France 24 battles internal turmoil

News broadcaster's president steps down

PARIS — Uncertainty at both managerial and ownership levels is shaking Gaul’s 24-hour news web, France 24.

On Sept. 29, France 24 president Alain de Pouzilhac announced he would temporarily step down to concentrate on his duties as president and director general of France 24 public holding company External Broadcasting Services, known by its French initials AEF.

In mid-September, editorial director Gregoire Deniau and editor-in-chief Bertrand Coq — both award-winning journalists — were dismissed within a day of each other to the shock of staffers.

A France 24 press release cited Coq’s inappropriate “behavior toward team members.” The net claimed that Deniau had made professional mistakes. But many staffers remain unconvinced by these reasons.

“What people didn’t buy was management saying that the two dismissals were unconnected,” says a midlevel news editor. Deniau and Coq “were as close as I’ve ever seen two people get in a newsroom.”

Meanwhile, de Pouzilhac is said to be concentrating on Gallic commercial web TF1’s plan to offload its stake in government-backed France 24, first mooted by former President Jacques Chirac in 2002.

It was his vision to create what was then described as a “French CNN,” framing Gallic views in English in a global battle of images and airwaves following the American-lead invasion of Iraq.

France 24 was launched in December 2006 as a joint venture between TF1 and pubcaster France Televisions.

But TF1 execs now gripe that France 24 is a direct rival to TF1’s own news outlets.

In August, TF1’s demand for E45 million ($63.45 million) for its stake failed to win over many politicians or state auditors.

The net’s asking price “goes beyond what the state can afford, to say nothing about the moral aspects of the issue,” said member of parliament Patrice Martin-Lalande.

TF1 paid $24,675 for its stake two years ago, but since then it has held France 24 equally with France Televisions, due to in-kind program investments.

But the government has balked at buying even at TF1’s since-lowered asking price of $21.15 million.

The original asking price was “a huge amount, given the lack of investment and the start-up losses” France 24 has faced, says Christophe Cherblanc, head of media research at corporate and investment bank SC CIB. “I don’t know any analyst or investor who would attach such valuation to (TF1’s original) estimates.”

In a statement, France 24 said de Pouzilhac was briefly stepping down “in order not to make his different posts in France’s external broadcasting sector incompatible.”

Formerly known as France Monde, AEF is at the heart of the government’s plan to consolidate its various financial stakes in international TV and radio broadcasting into a single controlling entity.

The net press release said de Pouzilhac would take an active part in the TF1 negotiations involving the capitalization of France 24.