Linguists warn dropping TV5 will damage language teaching. Sarah Cassidy reports.
A FRENCH-language TV channel which is used in schools to introduce pupils to French culture is to be axed by the UK's largest cable TV company.
The French equivalent of the BBC World Service - TV5 - is to be dropped by cable firm NTL, which controls two-thirds of the UK cable market.
The company has already cut the French channel from its Cambridge area service which caters for around 65,000 subscribers.
The channel is particularly popular with teachers who believe that watching French programmes has boosted pupils' interest in learning a language.
However, the channel is not included in NTL's national package of 150 digital channels due to be unveiled later this year. The existing non-digital service also faces a more immediate threat, as it is set to be axed to make room for the new digital channels.
TV5 has been widely available in Britain for 12 years, from most local cable companies and an international satellite service. Its French-language films, drama, documentaries and news programmes are made in a variety of French-speaking countries.
Dr Brigitte Boyce, of the Association for Language Learning, said: "This action will propel Britain backwards into the dark ages rather than forwards into the next millennium.
"One of the most motivating experiences for language learners and teachers is access to authentic material, especially if it is audio-visual.
"French is by far the most widely learned and taught foreign language in the UK. Therefore the potential damage of losing one of the most effective teaching and learning tools - access to French language television - will be enormous. It will have political, financial, social and cultural repercussions on a significant scale."
The UK representative for TV5 has written to all Britain's schools warning them that the service is in jeopardy.
Ian Johnston, the agent for TV5 in the UK, said: "TV5 is a valuable tool for learning and understanding the French language. Almost every schoolchild learns French at school and it gives an alternative style of news and information to our British view of the world.
"A large number of French language teachers use TV5 a great deal in the classrooms. We have made great efforts to encourage its educational use by analysing each programme and producing guidance for teachers.
"There is a need for the cable operators to provide culturally diverse programmes and we are very concerned by this decision."
Cable firm NTL refused to comment on the decision.