Dassault becomes France's top press baron

23rd June 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 23 (AFP) - Serge Dassault, head of French aviation giant Dassault, has become France's top press baron with his takeover of the French media empire Socpresse, which includes the daily Le Figaro and weekly news magazine L'Express.

PARIS, June 23 (AFP) - Serge Dassault, head of French aviation giant Dassault, has become France's top press baron with his takeover of the French media empire Socpresse, which includes the daily Le Figaro and weekly news magazine L'Express.

A former fighter pilot, the 79-year-old Dassault became the principal shareholder of Socpresse on Tuesday when 12 shareholders on the company's Supervisory Council - all heirs of Socpresse founder Robert Hersant, who died in 1996 - ceded their shares to him.

The only holdover from the Socpresse dynasty was Hersant's granddaughter, Aude Jacques-Ruettard, who refused to sell her shares. The other six members of Socpress's new Supervisory Council are mainly from Dassault's inner circle, including his son Olivier.

Dassault had tried to buy into Le Figaro and L'Express for years. The French industrialist now appears to have surpassed his dream as majority shareholder of a media empire that includes 70 titles and an annual turnover of EUR 1.5 billion (USD 1.8 billion).

Dassault, maker of the Mirage jet, now controls 82 percent of Socpress's shares. While the amount paid in the transaction has not been disclosed, sources say Dassault spent EUR 1.2 billion (USD 1.5 billion) to seal the deal.

Dassault has now replaced Lagardere, the publishing, defence and space technology group, as France's top press group, though Lagardere remains France's foremost publisher, with publishing houses including Larousse.

Aside from standard bearers Le Figaro and L'Express, Socpress's holdings are mostly French regional periodicals such as the newspaper La Voix du Nord.

While observers spoke of "a historic day for the press" and an "upheaval in the publishing landscape," French publishing unions immediately expressed alarm at the takeover. The communist-backed CGT union called for a day of action on Wednesday to "defend pluralism" in the press.

The European Commission had cleared the way for the acquisition last Thursday after stipulating that Dassault would have to sell the magazine La Vie Financiere to allay competition concerns raised by the deal.

Dassault gave an indication of the direction he would lead his new press empire last Friday when he said: "The first thing to do is to cut deficits and sell loss-making newspapers."

The editorial board of Le Figaro also announced it would meet Wednesday "to reaffirm the guiding principles of independence that direct the newspaper."


© AFP

Subject: French news

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