More than 460 journalists at « Le Monde » are asking their owners to guarantee their editorial independence by granting them a right of approval for new controlling shareholders.

Le Monde is at a crossroads. For the first time in its history, it could be forced to admit a new shareholder in its capital without its journalists beeing consulted. Our editorial freedom is at stake.

For the past year, it is with extreme concern that we have witnessed the first important change in our group’s capital since its acquisition in 2010 by a group of private investors (Pierre Bergé, Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse). In October 2018 we learned the sale of 49 % of the shares belonging to Matthieu Pigasse to the industrialist, Daniel Kretinsky. Le Monde’s Independency Group, a minority shareholder gathering the association of journalists, the staff, the readers and the founders, was not informed of this operation.

This announcement aroused concerns. Subsequently, on October 25th 2018, Matthieu Pigasse and Xavier Niel, the two principal shareholders since the death of Pierre Bergé in 2017, agreed in writing to grant the Independency Group a right of approval. Such a clause would allow the Independency Group a right to approve or disapprove of the entry of any new shareholder with controlling rights. They also committed not to carry out any movement of capital until this right of approval had been formalised.

After a year of intense negotiations, this right has still not been signed in. Last summer, our concern increased with the opening of exclusive negotiations by Mr Pigasse and Mr Kretinsky to buy the shares of the Spanish group, Prisa, another non-controlling shareholder of Le Monde.

On Tuesday 3rd September, the Independency Group therefore requested that Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse fulfilled their promise to guarantee our independence and to sign this right of approval before September 17th. Xavier Niel did so on Monday September 9th.

Moral promises

We, journalists, expect Matthieu Pigasse to do the same. We also ask his new associate, Daniel Kretinsky, to co-sign this agreement. In keeping with the moral promises made by Pierre Bergé to Le Monde during his lifetime, and with which he never comprised, we also request Pierre Bergé’s heir, Madison Cox, to add his signature.

This right of approval for new controlling shareholders is an essential document to complete and reinforce the fragile mechanism protecting our work. Without this legal safeguard, Le Monde’s unique situation in the French press could be threatened: our capital could be bought by a new shareholder who might trample the checks and balances between the editorial staff and the owners, set up over the past ten years.

This approach is simple, it’s about giving a legal form to the spirit of the relationship established in 2010 – when the newspaper was purchased – with Mr Bergé, Niel and Pigasse, whom we chose by vote.

Since then, there has been no exception to this rule of separation between capital and journalists. This “trio” of shareholders respected its commitments. They provided the means of our development while respecting the editorial independence of the various publications of our group (Le Monde, Télérama, Courrier International, La Vie…).

Instead of giving into the temptation of poor quality news and cutting staff numbers, the editorial staff of Le Monde has neither lost soul nor substance. The news has never been considered to be a mere product or source of profit. Over the past ten years, the number of journalists has risen to 450 persons.

When we lost the economic control of our business, in 2010, we journalists did not abandon our culture of independence – forged over seventy-five years of a very eventful history. We did not surrender our capacity to defend collectively our principles and values. We have retained full control of our texts and images. This freedom, protected from any form of intervention or influence, has enabled us to publish stories and investigations which challenged political and economic powers in France and abroad.

Our most valuable asset

This is our most valuable asset. Any substantial change in the capital that would not be approved by the staff would jeopardize the relationship built over the past ten years with our shareholders. It would cast a shadow over the value of journalism at Le Monde and would deteriorate our readers’ trust.

In contrast, the granting of a right of approval for new controlling shareholders would strengthen our independence. Now that Xavier Niel has proved his commitment, we expect Matthieu Pigasse and Daniel Kretinsky to do the same.

This is an opportunity for Mr Kretinsky to match words with deeds and to demonstrate his « desire to support traditional journalism » and « uphold democracy », as he stated in Paris on September 5th.

The signature of the right of approval is a prerequisite for the opening of discussions to discover the real intentions of Mr Kretinsky. It would also be a first indication that the industrialist understands the specific identity of the group.

We, Le Monde journalists, are determined to defend our independence and thus preserve our relationship of trust with our readers.

Notis©2019