French news channel BFMTV sacks anchor after external influence probe

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France’s leading rolling news channel BFMTV on Thursday said it has sacked an anchor after a probe into alleged external influence in his work, according to a company message seen by AFP.

Rachid M’Barki was sacked this week after the probe revealed that due editorial process had not been followed in several segments aired between 2021 and 2022, its director general Marc-Olivier Fogiel said in the message.

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The segments concerned issues including Russian oligarchs, Qatar and Western Sahara. The Forbidden Stories reporters collective has linked the case to a bid by an Israeli firm dubbed “Team Jorge” to influence elections worldwide for clients.

The channel had opened its inquiry in January into the work of M’Barki, a familiar face on its presenter roster.

In the reports concerned, “these shortcomings were the sole responsibility of one journalist who has not respected the rules in force within the editorial staff,” Fogiel said in the message.

He added that the channel has also filed a legal complaint – not targeting the journalist personally – over the influence-peddling to which the channel had fallen victim.

The channel would now “further reinforce” its editorial controls, he said.

The Forbidden Stories investigation, carried out by outlets including The Guardian in Britain, Le Monde in France, Der Spiegel in Germany and El Pais in Spain, accused an Israeli firm of seeking to influence more than 30 elections around the world for clients by hacking, sabotage and spreading disinformation.

They said the M’Barki case was only a small example of the extent of its disinformation work. He was suspended on January 11, just under a month before the investigation was published.

The investigation said the firm had planted reports on BFMTV about the impact of sanctions against Russia on the yachting industry in Monaco.

Speaking to Politico at the beginning of February, M’Barki acknowledged using information that had not been through the channel’s usual vetting procedures.

“I’m not ruling anything out. Maybe I was tricked, though it did not feel like it was the case, or that I was taking part in an operation... Otherwise I wouldn’t have done it,” he said.

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