Xavier Niel gives new guarantees of independence to the Le Monde group – 04/23/2024 at 7:27 p.m.

Xavier Niel, July 6, 2023, in Paris (AFP / JOEL SAGET)

In a difficult context for the media, billionaire Xavier Niel has just sold almost all of his shares in the Le Monde group to a “Press Independence Fund”, protecting the capital of the group publishing the daily newspaper evening but also Télérama and La Vie.

This type of fund, between association and foundation, has already been adopted by the Mediapart site in 2019 and the daily Libération in 2020, making the capital of these companies non-transferable.

“This is a historic step forward obtained thanks to the commitment of Xavier Niel, who adds to our editorial independence a de facto safeguarding of the capitalistic independence of the group” Le Monde, welcomed the independence center in a press release , which brings together the companies of journalists, staff and readers of Le Monde, Télérama, Courrier international and La Vie.

Since 2010 and the recapitalization of the Le Monde group, the latter is “more economically solid (…), with reinforced rights for our editorial staff, and a shareholder base now protected”, for their part underlined the president of the group, Louis Dreyfus , and the director of the newspaper, Jérôme Fenoglio, in another press release.

They paid tribute to the actors of this 2010 recapitalization, Pierre Bergé, Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse.

Ultimately, the group’s capital should be distributed “between two shareholders: the Press Independence Fund, which could hold around three quarters, and the Pôle d’Independence, for around a quarter”, according to a press release. separate from the fund’s board of directors.

In detail, on April 17 this board of directors “voted unanimously to acquire, for the sum of 1 euro, the entire capital – less one share – of NJJ Presse”, controlled by Xavier Niel , owner of the Iliad group. It is he who keeps a share, to be able to reinvest in the press group if necessary.

NJJ Presse includes Le Monde, Télérama, Courrier international, La Vie, HuffPost (85% of the capital) and Le Monde Diplomatique (51% of the capital), as well as Le Nouvel Obs.

– Moving ground –

The “Press Independence Fund” was created in 2021 by the businessman with the idea of ​​preserving the independence of the group’s capital, after the tensions caused by the billionaire’s indirect entry into the capital. Czech Daniel Kretinsky at the end of 2018.

Xavier Niel bought back Daniel Kretinsky’s shares in September, with the consent of employees.

The headquarters of the Le Monde group in Paris, February 13, 2023 (AFP / JOEL SAGET)

The headquarters of the Le Monde group in Paris, February 13, 2023 (AFP / JOEL SAGET)

The latter bought a series of French media, including Elle, Télé 7 jours and Marianne, which he is now seeking to resell because his line which has become “radical sovereignist” no longer suits him, according to a close source.

The question of editorial independence arises acutely with the takeover of a number of media outlets by billionaires, from Bernard Arnault (Les Echos, Le Parisien/Aujourd’hui…) to Vincent Bolloré who absorbed Lagardère , leading to a strike and massive departures at the JDD last summer due to a major reshuffle.

At the end of March, around forty journalists’ companies, twenty media outlets and unions called on Culture Minister Rachida Dati to “guarantee the independence of the editorial staff”, after a crisis at the regional daily La Provence.

Its editorial director was fired after a front page on a visit by Emmanuel Macron deemed “ambiguous” by the management of the newspaper, owned by Rodolphe Saadé’s shipowner CMA CGM. The latter is preparing to buy Altice Media (BFMTV, RMC, etc.) and has tried to reassure staff representatives of its desire not to directly interfere in the work of the editorial staff.

As early as December 2020, Mr. Niel announced the transfer of his stake in the Le Monde group to an endowment fund. Julia Cagé, president of the readers’ society, subsequently highlighted the “breaches” in her status, giving the billionaire control of the governance of the structure.

The board of directors of the “Press Independence Fund” insisted on Tuesday: this “non-profit general interest organization” has several missions outside the Le Monde group, including those of co-financing the legal costs of independent media, to advance the costs of “long journalistic investigations”, and to support research work on the “fight against disinformation”.

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