France 24: 'Give us a few weeks and we'll be perfect'

The managing director of the world's first Gallic take on 24-hour television news has hit back against suggestions that France 24 launched too soon.

Some British commentators have suggested that the channel, which launched at 8.20pm last Wednesday, has poor production values compared to the existing rolling news channels.

But the channel's MD, Jean-Yves Bonsergent, told Press Gazette: "When you are launching something, of course you have to adapt in the first few hours to get all the elements to their highest quality.

"We are working on that really quickly in order that it is solved and I think most of our problems have been."

Bonsergent compared the channel to a newborn baby: "Everybody stands around saying ‘oh look at his ears, his eyes aren't totally open, he doesn't have any hair'.

"We need to leave France 24 a few days or weeks to be absolutely perfect."

The director said that even in the first week, the channel had managed to break stories before established news channels such as BBC World and CNN.

He cited the example of how his editorial team was first to report Kofi Annan's final address to the UN earlier this week.

On the eve of France 24's launch, President Chirac, whose government channelled 111 million euros into the channel, said: "It is indispensable for a great country such as France to have a vision on the world and to stream this vision."

The BBC's Paris correspondent Clive Myrie told Press Gazette: "A lot of people are very proud of the fact that the French finally have a 24-hour news channel.

"I think that there is probably surprise that it has taken so long for a country that is so important on the world stage. I think most French people would say that it is a good thing."

Some critics have accused the channel of failing to deliver on its promise to challenge the Anglo-Saxon view of the news. But Bonsergent said that this stemmed from a misunderstanding of what a "French perspective" should be.

"Of course we don't want to be a simple voice of the French people," he said.

According to France 24, following the launch 75 per cent of hits to the channel's website came from France, Belgium and Switzerland, 15 per cent from North America (with an estimated 100,000 hits from the US) and 10 per cent in other European countries (with a clear majority in the UK).

Launching just weeks after Al Jazeera English, the French channel has been found lacking by some in comparison to the former's slick and luxurious set-up.

According to France 24, the average age of its journalists is 31 and its news schedule appears to be targeting younger viewers, with items such as the 20th anniversary of the Erasmus programme enabling EU students to study abroad, and an interview with Skype founder Niklas Zennström at a convention called Le Web 3, which has been dubbed "Davos for bloggers".

France 24 is available on satellite channel Sky 515 and on the website www.france24.com.

It is broadcast in French and English versions and is set to launch an Arabic version in July 2007.

Although France 24 has no full-time UK presence, it does employ a handful of British journalists as presenters including: Natacha Butler, who has worked for Russia Today and AFP; Catherine Galloway who has experience at the BBC and Deutsche Welle TV; and Marc Owen, who has worked for Granada TV and HTV.

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