While Accuracy In Media has been combating Al-Jazeera English, France has quietly decided to get into the 24-hour international cable news business. On December 6, 2006, France 24 began its first day of broadcasting on the Internet, and its first televised broadcasting began the following day. France 24, or “France vingt-quatre,” which has been a pet project of French President Jacques Chirac, was created to spread French values around the world 24 hours a day.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin says that “After 9-11, after the War in Iraq, we all feel that there is a need for more information, a different kind of information.”
Translated into plain English, it appears that the new channel is designed, like Al-Jazeera, to counter American influence in the world. It also seems designed to give us a more sympathetic view of those behind international terrorism. France, of course, was the scene of violent Muslim riots in 2005 and is considered by many to be the base for “Eurabia,” the coming takeover of Europe by Muslim Arabs.
France 24, which currently is only being transmitted via satellite to Europe, the Middle East and Africa, will eventually be expanded into North America and Asia. However, France 24 is available in Washington D.C. to Comcast cable subscribers. Although the web version of the channel is offered with streaming newscasts in French, English, and Arabic, an Arabic-language version of the channel will not begin broadcasting until next year, and a Spanish-language channel will begin in about three years.
In his interview with France 24, Chirac explained the rationale for the news channel: “It is essential that a great country like France can have a view of the world and broadcast this view, in conformity with our traditions and our conception of civilization, peace, humanism and globalization.” Although Chirac told the France 24 audience that the channel will operate completely independently, the channel receives most of its funding from the French government.
When the French prime minister Dominique de Villepin was asked in an interview on the channel what he was expecting from France 24, he responded, “I do expect a new look at information; a certain spirit of freedom, of justice, and of understanding. We are living in a world of crisis. We need to understand this crisis, and I think that France has the capacity to show new things, to show new problems, in a different way, and I think it would complete the information of people around the world.”
On one level, France 24 seems designed to drum up business for France. The “Welcome to France” link on the France 24 website says, “Welcome to France. France is the world’s most popular tourist destination. The Eiffel Tower and the Louvre are on every visitor’s list, but there’s much for them to discover. France 24-and its multinational team of journalists-are here to help foreigners learn more.”
But de Villepin told a France 24 reporter that the new channel should also shed light on “What is going on in the head of the other people of the world. This is really something difficult, and it’s not just to get the information, but it is to try to go beyond the information and to understand it. I think this is really something different, and I believe that France 24 will give us something else.”
Like Al-Jazeera, France 24 looks like another government-funded propaganda operation of dubious value. But in the current global media environment, in which the U.S. seems to be practically disarmed, it can do much harm.