France 24 gears up for 'global battle'
The first French 24/7 international TV news channel is getting ready to launch December 6 with both French and English-language programming. Kate Millar gives us a peek inside the newsroom of 'French CNN'.
Dozens of multi-lingual journalists feverishly worked on dry-runs of 10-minute news bulletins in French, English and Arabic, for what will be the first French 24/7 international TV news channel.
*sidebar2*"Five, four, three, two, one," the production team counted in Arabic the cue for news presenter Hakim Beltifa as he rehearsed at the brand new three-storey hub in the television heartland of Paris' southern outskirts.
"Things are going very, very well. The Arabic text for the autocue is not easy, configuring the machine... so we had this type of problem at the start... it was resolved very quickly," the 29-year-old Tunisian said.
Paint was still drying on the walls and carpet being laid in the corridors, but the pristine hi-tech studios appeared ready-to-roll for the debut when France 24 hits the airwaves.
Close to the heart of President Jacques Chirac who has said he hoped it would place France at the forefront of the "global battle of images", France 24 promises a French perspective on world events.
"Well, today for example, we did a huge amount on Lebanon and we were thinking very much about the French involvement in Lebanon now, 63 years after independence," said breakfast news presenter Catherine Galloway.
"We're thinking what kind of country did France leave, same with Rwanda which was a big story for us yesterday," said the 32-year-old, who previously worked for Radio France Internationale and Deutsche Welle.
She was about to record 'A Week in the Americas', a weekly feature in English focusing on different regions of the globe. Exactly the same show will go out in parallel, in French, requiring close collaboration between Galloway and her French counterpart.
A French eye on the world
Coming hard on the heels of the launch of Qatar-based Al-Jazeera's English-language news channel, France 24 will try to shoulder into a competitive market for round-the-clock TV news dominated by CNN and BBC World.
But France 24's Gérard Saint-Paul, chief officer in charge of news and programming and formerly New York and Washington correspondent for France's TF1 television, is confident there is enough room for a French channel.
"A French eye, to me, is panoramic, very diversified, very open, which takes into its field of vision all countries with an equal journalistic curiosity," he told AFP in an interview.
He saw the American way of looking at things as "much more unipolar", stressing that this was in no way meant as anti-Americanism, and he was keen to voice respect for the United States and to compliment the channel's rivals.
"We are not the voice of France," he added, equally at pains to emphasize the channel was not a French government spokesman and was journalistically independent.
With a mix of news, features, debate and a special focus on lifestyle and culture, the channel's target audience is opinion leaders, and will initially be broadcast in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the US cities of New York and Washington DC, to a potential audience of 250 million viewers.
State-funded, France 24 is a private, joint venture between France's leading commercial and national public television networks, TF1 and France Televisions, and will be funded to the tune of EUR 85 million by the government for 2007.
Forecasts say adverts should reap about three million euros in the first year but the network is not immediately expected to make a profit.
'Beyond the News'
A word that crops up frequently around France 24 is diversity, including with regard to its staff, which comprise 31 nationalities among the 370-strong Paris-based team, 170 of whom are journalists.
Indeed, the street where France 24's headquarters, to be emblazoned with its 'Beyond the News' logo, are located in Issy-les-Moulineaux has now been renamed 'rue des Nations Unies' (United Nations Street).
And ask special correspondent Frédéric Helbert what to expect from France 24, and he replied: "We, French journalists, we are more rebellious."
Then, switching from French to English, he continued: "It means when somebody is telling us 'this is not allowed, don't cross this street', the only idea we've got in our head is to cross this street."
France 24 will produce some of its own pictures but also rely on its managing companies and partners, including Agence France-Presse.
Subject: French news, France 24, French CNN