January 9, 2008 / 7:47 PM / 10 years ago

France ponders speaking to world solely in French

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy is at odds with his foreign minister over whether the country’s international television news channel should ditch English and Arabic, and broadcast only in French.

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 the government wants it to pool its resources with two other French overseas media -- Radio France Internationale (RFI) and broadcaster TV5 -- to give it more clout.

Sarkozy said on Tuesday he wanted to set up a new umbrella group called “France Monde” (France World) and it should broadcast only in French, which has caused consternation at France 24 and been opposed by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

“Between Al Jazeera -- the Arab vision -- and CNN -- the Anglo-Saxon vision -- we would like to express a French vision, but to express a French vision, I would really prefer that express it in the French language,” Sarkozy told reporters.

But Kouchner, who has complained of the French media’s lesser presence on international airwaves and is overseeing the reform, said the next day he did not see things the same way.

“The president gave his opinion very strongly,” Kouchner told a news conference on Wednesday.

“Competing in English with an information channel like CNN, like Al Jazeera or like BBC World seems useless to him. To me, it doesn’t completely. I think there is a French touch that will have to be developed,” Kouchner added.

Once the medium of international discourse, French has long had to cede dominance to English as a global language.

The government is debating the details of the planned shake-up, and Kouchner said he had lobbied successfully for subtitles and broadcasting in local languages in some regions.

Culture Minister Christine Albanel, who is also involved in the reform, said the debate on the future shape of France Monde was still ongoing, but a decision would be reached this year.

“We are in the middle of a thought process on that. It has not yet been decided,” Albanel told Europe 1 radio.

France 24 has declined to comment on Sarkozy’s remarks but his plans run counter to those of the channel, which said last month it was planning to extend its Arabic-language coverage and eventually launch a Spanish-language service.

France 24’s competitors are also branching out -- Arabic-language Al Jazeera now has an English-language service and the BBC has plans for an Arabic news television channel.

While Kouchner expressed his disagreement with Sarkozy, he remained sanguine about the chance of winning the debate on the future of what was originally billed as “CNN a la Francaise”.

“The president expressed his opinion, which is major, an he is the one who decides,” he said.

Additional reporting by Laure Bretton

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