President Jacques Chirac, addressing his cabinet, said France “must be at the forefront of the global battle of images, that’s why I am resolved that our country should have an international news channel”, according to government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope.
The French International News Network (CFII) – known colloquially as “CNN a la francaise” – will be run by a joint company owned by the leading private French television broadcaster TF1 and the public broadcaster France Televisions, Communications Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres told a media conference on Wednesday.
France Televisions will be in the driving chair of the entity, whose 240 staff will produce programmes beamed to Europe, Africa and the Middle East at first, then later to Asia, Latin America and North America.
News will be provided around the clock in French, though the plans also call for a four-hour slot of English programming and the option of adding Arabic and Spanish.
Chirac: France should be leading
Cope said the CFII would begin broadcasting “before the end of 2006”.
Chirac stated that “the goal is to show everywhere in the world the values of France and its vision of the world”, according to Cope, and promised that it would have the public financing “commensurate with its ambition”.
The French president has pushed for the network for nearly four years, since February 2002, when he called for a “big international news channel in French able to rival the BBC and CNN”.
Impetus for the idea picked up before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when French officials were dismayed at the way non-US and British positions were being reported in international media.
Coverage of the Paris riots
Some reports in US media stating that “Paris is burning” during the recent three weeks of rioting around the capital and elsewhere in France also nettled the government.
The European Commission gave the green light to the CFII in June, saying it did not breach EU state aid rules.
The French government has given initial funding of 30 million euros ($35 million) for this year and allocated another 65 million euros for next year.
The budget for the CFII is a small fraction of that spent by the BBC or CNN, both of which have built global networks and enjoy established reputations.
BBC World, the privately financed international arm of Britain’s public broadcaster, has 250 staff and an undisclosed budget.
CNN’s US and international divisions employ 4000 people and have revenues of $860 million.
BBC World has 250 staff and
The path to getting the CFII off the ground was a rocky one.
Relations between TF1 and France Televisions are often frosty and competitive.
France Televisions chief executive Patrick de Carolis had argued for TF1 to be dropped from the project but relented after the government assured him that the state broadcaster would call the shots.
An early plan for CFII to be unavailable in France itself – as an accommodation to TF1, which has a domestic 24-hour all-news cable channel called LCI – was revised after consumer groups complained about the public financing a channel it would not be able to watch.
Journalist unions at France Televisions have warned that their members are balking at having their work used by a company part-owned by a private group and want guarantees that TF1 will not have access to their reports.
The new network is expected to rely on state-owned Radio France Internationale and on Agence France-Presse for some of its output, through contracts or associative arrangements.