Iconic French paper faces more crippling layoffs

26th September 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 26, 2006 (AFP) - France's emblematic left-wing daily Libération, crippled by falling reader numbers and mounting losses, may be forced to shed up to a third of its workforce as part of a last-ditch rescue plan to be unveiled on Wednesday.

PARIS, Sept 26, 2006 (AFP) - France's emblematic left-wing daily Libération, crippled by falling reader numbers and mounting losses, may be forced to shed up to a third of its workforce as part of a last-ditch rescue plan to be unveiled on Wednesday.

Founded in the wake of the 1968 student protests by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, the paper that was long an icon of the French left has been pushed to the verge of bankruptcy by the rise of free dailies and the Internet.

Despite a revamp of its website, an initial wave of cost-cutting and the shedding of 56 employees in December last year, Libération's staff are braced for more bad news following a board meeting on Wednesday to decide on its future.

Libération's main shareholder, the financier Edouard de Rothschild, who has invested heavily in the struggling paper and overseen the recent restructuring drive, has said the offer to be put to the board is now its "last chance".

Under pressure from Rothschild, Libération's co-founder Serge July resigned in June, prompting an angry walkout by four of the paper's top journalists, including Florence Aubenas who was held hostage for five months in Iraq.

Staff now fear a new round of layoffs, affecting between 70 and 100 of the paper's 280 employees, and a possible appeal for protection from bankruptcy, which would allow Libération to freeze payments to its creditors.

Rothschild, who invested EUR 20 million in the paper in January 2005 for a 38.8-percent stake, is said to be furious at its continuing losses, set to reach EUR 13 million this year, while his bid to attract new investors has reportedly failed.

According to staff, the paper's management hopes to save up to 10 million euros through staff reductions — with layoffs, early retirement schemes and other measures — and three million through other cost-cutting measures.

These are expected to include turning Libération's website into a subsidiary, making the paper several pages shorter and reducing its number of distribution outlets.

But François Wenz-Dumas, a union leader at the paper, warned that staff — many of whom fear a loss of editorial independence — would declare "open war" if Rothschild attempts to "fleece" the paper.

Employees warn that more layoffs and cost-cutting would kill off the paper's identity, initially a voice free from the pressures of advertising and financial capital, where journalists and cleaners received the same pay.

This month they published a two-page public appeal to Rothschild to invest in new editorial projects as well as slashing costs.

Last week Libération also launched a share-ownership scheme for its readers with the aim of strengthening its financial position and 100 subscriptions were received in the first three days.

Meanwhile a former editor of Le Monde, Edwy Plenel, is tipped to possibly take the helm of the paper, although Rothschild is said to favour another candidate, Laurent Joffrin of the Nouvel Observateur weekly.

Since June, Libération has been co-managed under a temporary arrangement ending October 1, with responsibility shared between a journalist chosen by staff, Vittorio de Filippis, and a publisher appointed by Rothschild.

Libération's troubles are symptomatic of France's anaemic national newspaper market, which has seen its turnover fall 15 percent in 15 years, and has been dealt a severe blow by the rise of the Internet and free newspapers.

From 28 national dailies in 1946, with a circulation of six million, their number has fallen to 11, circulating a total of two million copies each day — fewer than a single British tabloid.

The last official figures show that Libération sold just under 137,000 copies per day in France in 2005, down from 163,000 in 2001 and 182,000 in 1990.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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