An Interview with Frank Melloul, CEO
“In this tenuous age of the proliferation of “fake news” dominating the headlines, we are very excited to begin our second year; bringing our burgeoning audience of viewers news coverage that presents a unbiased picture of national and global events,” declared Frank Melloul, the CEO of the i24 News cable channel.
On a bitter cold January day, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Mr. Melloul at his Times Square office in the Thomson-Reuters building which also happens to be the New York City home of i24 News. His friendly demeanor and affable nature were more than sufficient in helping to thaw the arctic blast that had gripped the northeast.
With a palpable enthusiasm reverberating in this voice, Mr. Melloul graciously shared the genesis of the meteoric rise of i24 News as well as its profound impact on the world’s perception of Israel, the Middle East and the international Jewish community for the Jewish Voice.
In 2012, Mr. Melloul, a distinguished French diplomat and media advisor was approached by Franco-Israeli communications mogul, Patrick Drahi about a disturbing and recurrent theme that he took notice of in terms of media coverage of Israel and the Middle East.
“He (Drahi) was in Israel in November of 2012 during Operation Pillar of Defense; the war against the Iranian backed Hamas terrorists in Gaza. Along with the majority of Israelis, he was forced to flee to bomb shelters when Hamas rockets came over the border. On television channels throughout the world, all any one saw was Israel portrayed as the sadistic aggressor but no one showed Israelis under the stress of war and taking up shelter. And it was this that prompted Patrick to start thinking about alternative news coverage, “ said Mr. Melloul.
Having played a prominent role in the team that launched the rock-the-clock Paris-based news channel France 24, it came as no surprise to media industry insiders that Drahi had tapped Melloul for his assistance.
“The truth is, I am not a journalist nor am I a businessman, but I was always inextricably connected to the world through my diplomatic portfolio in the French government, “ recalls Mr. Melloul. Having distinguished himself through his exceptional accomplishments in the French foreign ministry as the VP of Strategy, Mr. Melloul advised several French presidents in the realm of public relations; including Jacques Chirac, Nicholas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande.
Achieving worldwide attention as a formidable cable news channel, France 24 still had its critics on the highest level of French government. “I can tell you that former French president Hollande’s agenda was to destroy France 24,” Melloul ruefully observed.
Melloul recalls that in October of 2012, Drahi contacted him about creating an untainted and objective media outlet in Israel; sans government funding or political influence. Aware of Melloul’s specialty in public diplomacy, Drahi told him, “With your extensive knowledge on how to build an ultra successful international news platform that can send ripple effects around the globe and my ability to build an effective business, I am confident that we can put our respective expertise together to turn this dream into a reality.”
In December of 2012, Melloul recalls, “I resigned my position in the French government and immigrated to Israel with my family. Subsequent to that juncture in time, we found a great venue for the first i24 News studios in the port city of Jaffa. It was a hangar along the Mediterranean and about 3 and half months later, we were launching our maiden broadcast.” Moreover, the new station was broadcast in Hebrew, English, French and Arabic for the benefit of multi-lingual audiences.
“We are reporting from the heart of the Middle East, from the only democracy in the region, in English, French and Arabic, which gives us the opportunity to show the rest of the world what is go going on in languages they can understand,” said Melloul.
He added: “As an international news outlet, I thought Jaffa was the ideal location for i24 News as this aesthetically beautiful place has become a paradigm of coexistence between the Arab and Jewish populations who have inhabited this ancient city since time immemorial.
Soon thereafter, i24 News took off with blinding speed; gaining the attention of the Israeli public, media analysts and government officials for its success in countering the all too common tendentious media coverage of the Middle East conflict (always with a heavy anti-Israel slant) and offering a more even handed and honest account of regional issues.
Melloul recalls the ultimate moment for i24News in Israel to actualize its stated mission purpose came in July of 2014 when the Israel Defense Forces launched Operation Protective Edge, whose goal it was to protect the Israeli population against the incessant rocket attacks that emanated from Hamas terror cells that were deeply ensconced in Gaza.
As opposed to the intensely skewed political narrative that is heavily peppered with spurious material presented as purported “facts” by the mainstream news media when covering a military conflict that Israel was engaged in, this time around i24 News could offer the viewer a way more accurate account of the minute-to-minute events that came to define that conflict. The station assigned a reporter to the Israeli-Gaza border; providing real-time coverage. More to the point, the reporter was maintaining the highest degree of journalistic integrity by presenting the factual truth about what was actually transpiring.
The reporter, Melloul said, was “conveying the entire picture, without selectively choosing what the viewing audience could see and hear. And that was precisely what Patrick had envisioned for this channel when he originally conceived this idea.”
During Operation Protective Edge many i24 News viewers vividly recall that program hosts in the Jaffa studio were compelled to inform their audience that due to an air raid siren the broadcast had to be temporarily suspended and employees of the station had to take refuge in shelters. Said Melloul, “That showed a reality – facts on the ground – that much of the world had not been hearing or seeing.”
As i24News has sustained optimal visibility over the last several years, Mr. Melloul reported in early 2017 that the Israeli Knesset had unanimously approved the
network’s license to broadcast.
With over 350 employees hailing from such countries as South Africa, France, Belgium, Egypt and the United States, i24 News made its debut from their Times Square studios in February of 2017. Thus far it would appear that i24 News (now picked up by Charter Communications) has made a sizeable impact in the cable news market in North America; garnering a growing list of viewers.
Mr. Melloul attributes the success of i24 News to the unique professionalism of its dedicated staff. Speaking of one of their popular anchors, Mr. Melloul said, “While I was in Israel I had the pleasure of meeting Michelle Makori; an exceptionally adroit journalist and broadcaster who is a native of South Africa. We talked and she expressed an interest in i24 News and I just knew that she would be a perfect fit. I told her at that time that she would join us in the future and she did.”
As far as addressing such “prickly” issues as an outlet’s political proclivities, “Melloul says, “I know we are doing our job when the left complains that we are too much like Arutz Sheva and the right complains that we are too reminiscent of Ha’Aretz. The i24 News journalists never express their personal opinions on the news cycles or the current political zeitgeist. The strict maintenance of that credo adds immeasurably to our dispassionate and objective presentation of the news.”
Of the innumerable lessons that Mr. Melloul learned while in the field of international diplomacy is that rather than vociferously challenging your adversary, allow them to use their own words to land themselves in hot water. “On i24 News, despite one’s position on the political spectrum, everyone has the right to speak, and it is not a rare phenomenon to see a Hamas spokesman debating an Israeli counterpart.”