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December 6, 2006
Attente Avec Le Souffle Chipé

Bonjour, mes amis! That may be the first words uttered by the new sensation in Internet news gathering. France 24, Jacque Chirac's long-awaited answer to the BBC and CNN for global news domination, debuts in just a few hours in both French and English. The latest state-run program to assuage French feelings of inferiority, the channel will eventually expand to offer identical broadcasts in Arab and Spanish as well ... if it can find enough money to pay for it:

Jacques Chirac's dream of a global TV news network á la française, to counter Anglo-Saxon global media dominance, becomes reality tonight as France launches a bilingual 24-hour news service.

After months of preparation and weeks of dry runs, France 24, the new state-funded network, will go live on the internet at 7.29pm GMT, with a 12-minute news bulletin including "internationally renowned guests," and updates every half hour. ...

Two back-to-back control rooms, one in English, the other in French, are poised to perform a unique broadcast balancing act – airing international news simultaneously in two languages, using the same running order, reports and even the same correspondents.

However, it remained to be seen if the quality of the English reporting would be equal to the French. A ticker on the outside of the building, on the southern outskirts of Paris, suggested there could be some communication problems, as it proudly advertised the channel's "spotligths on hot topics" and "in depths reporting". France 24 brashly claims to be "the channel that shows what the audience is not supposed to see, find out or know."

Sceptics argue that its shoestring budget – £58 million compared to CNN's £432 million – means it cannot hope to compete with the other global big hitters nor live up to its slogan of "Beyond the News". It has just 180 journalists, with an average age of 31, spread thinly over two 24-hour channels, and only 36 dedicated correspondents.

France 24 has more problems than finding English-speaking copy editors. Only a third of its programming will come from internal sources; the network will have to rely on outside news agencies and other French networks. Even its offices have not been completed, although they have a strange interior decoration scheme that involves ultraviolet and neon lights. One has to wonder whether they can even meet their modest production goals in that kind of environment, or if the staff will go blind first.

Dominique de Villepin conceived France 24 in late 2002, when France prepared to stab Colin Powell in the back during the debate over Iraq. He convinced Chirac and others that what afflicted French diplomacy most of all was the lack of a very big media conglomerate promoting the viewpoint of the Chirac government around the globe. Apparently that created more difficulties than the fact that the French were on Saddam's payroll through the Oil-For-Food program, but at least it provided the French with the capital to start the venture.

Even if France 24 serves as the mouthpiece of the Chirac government, it can't get much worse than the global networks it seeks to replace. The BBC and CNN both have demonstrated bias, as does Al-Jazeera, another target market for France 24. If nothing else, it will give French media bloggers plenty of fresh material to critique. As for me, I think I'll stick with NZ Bear's new The News Right Now page, a web-style RSS display. It costs less and provides more service than any of the four networks mentioned above.

France 24 starts at 7:29 pm GMT, which equates to 2:29 pm EST. I'm sure we'll all have our mouse pointers hovering over the link.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 6, 2006 5:01 AM

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