France approves rival to CNN

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France has given the go-ahead to a long-planned Gallic rival to CNN, the international rolling news channel. La chaine francaise d'information internationale (CFII) is expected to start broadcasting in the second half of 2006.

Jacques Chirac, French president, said it was necessary to be in the “front rank in the global battle of images” to project France's world view abroad.

The channel will focus on world affairs, particularly in the Middle East and Africa. The government wants it to be beamed around the world in French, Arabic, English and eventually Spanish, although it has still to sign distribution agreements with satellite and cable operators. CFII's broadcasts will also be shown over the internet.

Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, culture minister, claimed on Wednesday the new channel would allow France to put forward its own vision of international news, one that was “free, modern and pluralist” but also a bulwark of French “values”.

“Who hasn't felt the need that our French idea of news, steeped in the values of democracy, be defended? Who hasn't felt the need that French successes are mentioned in a balanced way as well as the difficulties and the tensions of the world?”

As well as news, he said the channel would include programmes about French culture and tourist attractions, while also showcasing its technological, scientific and economic achievements. Asked if the channel was a reaction against international coverage of the war in Iraq and the preceding disagreement between France and the US, Mr Donnedieu de Vabres said CFII's launch stemmed from a “respect for pluralism”.

Chris Cramer, managing director of CNN International, said CFII was not a threat. “As the pioneer of 24-hour news broadcasting, CNN welcomes the growth of the genre, and CFII joins more than 70 other 24/7 news channels around the world,” he said.

Although publicly funded, the new channel is being structured as a joint venture between France Televisions, the public service broadcaster, and TF1, commercial operator of France's most watched channel. After an initial start-up budget of €15m (£10m, $18m) this year, CFII will receive €65m from the state in 2006, then a further €70m a year until 2010.

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