France 24: French Values First, International News Second

Yesterday, France launched its new 24-hour global news channel, which is originally entitled: France 24. The network, which was opened with an online newscast on Wednesday and will begin broadcasting on cable TV today, will have to jostle for space amongst established players such as CNN and BBC World, and even the recently launched English-language Al-Jazeera. As a result, Business Week reports that critics have questioned the viability of the France 24 business model:

[O]bservers close to France 24 doubt whether the station has the vision, resources, and revenue structure to match [their] ambition. With an annual budget of just $114 million (compared with CNN's $856 million) and only 180 journalists in charge of producing two 24-hour channels, the staff likely will be stretched thin.

Indeed, France 24 does seem to be an ambitious project. But the founders of the channel, among them President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Domenique de Villepin, believe that France 24 will have a Unique Selling Point: the French point of view. It is the quest for precisely this that is reported to have been the main impetus behind the channel’s creation:

The 2002 Iraq war debate raised the issue with new urgency, when many in France felt the country's diplomatic voice was marginalized because the country lacked its own global media presence.

The solution, according to the French Republic, is to present the world with an unabashedly biased international news channel. While the channel is independent of the government, the BBC reports that France 24 journalists have to sign a mission statement “to cover international news with a French perspective … and to carry the values of France throughout the world.”

To me, however, it seems that this USP is actually France 24's Unique Sinking Point. To offer international news coverage with an explicit country-specific bias already makes France 24 a weak competitor relative to BBC World, CNN and possibly even al-Jazeera.

True – France 24 is being explicit about its bias, where the other channels are less so (although al-Jazeera does state its intention to provide an Arab perspective as an alternative to the western-oriented news sources). But actually inserting this bias into the mission statement is a decision so audacious that it risks discrediting France 24 almost entirely, most notably because it implies that French values and the French perspective are given priority over reporting the news. Again this country-specific bias could be argued to be particularly true in the case of CNN, however, the fact that it is not a constituent of the network’s declared mission at least leaves space for any American bias to be challenged by CNN journalists and critics.

France 24 will have to work on its journalistic model before it can expect to compete with the likes of BBC World and CNN.

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