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Charlie Hebdo slammed as ‘hypocrites’ over staff dispute

Charlie Hebdo journalist Zineb El Rhazoui (centre) at French cartoonist Charb’s funeral
Charlie Hebdo journalist Zineb El Rhazoui (centre) at French cartoonist Charb’s funeral Martin Bureau, POOL/ AFP

Months after a deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo turned the French satirical weekly into a free speech icon, a management dispute with a high-profile staff journalist has exposed the internal strains within the newly rich magazine.


Earlier this week, Charlie Hebdo management summoned French-Moroccan journalist Zineb El Rhazoui to a “preliminary meeting” to “remind her of her minimum obligations toward her employer following numerous incidents”.

The incidents in question were not specified and the magazine’s management has declined media requests to provide details.

In interviews with the French press, El Rhazoui, a well-known journalist who emerged as a leading voice for the magazine following the January 7 attack on Charlie Hebdo, has expressed her shock over the summons.

"I am shocked and appalled that a management that has received so much support after the January attacks could show so little support for one of its employees, who is under pressure like everyone in the team and has faced threats," El Rhazoui told leading French daily, Le Monde.

A sociologist and journalist who has written outspoken articles criticising Islamic fundamentalism, El Rhazoui’s work includes a collaboration on the anthology, “The Life of Muhammed,” with the late editor of Charlie Hebdo, Stéphane Charbonnier, popularly known as “Charb”. The 47-year-old Charlie Hebdo editor was one of 12 people gunned down at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris on January 7.

Over the past few years, El Rhazoui has received death threats and lived under police protection – a cause, she has suggested in interviews with the French media, of heightened stress. "My husband lost his job because jihadists unveiled his workplace, he had to leave Morocco, I have been threatened, I live in friends’ guestrooms or hotels and management plans to fire me…Bravo Charlie,” she told Le Monde.

News of El Rhazoui’s possible firing sparked howls of protest and allegations of hypocrisy in the French press and on social media sites. According to Le Monde, Patrick Pelloux, a physician and well-known Charlie Hebdo contributor, sent El Rhazoui an email blasting the magazine’s decision.

"We're all still recovering from the attack. Summoning a team member who is still suffering is wicked and disloyal," he noted, before adding, “Receiving a prize for freedom of expression and threatening journalists, is paradoxical.”

Pelloux was referring to Charlie Hebdo receiving a controversial freedom of speech award at the PEN Literary Gala in New York earlier this month, a decision that prompted a boycott by 175 prominent authors over what they called the satirical magazine’s “cultural intolerance”.

On Twitter, a cartoon by satirist Hervé Baudry showing El Rhazoui holding a sign that says, “Je suis punie,” or “I am punished” – a play on the post-January attack “Je suis Charlie” slogan – promptly went viral.

‘The poison of the millions’

While neither El Rhazoui nor the Charlie Hebdo management have commented on the reasons for her summons, at the heart of the latest storm lies the once nearly bankrupt magazine’s increased fortunes following the January 7 attack. The weekly raised nearly €30 million in donations, grants and sales after the attack, sparking differences among editorial staffers over how the magazine’s finances must be handled.

Some of the staffers of the left-wing weekly have warned that the famously anti-establishment magazine might succumb to “the poison of the millions”. The dissidents have called for the magazine to become “a cooperative” and for the new funds to be placed in a trust that would ensure Charlie Hebdo’s survival for “30 years”.

El Rhazoui was one of 15 Charlie Hebdo editorial staffers who wrote an open letter criticizing the magazine’s owners and management in late March.

Charlie Hebdo is currently 40% owned by Charb’s parents while another 40% is held by cartoonist Riss -- the new director of the publication who was injured in the attack -- and 20% by the CFO Eric Portheault.

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