France's Le Monde vows independence as it seeks new owner
Le Monde, France's high-brow newspaper of record, on Thursday vowed to remain independent despite imminent plans to sell itself to a new -- and possibly foreign -- owner.
"A page of the daily's history will turn," publisher Eric Fottorino wrote in a front-page letter to readers that said five bidders were interested in taking control of the paper currently owned by its journalists.
They are France's Nouvel Observateur group; Prisa, the owner of Spain's El Pais daily; Ringier, the publisher of Switzerland's Le Temps; and a trio of investors that includes Pierre Berge, the former partner of the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.
Fottorino did not name the fifth group, but media reports said Italian media group L'Espresso, which owns la Repubblica newspaper, had expressed interest in buying Le Monde group, which has 100 million euros (120 dollars) in debt.
Le Monde, like newspapers across the world, has in recent years suffered from falling advertising revenues and dwindling circulation due to the Internet.
"This operation is expected to result by mid-June in the choice of a new partner who, alone or along with other investors, will take a majority share in our group's capital," Fottorino wrote.
But he insisted that whichever bidder is picked, he will insist on a "guarantee that the new shareholder will not intervene ... in the content of out titles."
French media giant Lagardere has a 17 percent stake in Le Monde group but Fottorino said it was not seeking to increase its holding in the centre-left evening paper that has a circulation of around 320,000.
Le Monde was founded by Hubert Beuve-Mery in 1944 just after the occupying Germans were driven out of Paris. Its journalists were given a controlling ownership stake and the right to sack the editor and the publisher.
Two years ago it went through a cost-cutting exercise that saw the departure of 130 staff, including 70 journalists, which led to the second strike in the paper's history.
© 2010 AFP