PARIS — French efforts to bring Gallic culture to the Arab world suffered a setback this month when millions of Middle East viewers, expecting to tune into Canal France Intl.’s Saturday-afternoon educational kids programs, were confronted with the grunts and grinds of a hardcore porn pic.

News of the incident leaked out last week as French diplomats and red-faced CFI execs launched a concerted damage-control operation. Arabsat, the 21-nation Arab satellite consortium which carries CFI in the Middle East, described the incident as “an attack on Islamic morals” and promptly canceled CFI’s contract.

CFI is a state-funded international television broadcaster, designed to give international viewers a window on French culture. However, it’s widely agreed the steamy “Club Prive au Portugal” is not the kind of fare likely to enhance France’s reputation, especially when broadcast in family viewing time.

CFI execs said the 30-minute programming glitch was due to a mistake at France Telecom. Embarrassed France Telecom officials opted for “a human error” theory. The publicly owned telecom sends 80 programs per day by satellite and said it has never had such a problem before.

Accidental broadcast

Instead of the educational kidvid programs normally handled by CFI, France Telecom accidentally beamed up Canal Plus’ monthly porno pic, which should have been destined for the pay TV service’s overseas subscribers, not the Arab world.

CFI president Phillipe Baudillon and senior France Telecom management are preparing a visit to Arabsat headquarters in Riyad, Saudi Arabia, to eat a large helping of humble pie and try to get the service back on the air.

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