Monocolumn: France 24 Licks Its Wounds After ‘Playground’ Fight

It was meant to be a new face for France in the world – a multilingual rolling news channel to compete with CNN and the BBC. But five years since its launch, France 24 is limping along.

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It was meant to be a new face for France in the world – a multilingual rolling news channel to compete with CNN and the BBC. But five years since its launch, France 24 is limping along, shamed by a chaotic feud between its two top managers that drove its number two, Christine Ockrent, to quit last week.

The rivalry of Ockrent, 67, a formidable former news anchor, and Alain de Pouzilhac, 65, the tough executive appointed to launch the state enterprise, broke out into war last summer. There were sackings, counter-sackings and allegations of spying.

“It was an absolutely absurd situation. They were like children in the playground,” says Virginie Herz, head of the Société des Journalistes, a staff ombudsman at France 24.

Pouzilhac brought legal action alleging that company emails had been hacked. Ockrent, sidelined as editorial boss, sued for constructive dismissal. Now she has left the post – but has not formally resigned, maintaining her grievance.

“I’m breaking free to defend myself and restore my honour and reputation,” Ockrent told Le Figaro, complaining that she had been “prevented from doing my job and paid to do nothing for months.”

Some see the infighting as part of wider score-settling in the interwoven, intermarrying worlds of French journalism and politics. “I am sure it is a conspiracy, or at least connivance,” says Ockrent’s partner Bernard Kouchner, who was fired as foreign minister by Nicolas Sarkozy in November. “It’s deeply disgusting what is happening to her.”

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