AP France news agency under threat as bid is dropped

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One of the two would-be investors says they are withdrawing the takeover bid because of staff opposition.

18 April 2008

PARIS - The French-language service of the Associated Press news agency was threatened with closure on Thursday when one of two would-be investors announced a takeover bid was being withdrawn in the face of staff opposition.

The AP France staff voted to reject the takeover bid saying the plan would create a low-cost news agency.

"Taking note, with regret, of an insoluble blockage, the initiators of a project to acquire the French-language service of the Associated Press are withdrawing their offer," said Bertrand Eveno, former chairman of Agence France-Presse, who had joined the Bollore conglomerate in preparing the bid for AP France.

The United States management of the agency sent an e-mail to its 25 full-time journalistic staff in France to announce the French operation was threatened with closure.

It said it was "stupefied" by the staff's refusal, since the takeover would have been the only viable alternative to ensure the continuity and survival of the service.

AP management had already said it had decided to part with its French news operation - which employs 25 full-time journalists and about 60 freelancers - because of "chronic losses".

The e-mail to staff said management deeply regretted that the staff's rejection forced it to envisage solutions with consequences which were humanly regrettable but economically inevitable.

"By blocking the sale you oblige AP because of very difficult competitive and economic conditions to envisage closing the service," it said.

Eveno cited "negative reaction" on the part of AP French-language journalists, which he described as "beyond being reasonable".

Pierre-Yves Glass, head of AP France, told AFP the would-be buyers had been scared off by behaviour of staff which had allegedly refused to talk to them and had replied to the proposals with statements that were "incendiary, insulting and defamatory".

But union officials said they were glad the takeover project had been blocked. They would continue trying to convince AP that other solutions were possible to keep the service alive.

"AP has all the means at its disposal to restore a service which is only slightly in deficit," said a union spokesman.

The Bollore group which withdrew its takeover offer has interests ranging from transport and international logistics to packaging, energy distribution, ticketing machines, check-in terminals and the media.

It owns a private television channel Direct 8 and two free-sheet newspapers, Direct Matin Plus and Direct Soir.

[AFP / Expatica]

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