Jewish World Review Jan. 17, 2005 / 7 Shevat, 5765
John H. Fund
TiVo la France? Jacques Chirac wants to enter the news biz. The world won't be watching
John Kerry met with France's President Jacques Chirac last Friday, part of the senator's fact-finding mission to Europe and the Middle East. Details of their talk weren't revealed, but there is little doubt both men felt a sense of disappointment that Mr. Kerry hadn't won November's election. As a French official loved to point out to me last year, the French government was looking forward to a president with French relatives addressing the French Parliament in French.
The Iraq war and Mr. Kerry's defeat appear to have convinced the Chirac government to press ahead with plans to start a government-funded international news network, which they have dubbed "CNN Ó la franšaise," in an attempt, as French diplomats put it, to "make France radiate" around the world.
The French have been suffering for years from envy of what they call America's "hyperpower" status. Although it has nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, of late France has had fewer opportunities than ever to assert its clout in a U.S.-dominated world. The new channel was in part the brainchild of former foreign minister Dominque de Villepin, the poet-diplomat whose duplicity during the Iraq conflict angered even the most Francophile officials at the State Department. In 2003, Mr. de Villepin announced plans for the channel by declaring that the world was thirsting for the French view. "Never has France been so listened to, and never have so many hopes been placed in it," he declared.
The Chirac government will provide $40 million in start-up financing for the network, which will be unusual partnership between the leading private broadcaster, TF1, and a state network called France TÚlÚvisions. It will be broadcast only outside France, in order to not compete with TF1's 24-hour domestic news channel.
It's hard to see how the new channel would be anything more than a propaganda arm of the French Foreign Ministry, since the ad market for such a station outside France is nonexistent. Only 3% of the world speaks French, making it just the 11th most widely spoken language. To increase its influence the channel promises it someday will broadcast in other languages including Arabic and even English.
Mr. Chirac's hobbyhorse is based on the premise that giant "Anglo-Saxon" news operations such as CNN broadcast news from a perspective that shortchanges the French. "France believes it has a point of view, which is not represented in international channels like BBC and CNN to say nothing of Fox News," says David-Herve Boutin, an aide to Bernard Brochand, the lawmaker who was appointed to design the channel's blueprint.
But the French belief that they are losing what Mr. Chirac calls "the battle of footage" to Anglo-Saxon media behemoths is absurd. The message put out by U.S. and British media outlets isn't unified, and to the extent that is true, the output is hostile to much of U.S. and British foreign policy and certainly to President Bush. An independent inquiry found that the BBC had twisted its reportage in a reckless attempt to discredit Prime Minister Tony Blair's Iraq policy.
The French, on the other hand, tend to have a completely unified approach to their foreign policy. Every political party in France is suspicious of American influence and motives, and they unanimously opposed the Iraq liberation, which left French officials feeling impotent. "Iraq was a major moment when we felt quite frustrated that the way we saw the crisis building up was not put out quite fairly by the American media and was often oversimplified and caricatured and sometimes made fun of by folks or other medias." Pierre Rousselin of the newspaper Le Figaro told me. In other words, headlines like the famous New York Post's "Axis of Weasels" touched a nerve.
But France will have to be careful in the message it puts out on its new version of CNN. Jean-Pierre Tailleur, the author of a book that harshly criticizes the French media, says the coverage of the Iraq war in some French media was almost cartoonish in its opposition. "They minimized the atrocities of Saddam's regime and presented Bush as a criminal on the same level as Saddam and Hitler," he wrote.
Ultimately, regardless of the stance of the new channel, its impact is likely to be limited. Jean-Marie Charon, a media fellow at Paris's National Center for Scientific Research, thinks the show's audience will be very limited. But Mr. Chirac may be playing to his fellow Frenchmen more than the rest of his world. His path to an unprecedented third term in 2007 may depend on his ability to give the U.S. a bloody nose in international diplomacy just as his German ally, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, successfully played the anti-U.S. card to win a surprising come-from-behind re-election victory in 2002.
The new channel "will end up being more useful as a domestic tool, than an international one," concludes Mr. Charon. Once again, America will greet French irritation mostly with indifference.
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JWR contributor John H. Fund is author, most recently, of "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)
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©2001, John H. Fund