chirac demands france creates a rival to cnn

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    Chirac demands France creates a rival to CNN
    By Kim Willsher in Paris
    (Filed: 30/03/2003)

    President Jacques Chirac has ordered his officials to draw up plans for a French-language, international television channel to counter the growing influence of the BBC and CNN.

    He has demanded that the blueprint for the service - already nicknamed "CNN a la Francaise" - be ready by the end of next month as he has become increasingly irritated by the "Anglo-Saxon" view of global events which is being beamed into millions of homes and hotel rooms around the world.

    He also wants to challenge America's domination of international affairs by extending French language and influence.

    The proposal for the new television channel was among his election pledges last year but had become mired in bureaucracy until it was given new impetus by the events leading up to the war in Iraq.

    "We've been concerned for a long time that the BBC and CNN reporting on events from a British or American perspective and in English," said a government official. "As recent events have shown, France may see things differently and we feel it is important that we get our message across."

    Mr Chirac has provoked a row with London and Washington by putting himself and France at the head of international efforts to prevent their intervening militarily in Iraq, declaring that American power must be restrained.

    The American CNN channel claims that its global network is watched by 161 million people in 200 countries. BBC World says it reaches 253 million households in the same number of countries.

    A committee of French officials and television chiefs will report initially to the French prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin; Mr Chirac wants to be in a position to announce a final decision in July.

    A previous report from the prime minister's office said that the new channel "should contribute to a steadfast strategy of French influence in the world". Its aim would be "to ensure that France has a more important and more visible presence in the battle for world images".

    The document said that the channel would broadcast primarily in French and would be transmitted in Africa, the Arab world and Europe, using terrestrial, satellite, cable and broadband internet networks.

    "The progressive extension to North America, the Far East (notably China and Japan), Central and South America must be envisaged in the plans," it said.

    The document says that the channel, which could hit the airwaves as soon as next year, might eventually be broadcast in Arabic, English and Spanish, and will be aimed at "political, economic and cultural decision-makers" as well as the wider public. Public funds would be put up for the initial investment and running of the network, but private investment may be sought.

    Several French broadcasters, including the state-owned main television channel TF1, and the country's main news agency, Agence France-Presse, have expressed an interest in forming a partnership to create the channel.

    Opponents of the plan fear that the French government, already struggling to fulfil Mr Chirac's election promises of increased spending on health, social projects and education alongside tax cuts, could not afford the estimated €100 million (£67 million) needed to set up the station.

    Francois Rochebloine, a Right-wing French MP and the president of the cross-party commission set up by Mr Chirac last year to examine the proposal, said that the government would have to come up with the cash if the project was to succeed.

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