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France 24 - The New Competitor for BBC and CNN

Tuesday 19 December 2006

France has launched a new 24-hour television news channel to compete with the BBC and CNN, but questions remain about just how it will fare.


France 24 is the brainchild of President Jacques Chirac, following his exasperation with coverage of French opposition to the war in Iraq by CNN and the BBC.

The brief for the channel is to counteract the alleged bias of these channels, and to offer a Francophone perspective and values on the world.

These values have been defined by the TV bosses as "debate, argument, confrontation, defence of secularism, multilateralism, solidarity, respect, freedom of speech, the art of living, culture, fashion, and gastronomy".

Critics doubt that these values amount to anything that is distinctive or original, and that there is the real risk that the channel will merely become a mouthpiece for the French government.

One of the major problems the managers face is the budget for the channel. It will be almost entirely funded by the taxpayer to the tune of about €80 million a year, well short of the €900 million spent by CNN and the €600 million by BBC World.

There is also the geographic focus of the proposed news coverage, which managers have expressed to be . Whilst there may well be a stronger audience reach for a French channel from people living in these regions, there are doubts about the potential size of the English speaking audience.

It is also bound to raise a question mark about the future of the French channel TV5 Monde, whose broadcast schedules already have extensive coverage of both regions.

Sadly, Francophones are likely to be disappointed if they tune in the hope of seeing lots of news about France, as it is clear from the first week of broadcasts that the focus is on international news not domestic problems! Indeed, the tag line of the channel is ‘l’actualité internationale 24/24’.

Ultimately, the acid test for the station will be how it portrays France itself, at home and abroad. Unless it can demonstrate a level of objectivity and independence that the French government considers is wantonly lacking on CNN and the BBC, it is going to end up as rather poor pastiche of its older relations.

A key member the election team of socialist Presidential candidate Ségolène Royal has already denounced the project as a waste of public money, so the channel may well not survive the election of a new President next year.

You can receive France 24 by tuning into Sky 515.

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