European TV: 'Good morning' in seven languages

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Some call it a potential boon to European unity. Others say it will only underscore how divided Western Europe really is. At issue is a new European television channel, which supporters say will cut across national differences to portray the ''European dimension'' of issues and events.

''It would serve to highlight our common heritage,'' says Franz Froschmaier, head of the European Community Commission's information directorate, hinting that national stations operating in Western Europe today tend to be . . . well, nationalistic.

Beginning next year, viewers throughout Western Europe will get their first taste of the new channel with an experimental program called ''Good morning Europa'' - a breakfast show meant to stir 300 million Europeans out of their sleep with suggestions that the British and French (and the Italians, Dutch, Belgians, Greeks, and so on) have lots in common after all.

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Klaus Jan Hindricks, program planner for the Brussels-based European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which groups stations in 30 countries, says that plans call for airing prime-time programs on weekends beginning next March and a full range of programs (six to eight hours a day) starting in September 1984. Reruns of ''Dallas'' would not qualify.

Officials from both the EBU and the EC concede that certain details need to be worked out, and to that end a symposium sponsored by the commission will be held next October to explore the legal and financial aspects of the project, including advertising.

But planners say that broadly speaking, the multilingual endeavor will air programs produced by existing national networks, with the EC and the EBU playing a coordinating role.

Where the funds to run the channel will come from remains an unspecified ''detail,'' although a 200-page report published by the EC Commission earlier this year says that the community (which has an annual budget of about $22 billion) would provide ''material support'' for the initiative.

The bulk of the support, however, could come from advertising, which today accounts for about one-third of all television income in Western Europe, according to officials. Only Belgium and Sweden prohibit advertising on television.

''It seems that a large amount of private capital could be available for investment'' in the new venture, the commission report said. Analysts agree that many companies would be keen on promoting their products on a television channel reaching 300 million people.

Other obstacles, however, could scuttle the project before it leaves port.

Even now, the EC is faced with difficulties raising extra revenue from member governments to support its rising operating budget, and skeptics wonder how governments can be expected to cough up even more cash for a new television channel if advertising fails to pay the bill.

Also causing problems could be language. Broadcasting in the many and varied tongues of Western Europe (seven languages are spoken, for example, in the 10 EC countries alone) would be like building another tower of Babel, critics say. EBU officials point out, however, that a test conducted by five EBU stations last year - with sound tracks in six languages and subtitles in others - was well-received.

Ironically, the greatest challenge to the new venture could come from television itself. Experts forecast that by the end of this century, the coming boom in cable and satellite TV will mean that every country in Western Europe will have access, on average, to 30 cable channels, 3 channels for direct broadcasting by satellite, and 3 traditional channels.

On the air an average of 10 hours a day, the available channels could leave little time, or inclination, for viewers to enjoy the ''European dimension.''

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