In 2003, France took an unforgettable beating.
As the leader of global opposition to the Iraq war, it became the late-night comedian's punching bag. Its citizens suffered the revival of a term popularized by "The Simpsons" – "cheese-eating surrender monkeys." In a pointed snub, the US Congress cafeterias dubbed their crisp, oily potato strips "freedom fries."
Stung by such Anglo-Saxon indignities, President Jacques Chirac ordered up a "French CNN." The 24-hour satellite news service debuts Wednesday.
But France 24 is not merely a Francophone rendition of round-the-clock news. Instead, it aims to plunge viewers into regions and perspectives that get little air time elsewhere. And despite its linguistic concession to broadcast in English as well, the network intends to be every bit as proud, quarrelsome, and contrarian as the French believe themselves to be.
"The real French 'touch' will be lots of debate and analysis of debate," says Caroline de Camaret, the European affairs editor. "If there is one thing the French value above all, it's putting all views up for debate and understanding why people take certain views."
France 24 will go out Wednesday via Internet streaming, then, a day later, by satellite, reaching Europe, Africa, the Middle East, New York, and Washington. Initially available in French and English, the station expects to add an Arabic-language channel early next year and eventually a fourth one in Spanish.
Although France 24 hits the ground running, with a $104 million start-up budget guaranteed by the government, it is entering an already crowded field.