In terms of getting internationally angled news in English free on TV in the UK, the choice used to be effectively between CNN and the BBC either domestically through News 24 or internationally with the World Service news, both sharing the same facilities and in many cases the same programming. Murdoch's networks in Africa and Asia sometimes draw on Sky News but its main service is to the British Isles, with others in Europe able to access it due to the satellite footprint.

Now we have two new kids on the block. Al-Jazeera English from Doha and the latest, France 24. (That's most decidedly "France Vingt Quatre", not "France Twenty-four".) Both are available unscrambled from the Astra digital satellite used by Sky. Fox News and other US stations are available along with Central News China and an Indian station but these are either pay (and I will not give Murdoch money) or blatant propaganda.

I have had a chance to drop in to the new stations and offer a few observations.  

I think probably I first have to observe that money counts and that the French service is obviously run on a shoestring compared to the rest. This is reflected in the visual style and in the presentation although I suspect this is also a national style as well.

Let me explain. France 24 relies heavily on the single newsreader either reading directly or introducing pre-recorded reports. The others typically have a two-headed presentation of straight news. The exceptions are mostly on CNN where they also have personality presenters like Gloria Vanderbilt's gay iconic son introducing "Anderson Cooper 360". Other techniques that France 24 has to pass on, presumably because of the cost, is the live report/studio link that we are used to on the others. That is not to say it is an ideal technique as it can lead to edifying conversations as those recorded in Private Eye's Going Live snippets. The current isssue has this conversation about Mario Scaramella (an associate of the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko who died of polonium poisoning)  "Do we have any idea how long he is going to be in hospital at this stage" "No, not at this stage". France 24's translations leave a little to be desired. It is interesting to hear that regions are to suffer "periods of inclemency" during their weather news.

The others have large "news centres" with their readers at the centre of the action (it has to be said sometimes computer generated though the occasional cleaner shuffling in the background late night on BBC does belie this). France 24 employs the "newsreader in a glass wall office" technique to give this impression.   It slightly falls down by being one of many cellular offices, the rest being sporadically occupied. Other give-aways of cost cutting are the fixed desk-top microphones ready in place in case their are people to be interviewed rather than the clip-ons used by others. Obviously to fit these you have to pay sound technicians!

The weather forecasts are another area where cost cutting shows. CNN has its two jolly black presenters with the CG maps. The BBC have a variety of Meterological Office experts from the heavily pregnant one to the perky Pole. Al Jazeera goes in for glamorous women in front of their CG maps but France 24 relies on voice-overs with low level CG views. This by the way is highly confusing as one bit of green landscape with hills looks very much like another if you do not have the little name blocks they use to identify the main cities and the maximum temperatures. Even the angle which you view the coastline gives little hint. Smacked wrist by the way for references to "Bombay" and the other old names of Indian cities.

Now to national styles. Some aspects of France 24 I have already mentioned. The service obviously has some very erudite reporters. Unfortunately their pieces tend to be lifted direct from the French service with English voices over. This can lead to slight absurdities of an English speaker being dubbed into French and then re-dubbed into English. That though is quite rare and more typically there is the technique of voicing over a video report.  This seems very old-fashioned compared to the others who tend to allow their subjects to voice their own views far more. The use of the vox populi tends to be on a scale running from France 24 at one end through CNN and BBC to Al Jazeera which has a mission of giving a voice to those who are not usually heard.

My use of national style was fairly deliberate. Al Jazeera's Arabic service started when the Saudis pressured the BBC to close down their own service. Many of their reporters were picked up and their BBC training and its ethos of neutrality seems to have been carried over to the English service. This is further emphasised by several of their presenters being recruited from the BBC, like Clive Myrie and Rageh Omaar or the other English services like Sky News and CNN.

In many ways all are centric on their respective home bases. CNN is obviously a USA based service with its emphasis on American news first followed by world news. France 24 has a similar world view with a heavy emphasis on topics commonly appearing in the French press (Its promotion loop for "Personalities" for example has shots of a French actress and the Queen in her full dead animal and rocks get-up arriving at Parliament). Again the BBC is rather Anglo-centric but also has a strong trans-Atlantic and Commonwealth bias. Al Jazeera occasionally makes reference to its Doha base, especially currently reporting the Asian Games and the weather. It does have quite a lot of coverage of the Middle East and other close regions but on the other hand has very good coverage of South America and Africa.

Currently I am finding that a combination of BBC and Al Jazeera provides a good balance of "north" and "south"  news coverage and far more informative than CNN or France 24. I tend to refer to these (and the US evening news rebroadcasts of CBS and ABC  US evening news rebroadcasts shown on News 24 and Sky) just for their countries' "take" on a situation.

Originally posted to londonbear on Tue Dec 12, 2006 at 07:36 AM PST.

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