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France plans all-news net

Web to be b'cast in French, English, Arabic

PARIS — France’s answer to CNN will begin broadcasting in Europe and Africa by fall or winter 2004, with a single U.S. transmitter simultaneously bringing the net to New York, according to a plan unveiled Tuesday.

To ensure the web attracts the widest possible viewership, it will broadcast from the start in French, English and Arabic.

At a news conference Tuesday, MP and Cannes mayor Bernard Brochand, who recommended the project in a report to the French Prime Minister last week, said France “couldn’t afford to fail” in the launch of its own global news network. It will be run jointly by private web TF1 and pubcaster France Televisions.

“We’ll make a competitive channel that will be seen and listened to,” Brochand said.

However he does not expect the web, funded by the state to the tune of e70 million ($81.5 million) a year for the first five years, to become profitable.

“None of the existing global networks make money,” Brochand claimed, asserting that even at CNN, domestic ad revenues covered the cost of its international businesses.

President Jacques Chirac has called the project “essential” for France, which he feels is losing out in the international propaganda stakes on issues such as the Iraq war because it doesn’t have its own global news network along the lines of CNN, BBC World or Al-Jazeera.

Brochand told Tuesday’s conference: “The speech given by President Chirac to the U.N. last week (criticizing the U.S. in Iraq) wasn’t transmitted by CNN. I’ve no doubt that the French channel would broadcast it.”

He had earlier said the web would “have to be perceived as independent and not the organ of the French government,” but then appeared to contradict himself by saying it represented “the voice of France.”

TF1 president Patrick Le Lay and France Televisions topper Marc Tessier also attended Tuesday’s press conference.

Despite competition between the two national webs in French news, Tessier insisted, “We aren’t competitors abroad.”

According to Tuesday’s outline, the channel will have its own independent structure, complete with a president, managing director, editor and news staff. TF1 and France Televisions will provide free news footage from their respective news services.

Although TF1 will not put its own cash into the new channel, other private companies in France will be asked to become sponsors, Brochand said.

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