French Socialists attack Sarkozy over Le Monde 'meddling'
France's opposition Socialists accused President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday of posing a threat to press freedom after he sought to block a bid by three investors to take over Le Monde newspaper.
The Socialist Party issued a statement calling "on the president to respect the independence of the media and to put an end to these intimidation and pressure tactics."
Sarkozy last week met with the publisher of the cash-strapped daily, Eric Fottorino, to discuss the plan to find investors able to pay off Le Monde's 100-million-euro (120-million-dollar) debt.
The president told Fottorino that he opposed a bid by three investors seen as left-wing supporters: Pierre Berge, Matthieu Pigasse and Xavier Niel, according to a member of Le Monde's editorial staff.
"Nicolas Sarkozy crossed a red line," the opposition party said in a statement signed by its spokesman for media affairs Patrick Bloche. "These attempts by the head of state to interfere cannot be tolerated."
The Socialists suggested Sarkozy was seeking to encourage a rival bid by Claude Perdriel, president of the group that publishes the left-wing Nouvel Observateur, who was just recently joined by French mobile operator Orange.
Orange is owned by France Telecom, whose majority shareholder is the French state.
Perdriel said this week that he hoped to make a formal offer on Monday of between 80 million and 100 million euros to take over 67 percent of Le Monde group.
Le Monde's supervisory board is due to meet on June 28 to decide on the offers.
Two potential bidders have pulled out: Italian publisher L'Espresso and Ringier, the publisher of Switzerland's Le Temps, but Spain's Prisa, which publishes El Pais newspaper, was still in the running.
Le Monde was founded in 1944 by Hubert Beuve-Mery after the end of the German occupation of Paris.
Falling advertising revenues, dwindling circulation, the challenge of the Internet and the economic downturn have left Le Monde, like many of the world's newspapers, struggling to survive.
Today around 280 journalists work for the daily, which has a circulation of about 290,000.
© 2010 AFP