Paris: The daily Le Monde, one of France’s most respected newspapers, is set to lose its prized independence in coming weeks as mounting losses force it to seek up to €100 million in a recapitalisation.
In a letter to readers on the front page on Thursday, the newspaper’s head Eric Fottorino said the group, which is controlled by a company owned by its own journalists, has five potential bidders interested in taking control.
“This operation is expected to result by mid-June in the choice of a new partner who, alone or with other investors, will take a majority share in the capital of our group,” he said.
Among the candidates are French weekly magazine le Nouvel Observateur and its director Claude Perdriel, who is a board member at le Monde. Spanish media group Prisa, publisher of Spain’s daily El Pais, and the Swiss media group Ringier, publisher of daily Le Temps are also said to be interested.
Also in the running is an unlikely trio of Lazard banker Matthieu Pigasse, French Internet tycoon Xavier Niel, who founded the telecom group Free, and Pierre Berge, a wealthy industrialist and patron best known as the long-time partner of designer Yves Saint Laurent.
Fottorino wrote that there was also one other foreign company interested, which did not want to go public at this stage. This could be a reference to Italian media group L’Espresso, owner of daily newspaper la Repubblica, which has been mentioned by media reports as a potential investor.
Contacted by Reuters, a spokesman for L’Espresso said on Thursday: “We have been approached by Le Monde and we are evaluating the possibility of making an offer.”
Fottorino added that Lagardere group, which has held a 17% stake in the Le Monde group since 2005, had indicated that it did not intend to increase its stake.
The sale of Le Monde would be an “historic turning point” for a newspaper that has been controlled by a company owned by its own journalists for nearly 60 years, Fottorino said.
Founded after World War Two, Le Monde is one of France’s most influential newspapers with extensive contacts in the political and business establishment and an uncompromisingly intellectual tone.
Like other French publications, it has faced mounting problems in recent years as advertising revenues have fallen, the Internet has eaten into readership numbers and an antiquated distribution system has pushed up costs.
Management imposed a severe round of cuts two years ago, which resulted in the loss of 130 staff including 70 journalists and provoked only the second strike in Le Monde’s history.
But it was not sufficient to outweigh the slide in revenues and the group took out a €25 million ($30.75 million) loan last year for which it offered its Telerama weekly as surety.