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Newsroom at France's CNN turns into battleground

When it was launched four years ago France 24 was billed as a "CNN a la francaise": a television news channel that would counter the influence of Anglo-Saxon media and make the voice of France heard around the world. In recent days, however, that voice has sounded more anguished than authoritative.

world Updated: Sep 04, 2010 00:11 IST

When it was launched four years ago France 24 was billed as a "CNN a la francaise": a television news channel that would counter the influence of Anglo-Saxon media and make the voice of France heard around the world. In recent days, however, that voice has sounded more anguished than authoritative.

Engulfed in rivalries and recriminations, the newsroom has been plunged into crisis, with one union threatening a strike and another planning a vote of no-confidence. Journalists mutter about a "battle of the bosses" fuelling dissent. One even likened the atmosphere to the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre: vicious, unrelenting and very, very, bloody.

Since last week, when rumours of sackings and suspensions at the highest level of editorial started flying round the newsroom, tensions that had long been bubbling under the surface have burst forth.

At the heart of the latest troubles are the channel's two chiefs: Alain de Pouzilhac, the chief executive known to staff as "Poupou", and his second-in-command, Christine Ockrent, one of France's best-known journalists whose imperious persona and brusque leadership have earned her the nickname "the Queen".

According to Paris's media pundits, she and Pouzilhac are now engaged in a battle for influence over the state-funded television channel, which broadcasts in French, English and Arabic.

Last Wednesday the knock-on effect of this rivalry, and the tensions it prompted, became clear when Albert Ripamonti, an editor popular among France 24 reporters and seen as a favourite of Pouzilhac, was rumoured to have been fired by Ockrent.

The rumour turned out to be false; in fact, it was Vincent Giret, Ockrent's righthand man, who was reportedly suspended by the CEO. The move by "Poupou" was dubbed a sign that he is preparing to make his influence felt on the company.

While they slug it out, the staff are becoming increasingly restless. "Editorial is falling victim to the battle of the bosses," one journalist told the newspaper Liberation.