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Culture

Move Over, Al Jazeera: French Muslims Launch Own TV Station

There are four to five million Muslims in France, but only recently have they had a television station to call their own. But Beur TV is not simply an Al Jazeera knockoff.

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Beur TV aims to serve people of Arab descent in France, like soccer superstar Zinedine Zidane.

Launched in March 2003, Beur TV is targeted at Muslims in both France and North Africa. The word “Beur” is “Arab” as spoken in a popular French slang that inverts words, and is a bit like a mix of cockney rhyming and Pig Latin.

Programs on Beur TV can be heard in Arabic and Berber, but most are in French. The range of programming is wide. There is a show on beauty, sports programs, movies, and lots of current affairs.

The brainchild of producer Nacer Kettane, who started a successful radio station called Radio Beur in the 1980s, the station is aimed at Muslims not only in France but in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco as well – the former French colonies in the Maghreb region of North Africa.

'We are French'

Beur TV will differ from Al Jazeera, the well-known Arab-language news channel from Qatar, Kettane said. For one thing, the two stations serve very different audiences. “We are different from Al Jazeera,” Kettane told Deutsche Welle. “We are Muslims in Europe. We came from North Africa, but we live in France. We are French, you know."

France has had other channels catering to Muslims in the past. One was funded by Saudi Arabia, another by Algeria. But Kettane hopes Beur TV will enjoy total editorial independence, since the station expects to cover its annual €5 million budget entirely by advertising. The precedent is encouraging. Radio Beur started as a semi-professional community radio station in the 1980s, and now it is a successful business with listeners on both sides of the Mediterranean.

The station’s assistant director Arlette Casas said she is confident the advertisers will come. “The advertising market in the Maghreb region is very large and expanding. Because of their economic systems, these people haven't bought very much. And now those countries are opening up through globalization. So there is huge potential."

A question of identity

But for those involved, Beur TV is much more than a business proposition. It's about cultural expression and community identity -- a venture that goes to the heart of the raging debate on immigration and identity in France.

France has become a multicultural nation over the years, but you'd never know it by watching television. Although Muslims are around eight percent of the country's population, few of the people shown on camera are of immigrant background, with sports and comedy the notable exceptions. Football player Zinedine Zidane, whose parents were Algerian, or successful comics like Jamel Debbouze, of Moroccan descent, are revered as heroes. But it's still rare to see Muslims in many mainstream television shows.

Catherine de Wenden, a researcher specializing in immigration issues, says French Muslims want to make their presence felt in society. "They have the feeling that they are not represented in French broadcasts. So perhaps they wanted to show they exist as a community. And also to give legitimacy to their objective of being Muslims while being French."

Le Mix

Many of France's Muslims watch Moroccan or Algerian television on cable or satellite. But these stations don't accurately reflect their unique mix of French and Muslim influences either, de Wenden says.

"Most of them want to express their culture, and they want to propose a culture that is a mix of French and Maghreban. So this has nothing to do with Saudi Arabia, nothing to do with other areas,” she said.

At Beur TV, such cultural expression takes many forms. Take, for example, the fashion and beauty show Beau, Belle, Beur, which translates to Handsome, Beautiful, -- and Beur. It is hosted and produced by Leila Talla, a journalist of Algerian heritage. She worked for years at a women's beauty magazine, and her show aims to look at fashion and beauty from a French Muslim perspective.

So far, episodes have focused on lingerie, Hamams (traditional North African steam baths,) and weddings.

“I mixed the Middle Eastern wedding wear with Western wear -- the seven outfits a Middle Eastern bride must wear before putting on here white dress,” Talla said. “And I did a report on Western wedding dresses by visiting a well-known gown designer here in Paris and also a large discount store for wedding gowns."

A suitable topic for a show that is really all about marriage – the marriage of French and Muslim culture.

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