PARIS: The Franco-Lebanese political journalist Hala Salame, better known to the French public under the name of Lea Salame, is very proud of her Arab roots, and in particular of her links with her homeland.
Despite some early fears that her background might hinder her career in France, she said her origins had the opposite effect.
“I always thought I would be at a disadvantage when I became a TV host 15 years ago because all the other women were blue-eyed, French blondes,” she said. “I thought that because of the differences between them and me, I would never get there. It took me a while to understand that these differences, including the fact that I was Lebanese, spontaneous and a little daring, were responsible for my actions – as when I said (to French President François) Hollande that ‘he had to be joking. “
Salame interviewed several French presidents, including Nicolas Sarkozy and Emmanuel Macron. But his interview with Hollande in 2015 was particularly memorable.
“People are still talking to me about it,” she said. “At the time, there was a flow of refugees from Syria and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, had agreed to accept 30,000. Hollande told us that he had the same vision as Merkel and I gasped and told him it was surely a joke. It made me talk about the city.
“I like to interview Sarkozy because he likes confrontation, is full of life, never refuses a face-to-face and responds. He is an absolute power when it comes to interviews. What makes the interview even more difficult is that he is very nice. “
While Salame’s daring has helped raise her profile, she’s sometimes seen as aggression or arrogance by people who don’t know her well. She challenges this by pointing out that when her career started, she was determined not to be fired by male colleagues and politicians as a smiling and docile woman, but considered an aggressive interviewer.
A familiar presence on television and radio, she reports on French domestic policy for the television channel France 2 and hosts a morning program on the radio station France Inter. She also presents a cultural program on France 2 called Stupefiant. It continued to spread throughout the coronavirus crisis, but, as has happened to many people around the world, it affected her work routine.
“I go to France Inter every morning and France 2 twice a month,” said Salame, who was named France’s best interviewer in 2015. “The number of assistant programmers has been kept to a minimum, and to France Inter my colleague Nicolas Demorand and I sit three meters apart. I always wear my disinfectant and I wear my mask if necessary. We are very careful.
“The situation has also changed the way I interview, especially when we are faced with far-reaching decisions, potentially life-threatening decisions and restrictions on the freedom of movement of people. I am now much calmer during an interview; I let my guests speak and I have become much sweeter than before. “
Born in 1979, Salame is the daughter of former Lebanese Minister Ghassan Salame and Mary Boghossian, who is Armenian. After leaving Lebanon after the Civil War at the age of 5, with his parents and younger sister Louma, Salame went to school and the University of Paris. She then spent a year studying at New York University in 2001, where she witnessed the September 11 attacks. This shocking first-hand experience inspired her to pursue a career in political journalism.
Salame has a three-year-old son Gabriel, with his partner Raphael Glucksman, philosopher and member of the European Parliament. Her link with the Arab world remains strong and she tries to return to Lebanon once a year, visiting her father’s village, Kfardebian, “to let my son know the country I come from”.
She added, “I got my character, with his mixture of excess and fearlessness, from my parents. When I was a kid, the identity problem was always on my mind. I did not know what I was: I was Arab, Armenian and Christian. Over time, this mixture has led me to recognize that people can have a thousand identities that mix and coexist in harmony. “
Salame’s father remains a great influence and inspiration.
“It has always been a big part of my life, my career and my studies,” she said. “I wanted my father to be proud of me above all. He is my source of energy. ”
His father, in turn, is full of admiration for his daughter.
“I am very proud of its success,” he said. “The source of this success is his hard work. When she has an important interview, she collects information, prepares notes and calls many competent people. She begins by consulting me, her research assistant. I’m her research assistant and it’s the job I love the most. “