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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 December 2006, 00:45 GMT
World news to get a French flavour
By Caroline Wyatt
BBC News, Paris

At 2029 French time on Wednesday evening, France's latest bid to shore up its influence on the world stage goes live on the internet, with the launch of the country's first international TV news channel France24.

Reporters at France24
France24 will have some 170 journalists working for it

Its debut on satellite and cable TV follows on Thursday evening.

The irony is that in order to communicate France's view of world events, at least one of the channel's streams will be reaching its audience across the globe in English.

France24 was born out of French President Jacques Chirac's intense frustration that France's voice was not being heard loudly enough in Washington or London in the run-up to the war in Iraq in 2003.

France felt its rather different views had been drowned out by Anglo-American domination of world news by CNN International and BBC World, as well as Fox News and Sky.

The Arab world also has its own "voice" abroad, in Arabic and English, with Al-Jazeera and Al-Jazeera International.

Unusual hybrid

On Wednesday night, the Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries gardens in the heart of Paris will be the venue for the channel's grand champagne launch party as Mr Chirac plays host to 1,000 invited guests, who will watch a big screen displaying the new TV station's first bulletin.

France24 logo
Finishing touches are being applied to the channel's offices

Mr Chirac's "CNN a la francaise", as it's been dubbed in France, has been put together as a joint venture between TF1, the biggest independent network, and France Televisions, the state broadcaster.

With 170 journalists of its own, France24 can call on the resources of the two main French broadcasters as well as partners such as AFP TV.

It has an annual budget of its own from the French state of 80 million euros or 54 million pounds, making it an unusual public/private hybrid.

It will also transmit in Arabic from mid-2007.

'Opposite of Washington'

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.

The separate control galleries will turn into a broadcasting tower of Babel as directors for the English section shout their countdown: "Five, four, three, two, one..." with their French counterparts' version clearly audible in the adjoining room.

France24 offices
News will be broadcast in French and English simultaneously

Even though it may come with a British accent, France24's aim is to cast a "French eye on the world", according to its CEO, Alain de Pouzilhac.

He believes that France24 will add a distinctive "French flavour" to the global news menu.

"We think France24 will bring a different point of view, a different opinion, one that recognises the diversity of the world," he says, from their new Issy-les-Moulineaux headquarters to the south-west of Paris.

"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."

Finishing touches

France is joining what President Chirac called the "global battle of images" rather later than America, Britain or even Russia.

CNN began more than a quarter of a century ago, in 1980, with BBC World arriving to compete for the world's audiences in 1991, and Al-Jazeera International adding its voice this November.

Yet with the French state funding most of the channel, some - even in France - wonder if its journalists will be expected to toe a government line or follow a presidential agenda.

France24 newsroom
The channel aims to offer a French view of world events

France24 presenter Mark Owen, 43, who was recruited from Britain's ITN, insists they won't.

"This idea that it's a Chirac channel and the French government mouthpiece just doesn't hold water," he says.

"We are independent journalists, and there's no way we are going to respond to outside influence. We'll deal with the story impartially, give it straight and hopefully we'll deliver a good product that people want to watch."

For now, France24 is putting the finishing touches to its glossy headquarters before it takes to the airwaves.

Although the stylish white newsroom is already operational, producers and presenters alike are having to step around painters on their ladders, while France24 logos hang precariously from the walls, held up by sticky tape.

But the hope is that from Wednesday night, when the finished product goes to air, perhaps even Downing Street and the White House will tune in if they want to see how the world looks through French eyes.




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