France's most popular television news presenter, Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, will be dumped this summer in favour of a rising female star who was once linked romantically with President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Laurence Ferrari, 41, will take over in September as the figurehead of the 8pm news on the TF1 channel. There were reports last November that Ferrari had been seen dining with the recently divorced President but speculation about an imminent marriage came to nothing. Soon afterwards M. Sarkozy began his whirlwind romance with his future wife, Carla Bruni.
M. Sarkozy is said, however, to have lobbied his billionaire friend, Martin Bouygues, owner of TF1, for Ferrari's promotion. There are no doubts about the journalist's ability, but her promotion was interpreted by French newspapers yesterday as part of a "Sarko-friendly" revolution at TF1.
Poivre d'Arvor, 60, who has presented the show for 21 years, has slipped in the ratings in the past 12 months. He was savaged in a recent book, Madame, Monsieur, Bonsoir, by anonymous TF1 journalists, as lazy, arrogant and biased towards the centre-right.
The presenter, universally known in France as "PPDA", has nonetheless managed to annoy the centre-right M. Sarkozy. Soon after his election last May, Poivre d'Arvor asked him if he sometimes felt like a "little boy in the big boys' playground". M. Sarkozy, 5ft 5in tall and sensitive about his size, snapped back: "It's very nice of you to present things in that way, M. Poivre d'Arvor."
A deputy in M. Sarkozy's party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) suggested the changes on the TF1 show were driven by "psychology", not friendship, politics or pique.
Poivre d'Arvor was closely associated with the era of the presidents François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac, the deputy said. "So long as PPDA was on the news each night, you had the impression that nothing in France had really changed. President Sarkozy is determined that everything should seem to have changed."
In December 1991, Poivre d'Arvor was caught out faking an interview with the Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Shots of "PPDA" asking questions were inter-cut with Mr Castro's replies at an open press conference. In 1996, he was found guilty of taking benefits in kind from a businessman whose father-in-law, a rising politician, had been a regular guest on his news show. Poivre d'Arvor was given a suspended jail sentence and asked to stand down from his job for a year.
Ferrari used to be the back-up presenter of the TF1 news at the weekend. She left two years ago after her then husband, Thomas Hugues, was fired from his post as back-up presenter to "PPDA" on weekdays. That decision was taken – again through the influence of M. Sarkozy – to create a vacancy for a black journalist, Harry Roselmack, to occupy a high-profile position on French TV for the first time.
The main weekend presenter, Claire Chazal, mother of an illegitimate son with Poivre d'Arvor, was also reported recently to have lost favour with the TF1 management. She is now expected to continue in her post
Ferrari parted from her husband last autumn. Soon afterwards, she was reported by French magazines and blogs to have been a frequent dinner guest at the Elysée Palace, in the weeks following M. Sarkozy's divorce from his second wife, Cécilia.