Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A French CNN?

Tonight France launched “France 24” its own international news channel, a "CNN a la francaise". It is the brainchild of Jacques Chirac frustrated by the dominance of CNN and other "Anglo-Saxon" media on matters that influence world opinion (here). As most grand projects in France, it is state-funded. Not that it is necessarily a problem as long as it does not become the voice of the French government or worse, “Chirac TV” or “Sarko TV” in the future.

What is more unusual is that the French seem to have realized that the best way to reach out to the world is to do it in English. What a change for a country that considers its language the most cherished part of its culture. But so apparently, the message has become more important than the language. (this is all the more ironical that earlier this year Chirac made a fuss because the French leader of the European employers' group spoke English at an EU meeting!)

So the “France 24” broadcasts simultaneously in French and English, with two parallel channels and the website will be trilingual from the start, in English, French and Arabic. :

The same news bulletins will be broadcast simultaneously in French and English on two streams by news presenters standing at two white desks at opposite ends of the newsroom. (BBC)

But what will make France 24 view so French then?

The Christian Science Monitor has a point when they say that the “network intends to be every bit as proud, quarrelsome, and contrarian as the French believe themselves to be.”

But according to the European affairs editor of “F24”

"The real French 'touch' will be lots of debate and analysis of debate. If there is one thing the French value above all, it's putting all views up for debate and understanding why people take certain views."

The CEO makes it pretty clear that its goal is to offer a alternative to the American view:

"It's the opposite of what the US does. The vision from Washington tries to show that the world is unified, whereas we will try to demonstrate the opposite: that the world has a lot of diversity. Diversity of culture, diversity of religion, and diversity of opinion." (BBC)
There is some truth as far as the American perspective is concerned, and it starts at school. Americans learn what they have in common with the rest of the world, not with what is different.
And in some ways, that's what CNN reflects. But it is a different story with the BBC, which is also very influential in the world, and shows as much the diversity of the world as any news channel could. It is thus a bit ignorant to present the “Anglo-Saxon” view as monolithic. Even from a political perspective, BBC’s early criticism and fair report of the war in Iraq is a good illustration of its neutrality.

The other aim of France 24- to reflect a certain French "art de vivre", or way of life - may prove more successful.

It will explain the news with a perennial favorite of French TV: the argumentative debate show where philosophers in corduroy battle on current affairs. At least 20% of the programming will focus on culture and lifestyle, embracing everything from world museums to cuisine, fashion and French chocolate.

This may be a good means of promoting French products then, but I may be a bit too cynical about the whole thing.

NOTE: One thing is clear: their logo is pretty hideous.


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