LONDON: French broadcaster BFMTV has suspended one of its longest-serving presenters, Rachid M’Barki, after sources revealed that the French-Moroccan journalist had a close working relationship with an Israeli disinformation unit called “Team Jorge.”
M’Barki is reported to have aired content supplied by the company without prior editorial approval.
BFMTV said in a statement that it had become aware of a “suspicious interference concerning a journalist of our channel,” and that it has launched an internal probe to determine how the video was aired.
The statement reads: “An internal investigation was opened at BFMTV two weeks ago after the discovery of content broadcast on our channel, in ‘Le journal de la nuit,’ outside the usual validation circuits.
“The journalist in charge of ‘Le journal de la nuit’ has been suspended since the opening of this investigation.”
M’Barki was suspended after a member of Team Jorge told undercover reporters that the organization was behind a BFMTV news report broadcast last year about the Monaco yachting business that claimed sanctions placed on Russian oligarchs were harming the Mediterranean principality’s yachting industry.
Team Jorge, led by former Israeli special forces operative Tal Hanan, sells hacking and disinformation services to political and corporate clients who want to conduct covert influence-peddling campaigns, and has allegedly interfered with more than 30 elections around the world.
The alleged relationship between M’Barki and Team Jorge was discovered after an international consortium of reporters led by the French nonprofit organization Forbidden Stories, which was attempting to expose the misinformation unit, noticed that one of the news packages offered by the group was aired during M’Barki’s program “Le journal de la nuit.”
The journalist has denied any intentional misconduct, saying that all the stories “were all real and verified,” but he added that he “used information that [he] received from sources” and that “they did not necessarily follow the usual editorial process.”
He added: “I do my job… I’m not ruling anything out, maybe I was tricked. I didn’t feel like I was, or that I was participating in an operation of I don’t know what, or I wouldn’t have done it.”
Although establishing a clear link between Team Jorge and the BFMTV news package remains difficult, the newspaper Politico claimed that at least a dozen suspicious broadcast packages were now being probed, adding that the incident is subject to intense speculation, including over the possible involvement of foreign states.
The media group said an investigation was underway and the network was ready to take “all measures, both legal, judicial, individual and organizational if necessary, depending on the results.”
Marc-Olivier Fogiel, the CEO of BFMTV, said: “At this stage we remain cautious, but the fact remains that we are victims.”