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France Launches 24-Hour News Channel

France goes head-to-head with CNN and the BBC from Wednesday with the launch of its state-funded 24/7 news channel, part of President Jacques Chirac's efforts to make his country's voice heard.

France 24 will broadcast two channels, one in French and the other mostly in English.

"Our mission is to cover worldwide news with French eyes," CEO Alain de Pouzilhac told AP Television News. He said the channel will emphasize in-depth reporting and debate, culture and "l'art de vivre" — the art of living.

The channel launches its trilingual Web site — with video on demand and content in French, English and Arabic — at a gala in Paris' Tuileries Garden on Wednesday evening. Chirac is to attend.

Televised broadcasts follow 24 hours later.

It will transmit to Europe, the Middle East and Africa via satellite, initially reaching an estimated 75 million households in more than 90 countries.

France 24 expects to expand coverage in North America and Asia and add Arabic and Spanish-language broadcasts in coming years.

Programming on the French and English channels will be virtually identical, with 10-minute news bulletins every half-hour, and a selection of reports, talk shows and news magazines filling between-bulletin gaps.

France 24 will likely face stiff competition in a crowded all-news market that includes CNN, BBC World and Al-Jazeera, which made its English-language debut last month.

France 24 executives say the channel's French touch will make it stand out.

"Opinion leaders said they were very skeptical about international news because we have only one vision of the world," said Pouzilhac, adding that Al-Jazeera in English now represents a second editorial line in cable news. "France 24 will be the third way."

The idea for the channel, discussed for more than a decade, gained resonance during the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, when Chirac tried to slow the U.S. drive to war and some media in the United States and Britain mocked his efforts.