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France 24 plans to expand its Arabic channels - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Marie-Christine Saragosse at the France 24 office in Issy-les-Moulineaux. Source: Asharq Al-Awsat

Marie-Christine Saragosse at the France 24 office in Issy-les-Moulineaux. Source: Asharq Al-Awsat

Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat—The offices of the France 24 television network are located in the Parisian suburbs of Issy-les-Moulineaux, southwest of the French capital. The building is also home to the Monte Carlo Doualiya international radio station and Radio France Internationale. Together, they form the French media outlets that have been penetrating the international media scene under Marie-Christine Saragosse, the president of the group of French public media companies that broadcast abroad, as of October of last year.

In taking her position, Saragosse succeeded Alain de Pouzilhac, who supervised the establishment of the French, English and Arabic channels of France 24. Despite this, his presidency was characterized by strong disputes with the director-general, Christine Okrant, and this was reflected in the performance and development of channels, especially those aired domestically.

Saragosse is not new to the world of media. She acquired her position at the request, and with the blessing, of the Supreme Audiovisual Council of France, which selected her from competing groups. The decision was also approved by the president of the French republic, Françoise Hollande.

Before working for France 24, Marie-Christine Saragosse, who was born in Algeria, chaired the Francophone channel TV5 on two separate occasions, which moved her away from foreign affairs. During her years in foreign affairs, she focused on cultural and linguistic cooperation, especially in the media and mobile television, and she took up many positions related to this sector.

Thus, given her expertise in the sector, her appointment to the position is not a surprise. But she did not arrive to France 24 alone, as the French–Lebanese media figure Marc Seikaly was swiftly appointed general manager of the network’s three stations.

Seikaly has done solid work in television, mainly for Channel 3, where he moved between a number of positions, including management of the news section. He also contributed to the launch of the Medi 1 Sat news, and oversaw the editorial management.

Eight months after their assumption of the management of the station, Saragosse and Seikaly met with their editorial team to evaluate the outcome of their work, and identify their plans for the competitive Arab television scene, and for France 24’s Arabic channel, which began broadcasting around the clock in October 2010.

Essentially, former French president Jacques Chirac, who owned the project, wanted to provide a powerful media tool that was capable of competing with international channels: the BBC and CNN, as well as German, Russian, Iranian and Turkish channels, not to mention Arabic outlets such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya.

Chirac wanted the media and information to reflect the “French touch” in understanding world issues, problems and transformations. He chose to broadcast in three languages in order to reach the largest number of viewers. This has been continued by the network administration, who utilize of all available channels of delivery, including smartphones, interactive programs and various other communications.

Marie-Christine Saragosse told Asharq Al-Awsat that France 24 “is characterized by its unique localization, professionalism and sobriety in delivering news, accurate analysis, and the ability to respond to developments across the globe.” However, above all that, it is characterized by its three channels, which adhere to universal values, such as democracy, human rights, tolerance, acceptance and the status of women.

Saragosse estimates that, in the Arab world, the network’s three channels have reached a cumulative audience of 17 million viewers a week. She also affirmed that France 24’s French-language network is dominant in Africa, especially in North Africa, where its audience is constantly growing.

On a global level, France 24 achieved total ratings of up to 45 million viewers per week.

While funding for the network comes from the budget of the French state, which insists on being distinguishable from “public television,” Saragosse considers France to have a “legitimacy” with its Arabic-language channels.

Marc Seikaly said that the Arabic channel benefits from its viewers being bored with existing television programming and craving something new and different that deals with the news accurately and without professional manipulation.

Despite the network’s achievements, Saragosse believes that it has yet to fulfil all possible broadcasting opportunities. It is, however, “on the road,” and continues to progress.

Such responsibilities lie with the editorial team, Saragosse explained. That team began a strategic plan early last month based on five hours of essential news each evening, new programs, direct dialogue and reportage, as well as a full hour dedicated to the Maghreb. At the same time, the administrative department is working on expanding France 24’s access through implementing all available modern technologies, such as smart phones, tablets and social networks.