Jacques Chirac dreamed of creating a ‘French CNN’. This plan didn’t succeed when he was Prime Minister, but come the end of his second mandate it will finally see the light of day. With the arrival of France 24, which will be launched on December 6 firstly on the web, then on cable and satellite (36 hours later), the government hopes to ‘assure a more important and more visible presence of France in the world-wide media battle.’
France joined the battle once before, with the 1992 creation of EuroNews, alongside a consortium of 11 European channels and support from Brussels. With the establishment of CNN during the first Gulf War, the development of EuroNews looked likely to make Europe a dynamic part of news broadcasting. England and Germany, not wanting to take part in EuroNews, preferred to launch their own international channels, BBC World (1995) and Deutsche Welle TV (1992).
Today there are half a dozen TV channels covering the Iraq conflict, including the Qatar channel Al-Jazeera, which launched its international version, ‘Al-Jazeera English’, for the anglophone public on November 15. In Europe, the EuroNews audience has doubled since the start of the war, with, during the first week, 3.5 times more German viewers, whilst the audience tripled in Poland and doubled in Switzerland, Spain and Moscow.
EuroNews, the leader in Europe
Today, EuroNews is the leading news channel in Europe, watched by more than 185 million households on the continent. For a long time it has been jeered at for its editorial amateurism and its news ‘relay-delay’. However it gained more credibility and professionalism with financial backing from the British group ITN in 1999.
Since the arrival of digital, the channel has been able to go worldwide, offering a European viewpoint on the news. In the five key European countries - Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and Spain - the audience figures are higher than CNN International, according to an EMS study for winter 2005. Being a multilingual channel, and ranging from Portuguese to Russian, it is becoming more and more attractive to opinion leaders. Eastern Europe still remains a market ripe for expansion for the channel, and is often the only one available in the Russian and Germanic languages.
However, the channel goes relatively unnoticed in the United Kingdom. In France, according to MédiaCabsatTélévision, the channel comes in at second place with 0.2% of the audience, behind the national news channel LCI which receives 0.8%. The arrival of France 24 will risk eroding the audience figures for EuroNews, despite its continual improvement.
With an annual budget of 30 million euros, ‘EuroNews has not got the means to create new images’, remarks Hervé Bourges, former president of France Télévisions, as well as TF1 in 2004. By means of comparison, CNN has a budget of 1.6 billion dollars, BBC World 300 million euros and DW TV 121.5 million euros. The channel must therefore use images from nation television or international agencies, like Reuters and APTN.
France 24 and EuroNews have a common backer, France Télévisions, which owns half of France 24, the same as TF1, and 22% of EuroNews. France is therefore keen to make hay while the sun shines - not only as a nation but as a member of the European Union.
France 24 hopes to ‘bring a French viewpoint to the international news’, by producing around nearly a third of its own images. It aligns itself with CNN or BBC World, whose strength resides in their ability to produce their pictures through their own means. Even if the commentary is subject to change, the images will still be able to offer a viewpoint on the news. Furthermore, France 24 anticipates having in-depth programmes, as well as talk-shows presented by prestigious hosts.
However, with a budget rising to 80 million euros a year, the channel risks not having the means for its ambitions. One year after the start of the Iraq War, the coverage was costing CNN around 100 million euros. If the France 24 budget is not more consistent, the channel will not be able to make any mark on an already oversaturated market. The loss of money from this could have gone towards the French Press Agency (AFP) or… EuroNews.