BRUSSELS — WHEN war broke out in the Gulf and it seemed much of the world was glued to Cable News Network, the European Community's headquarters here was embarrassed to find that it was in the dark: Cable operators in this part of Brussels didn't carry CNN. The problem was soon rectified, but the fact that an American network was becoming the standard for up-to-the-minute information across Europe didn't sit well with the Eurocrats.
"As people started realizing that everybody throughout the Community structure was watching [CNN], the question became increasingly prevalent, "Why not the same thing for Europe?" says Etienne Reuter, cabinet chief for the EC Commission's director general for audio-visual issues.
Now a number of European news network projects are in the planning stages, with perhaps the most ambitious of them - Euronews - slated to begin broadcasting by the fall of 1992.
Actually, the idea for a Europe-wide news network was not born with the Gulf war. But Euronews, a project of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), a group of Europe's public broadcasters, undoubtedly got a boost from Europe's exposure to CNN.
"People had already been discussing this along with progress towards an audio-visual policy for Europe ... but there's no doubt the Gulf war reactivated the [Euronews] project," says Mr. Reuter. "It's not a reaction of jealousy, but a feeling that perhaps there is a need for something, like Americans have, to bind Europeans together."
The EBU, a consortium of 10 public stations from seven countries, says Euronews could initially reach 23 million households throughout Europe and North Africa. Half-hourly news flashes and news "magazines" would be broadcast for nine hours daily over the first few months, becoming a 24-hour service in 1993.
To be broadcast in as many as six languages - French, English, German, Spanish, Italian, and Arabic - Euronews would circumvent the problem of dubbing on-site reporting by mixing news videotape from member stations with Euronews explanation and commentary translated into various languages.
PLANNERS of the Euronews project estimate it will cost about $30 million a year, after an initial investment of about $10 million. Part of the money would come from advertising, although planners admit pan-European advertising is still weak. Public subsidies would be heavy, with more than half of the funding coming from member stations (the countries that finance them) and a quarter from the EC.
Yet Euronews appears unlikely to get as much from the Community as it would like. The EC budget is already stretched thin and the Commission, which enforces the Community's antimonopoly legislation, doesn't want to favor one European-wide news project over others. Other projects at various stages of realization include one from the British Broadcasting Corporation, which plans to go worldwide with "BBC World Service Television" by 1993; a private French 24-hour news project; and a German project.
But Euronews promoters insist their plans are different.
"Those other projects don't bother us, because we're not playing in the same yard," says one Euronews project designer at the EBU, who asked that his name not be used.
"They're talking about a French project for French speakers, or English for English speakers, but ours is a European project delivered by Europeans for Europeans." In that sense, he believes, Euronews will end up having a "federating" effect on Europe. "It's not our intent, since journalists aren't supposed to be tied up in politics," he says. "But we will have an automatic unifying effect."