News TV staff slam Sarkozy’s French-only plans
Friday, January 11th, 2008

Trade unions at France’s international news channel France 24 have strongly criticised President Nicolas Sarkozy for saying the broadcaster should ditch its English and Arabic services and stick to French. Sarkozy said on Tuesday he intended to pool the resources of France 24 with those of France’s other international broadcasters Radio France Internationale and TV5 under the brand “France Monde” (France World), which should speak only French.

“The elected representative body of France 24 … wishes to hereby state in the firmest and most unequivocal manner their opposition to the French president’s project to close down the English and Arabic channels of France 24,” the news channel’s unions said in an English-language statement late on Thursday.

“How does one measure the world influence of a country and its culture? Is it by counting the number of people who speak its language? Or is it by counting those interested in its views and cultural knowledge, irrespective of language,” the unions said in the statement also written in French and Arabic.

The international dominance of English-language channels such as CNN or BBC World has long been an irritant to France, and prompted Sarkozy’s predecessor Jacques Chirac to launch a French rival called France 24 in 2006. But the young channel lacks the funding of its larger rivals, and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has complained of France’s lesser influence on the international airwaves.

Sarkozy, however, told a news conference on Tuesday he did not see the point in trying to compete with channels like US giant CNN and Arabic-language Al Jazeera in their own languages. That, however, runs counter to the strategies of the BBC, which is setting up an Arabic-language television news channel, and Al Jazeera, which has launched an English-language service.

Kouchner said after Sarkozy’s speech the debate within the government on how best to shake up France’s international media was still ongoing and would involve discussions with unions. Kouchner added that he had lobbied successfully in favor of non-French subtitles and broadcasts in the local language in certain regions.

That, however, was not enough to calm fears at state-funded France 24, which said last month it was planning to expand its Arabic coverage and eventually launch a Spanish service. “The competitive edge of today’s major international news channels rests in their ability to open up to the world by developing multilingual platforms,” France 24’s unions said.

“This is a policy that should arguably be backed with adequate funds, if we are to successfully put an end to this long-standing view of an arrogant France whose voice is only heard by expatriates and a handful of elite connoisseurs.”

(Source: Reuters)