“French CNN” to (Barely) Get Off the Ground

Nathalie Schuck has a treatment in the Nouvel Observateur of the new French TV channel for international news, the Chaîne Française d’Information Internationale or CII, (The “CNN à la française” On the Rails, But Poorly Endowed). As is obvious here, this is supposed to become an international competitor to such news organizations as CNN and the BBC, but presenting the French point-of-view. (But note: in English and Arabic, in addition to French). Premier Jean-Pierre Raffarin on Thursday announced that CII would take to the airwaves next year, as a joint project of the television networks TFI and France Télévisions, financed by the state to the tune of €30 million per year.

This would seem finally to meet the call first made in 2002 by French President Jacques Chirac for a “great international news network in French”, which he maintained then was “essential for the image of our country.”

Or maybe not. For one thing, some feel that €30 million budget is way too low; CII’s yearly requirements have been estimated at closer to €70 million. Mme. Schuck even quotes right-wing Assembly delegate François Rochebloine, former president of the committee established in 2003 by the Assemblée Nationale (French lower house) to look into setting up such a network, to the effect that CII needs €100 million per year “at a minimum.” Also, there are no plans to broadcast CII actually into France itself. It will be broadcast in Africa, the Near and Far East, and (the article says) “New York” – yes, apparently only New York, because that’s where the UN is – and even in “Europe,” but not in France. I guess it’s going to be a cable channel; and Shuck’s article also enlightens us about this seemingly strange coverage policy: it can’t be allowed in France, because then it would compete against one of TF1’s subsidiaries, a channel called LCI.

I’d be interested in what this new channel is all about – if I watched any TV in the first place, that is. Still, as the article notes at the end, international competition in TV news is fierce, and now includes newcomers Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. Assuming CII ultimately gets the level of funding it is alleged to need, what happens after that if it seems that nobody is interested in watching it? But maybe that is being unduly pessimistic; I find it an appealing argument that the world’s TV-viewers are ready for a new current affairs TV channel representing Europe. This continent’s level of literacy and cultural heritage really rather makes you wonder why there hasn’t been something like this in existence already.

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