, the privately financed international arm of Britain’s public broadcaster, has 250 employees and an undisclosed budget. CNN’s U.S. and international divisions employ 4,000 people and have revenues of $860 million.

Meanwhile, other players have entered the market, most notably the Arab network al-Jazeera, which has just started an English-language service.

Still, Mr. Pouzilhac insists there is room for the French channel.

“From its launch, France 24 will potentially reach 250 million individuals” and will be pumped into 500 hotels in 64 countries, he said.

It will be offered throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East and in New York and the District. Later, it plans to extend its broadcasts to all of North and South America and also to Asia.

Staffed by 380 people — including 170 bilingual journalists — France 24 will rely in part on video footage and reporting provided by its managing companies, the TF1 private network and the state-owned France Televisions, as well as from partner organizations such as Agence France-Presse and Radio France Internationale.

France 24 was conceived years ago as a pet project of President Jacques Chirac, who in February 2002 called for a “big international news channel in French able to rival the BBC and CNN.” The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq pushed the project forward because Mr. Chirac reportedly was miffed by the way CNN and the BBC presented France’s opposition to the war.

His government also was nettled by some reports in the American media inaccurately stating that “Paris is burning” during the 2005 riots around France.

Mr. Chirac has said he hopes the channel will place France “at the forefront of the global battle of images.”

The European Commission gave the green light to the French channel in June, but media commentators have highlighted internal problems in the company caused by forcing TF1 and France Televisions — aggressive competitors in the national market — to work together.

The head of France Televisions, Patrick de Carolis, unsuccessfully lobbied to have TF1 jettisoned from the project, and relations between the two remain frosty.

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