The European Commission gave its green light Tuesday to plans for a French international television news network to rival the BBC and CNN, saying the project does not breach EU state aid rules.
CNN's Iraq coverage convinced France to pursue its own channel
The French International News Channel (CFII) is a joint operation between state broadcaster France Television and the private channel TF1, with the government providing 30 million euros ($40 million) to get it started.
"I am delighted that the Commission has been able to give the go-ahead to this project for a public-service television channel," said EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes.
The commission said that, although the project involved state aid, "it could nevertheless be authorized as a project financing a service of general economic interest."
"The Commission also concluded that the project offered sufficient guarantees against the risk of distortion of competition, for example by preventing unjustified transfers of public funds to France Television and TF1, who will be shareholders in the future channel," it said.
Chirac unhappy at 'biased' Iraq reporting
French President Jacques Chirac
President Jacques Chirac championed the idea of the new network during the diplomatic spat with the United States in the run-up to the Iraq war. He was said to be unhappy with the way French policies were presented on international stations such as Britain's BBC World and the US-based CNN.
Jo Gröbel, 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," Gröbel 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."
President's pet project realized
But a French-language international television channel has been one of Chirac's pet projects for some time. Apparently unsatisfied with the international media landscape, the French president has championed the creation of such a channel for over three years.
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 2003, parliamentarians pointed out that without such a channel the field was open for British and American reporting on the war from the western viewpoint with Al-Jazeera the main broadcaster in the Arab world.
The conclusion of that report was for the French to push for the channel that has now been approved. The programs will mostly be in French, although English and other languages would also be used, and, though they would be beamed to several countries, they will not be seen in France itself -- limiting the attraction for French advertisers.
Doubts over French-language audience
"I'm not sure there's the same audience for a French-language service as there is for Anglo-Saxon channels," Jo Gröbel added. "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 (Swiss run) TV5 or Radio France International."
In any case, though, such a channel would add to global news pluralism, Gröbel 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."