The project was born of the French president's frustrations at the supremacy of US cable news network CNN at the time of the first US-led war against Iraq in 1991. It promises a "French vision" of world affairs with a heavy emphasis on diversity and debate.
"It is indispensable that a great country like France should be able to have its vision of the world and broadcast this vision," Jacques Chirac, the French president, said in an interview with the station.
"Naturally fitting with our traditions, our conception of civilisation, humanism and globalisation.
"This will be expressed, I think, through France 24."
Televised broadcasts on two channels, one in French and the other mostly in English, are to begin on Thursday. An Arabic-language channel is to air next year, with a Spanish channel following in about three years.
The state-funded channel enters a crowded market that includes CNN, BBC World and Al Jazeera, which made its English-language debut last month.
Supporters of the new station said they were not daunted by the competition.
Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, the French culture minister, said that the channel was long overdue.
"In the symphony of the free press, there is now a French voice," he said. "We're late, and we're trying to catch up."
France 24 will transmit to Europe, the Middle East and Africa via satellite, initially reaching an estimated 75 million households in more than 90 countries.
France 24 expects to expand coverage in North America and Asia. For now, the only US destination for the channel is Washington, where it will be available to Comcast cable subscribers.
Programming on the French and English channels is to be virtually identical, with 10-minute news bulletins every half hour, and a selection of reports, talk shows and news magazines.
The idea for the channel, discussed for more than 10 years, gained resonance during the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, when Chirac tried to slow the US drive to war and some media in the US and Britain mocked his efforts.