France plans to set up an international TV news channel by late 2004. It is meant to compete with CNN and BBC World but will broadcast in French.
Spurred on by the Iraq war, France wants to spread the news, too.
If news shapes ideas, shaping the news is all the more important. That's clearly the logic behind French plans unveiled this week to start an international French-language television channel by late 2004.
A parliamentary working group presented its recommendations for the channel on Tuesday that foresees a 50-50 cooperation between France Télévisions, the country's public broadcaster, and Europe's largest private TV channel TF1 to set up and run the channel.
"Bolstered by the assets of France's top public and private television companies, this channel will promote a French vision that is more necessary than ever in today's world," Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin's office said in a statement this week.
But Raffarin doesn't get the credit for the idea. Indeed, a French-language international television channel is one of French President Jacques Chirac's pet projects. Apparently unsatisfied with the international media landscape, last year the French president breathed new life into an idea that had been dallied with in the past.
French President Jacques Chirac
Jo Groebel, director general of the European Institute for the Media, suggested the Iraq war triggered Chirac to press for the channel's creation. "During the war we had CNN, BBC World and Al Jazeera," Groebel said. "And Chirac perceived that public opinion would not necessarily be influenced, but be confronted by news coming from the Anglo-Saxon and Arab channels."
But even before the Iraq war began, the French foreign ministry had started looking into the feasibility of an international news channel. Then in an interim report in May parliamentarians pointed out that without such a channel the field was open for British and American reporting on the war.
Not the first
France is already involved in the international French-language channel, TV5, a cooperation with other Francophone countries like Belgium and Switzerland which broadcasts in more than 165 countries. But TV5 is not a news channel.
The French seem to think there is an additional market for a news channel in French. The plans revealed by French parliamentarian Bernard Brochand on Tuesday specified that the channel would not even be broadcast in France.
"I'm not sure there's the same audience for a French-language service as there is for Anglo-Saxon channels," Jo Groebel said. "Undoubtedly there is enough interest for Francophone news in French. The question is who it would be aimed at who is not already reached by TV5 or Radio France International."
In any case, though, such a channel would add to global news pluralism, Groebel said. "From the political point of view, it makes sense for the French 'slash' Europeans to have a broader view," he said. "There is definitely room for a fourth global player."
But whether rivals France Télévisions and TF1 will be able to cooperate will yet be seen. "If there is political will, in a country where things are sometimes steered centrally, I would assume an openness to make this real," Groebel said. "From a political point of view everyone would welcome it."