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3 Lessons France Can Offer China About Government-Run Media

media1Both China and France share a common frustration with the international media and that their country’s “story” is not being accurately conveyed via the CNNs, BBCs and Al Jazeeras of the world.  After years of bitterly complaining about the injustices of international (read Western) news reporting, they both came to same conclusion: “if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em.”   In December 2006, the French-government launched FRANCE 24, its tri-lingual (French, Arabic and English) 24-hour news service distributed around the world via satellite and on the internet.  Similarly, the 2010 launch of CNC World marks China’s third attempt to persuade englishmedia2 language audiences around the world to “see the world through a Chinese perspective.”  The other two networks, CCTV 9 (now re-branded “CCTV International”) and Blue Ocean Network (BON Live) are both on-air but have had little-to-no impact among its target demographic of english-speakers around the world.  In contrast to the various Chinese international TV networks now available globally, FRANCE 24 appears to be gaining considerable traction with audiences in the US and Africa among other regions.
Why?
China’s media leaders may want to consider the French approach with France24 if they want to grow audience share with their own media properties:
1. Editorial autonomy + Higher Content Legitimacy = Audience Loyalty
It is hard to tell if online users and TV viewers of FRANCE 24 clearly understand that they are consuming a media property owned and operated by the French government.  Just as viewers of Al Jazeera may not be fully aware of the Qatari government’s backing of that network.  What’s important here is that both France24 and Al Jazeera afford their editorial staff considerable editorial autonomy in determining the news.  I can speak from personal experience (full disclosure: I am currently a freelance journalist at FRANCE 24′s english language online service) to attest that there is never any concern among the editorial staff about government censorship or oversight of any kind.  Conversely, the pressure from management is to produce the highest quality news comparable to the standards of any of the international newsrooms I have worked in, including CNN, CNBC Asia and the Associated Press among others.  Consider this example from July 14, 2010, France’s national holiday.  In an effort to rebuild relations with its former African colonies, the French government invited those states celebrating 50 years of independence to have a delegation of military representatives march in the grand Bastille Day parade up the Champs Elysees. In China, such national day festivities would be greeted with patriotic enthusiasm by official media organs, but not so in France.

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