Television France 24: A Gallic view of the world

The head of France's new global news network tells Ciar Byrne why CNN has been discredited and the BBC's much-vaunted objectivity is 'bullshit'

It's an exhilarating job, running a 24-hour news channel. On a flying visit from Paris, Alain de Pouzilhac, chief executive of France 24, is pacing the floorboards of a London private members club, speaking animatedly into his mobile about the channel's two journalists in Burma. Immediately after our interview, he must hot-foot it off for lunch with the French ambassador. But a 35-year career in advertising – at the peak of which he headed the French advertising giant Havas – has prepared de Pouzilhac for the globetrotting role.

France 24's stated aim – to cover international news from a French perspective and convey the nation's values throughout the world – jars with British sensibilities. You would never catch the BBC proudly declaring that it wants to disseminate British values around the globe. Launched in December 2006, France 24 has already built a strong following, suggesting there is an appetite for a vision of the world that is neither Anglo-Saxon (like CNN and the BBC) nor Arabic (like Al Jazeera).

A survey of 500 opinion leaders in five countries showed that France 24 was watched by 51 per cent of respondents in Algeria, 47 per cent in Senegal, 23 per cent in France and 12 per cent in the UK. France 24 broadcasts in French, English or Arabic to more than 90 countries in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. (In the US, due to heavy carriage costs, it's only available in Washington, DC.)

A joint venture between the state-owned France Télévisions and commercial broadcaster TF1, the station receives €86m (£60m) in government funding, which it hopes to boost by an extra €60m of advertising income within five years. It employs 430 staff, including 200 multimedia journalists with an average age of 33. Working from headquarters in Issy-les-Moulineaux in the southern suburbs of Paris, journalists such as Mark Owen, a senior presenter on the English service, hail from 32 countries around the world, but are still expected to deliver news with a French flavour.

One of the most important lessons de Pouzilhac brought with him from advertising is the importance of research. "An advertising man never forgets that to promote, you first have to make the right analysis," he says. Before launching the channel, de Pouzilhac commissioned research that showed that opinion leaders who travel at least 11 times a year were very sceptical about international news.

"When you arrive in Moscow, Budapest or Buenos Aires, you watch a channel in English, because you don't speak Spanish or Russian. For 20 years, we have received only the American and British vision of the world, and that is very professional, very well done – but it's only one part of the vision of the world," says de Pouzilhac.

So what exactly constitutes a French vision of the world?

"First, France sees the world with diversity," he says. "France recognises that the world is a diversity of religion, of education, of environment, of nationalities, of race. So France is the opposite of the US, which sees the world from Washington."

Secondly, de Pouzilhac asserts that while France believes culture is central to society, Britain and America place more importance on the economy. "When we have six minutes of the economy on our channel, we also have six minutes of culture.

"The third point," he continues, "is that when you say 'Oh, the weather is beautiful', I say 'No, the weather is not so great': French people like a debate."

An Anglophile might respond that debate is equally important to British broadcast news, from the Today programme and Newsnight to BBC News 24. When de Pouzilhac met Richard Sambrook, director of BBC Global News, he asked him what the BBC's perspective was. Sambrook replied that the BBC was objective. "Bullshit," says de Pouzilhac. "Nobody's objective. In international news you're linked with your religion, with your nation, with your education, with whether you are rich or poor. That means when you are developing an international news channel, you have to be honest, you have to be impartial, you have to be independent, but no one is objective."

Sambrook disagrees. "France 24 was explicitly set up by the French President to convey a French view of events. The BBC World Service has never set out to portray a British view," he says. "We could have a very Gallic philosophical debate about whether impartiality and objectivity are possible, but the discipline of trying to be neutral is the reason the BBC is the most trusted global broadcaster in the world."

As for CNN, de Pouzilhac believes that the US network has been discredited by the Iraq war "because everybody thinks it is a Bush vision", leaving France 24 as the BBC's main competitor. CNN, for its part, insists that it is still the top-rated international news channel in Europe.

There is no doubt however, that competition will heat up when the BBC launches its Arabic service into what is an increasingly crowded market, one that includes Washington's Al-Hurra (the Free One) and Russiya Aleyoum (Russia Today) from Moscow. "At this time, when there is a potential fight between Islam and the West, the more we develop our point of view, the better it is for everybody. That's why I'm pushing to develop our Arabic language service," de Pouzilhac says.

He stresses the channel's internet presence: its site attracts three million unique visitors a month, 83 per cent from outside France. "It seems to me that the new generation push France 24, while the traditional generation stay with the BBC. I love it."

The channel is starting a Spanish-language service and plans to increase its presence in hotel rooms, where loyalties to international news channels develop. It also hopes to begin broadcasting in China to capitalise on the Olympic Games. At the moment, it cannot afford to expand its US distribution.

"Our budget is €86m, and you have to be very creative if you want to be competitive," he says – adding, with a touch of Gallic pride, that when Anna Nicole Smith died, CNN devoted 12 hours to the story. On France 24, it merited just 30 seconds.

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
REX/Eye Candy
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Data Feed Administrator

£15,000 - £20,000: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join...

Junior Microsoft SQL Developer

£20,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join...

Management Accountant

£30-35k + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Management Accoun...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?