Mar 23, 2023
Billionaire Arnault’s ‘Les Echos’ Editor Exits, Raising Independence Worries
(Bloomberg) -- Billionaire Bernard Arnault has come under pressure after the journalist guild at his Les Echos newspaper raised questions over the mogul’s possible role in the editor-in-chief’s departure.
Nicolas Barré is leaving his position after 10 years at the helm of France’s main business daily and will pursue other opportunities within the parent company, Groupe Les Echos-Le Parisien said in a statement on Twitter. Arnault, the world’s richest person, said in the release that he was “very happy” Barré would remain in the group.
Les Echos’s Society of Journalists, or SDJ, said it was impossible “not to wonder about the link between this departure and the publication these last few weeks of several articles that the shareholder might have disliked.” Under the circumstances, “the SDJ worries about the existence of threats to the newspaper’s independence,” it said in a statement.
Reporters are pointing to two articles, according to people familiar with the matter. Last month, Les Echos published a story about LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE, the luxury conglomerate controlled by Arnault, being raided in 2019 by the French tax authorities. Another piece reviewed a book critical of French billionaire Vincent Bollore, who controls media conglomerate Vivendi SE. Arnault is a shareholder of Lagardere SA, a media group in the process of being acquired by Vivendi.
Many of the newspaper’s articles published Thursday carried a generic Les Echos byline after some reporters said they would go on a “byline strike” at noon and remove their names from stories.
Moguls Entering Media
Pierre Louette, the general manager of the group, confirmed Barré’s departure to the newsroom on Tuesday and denied he was forced out, according to the SDJ statement. Louette and Barré didn’t respond to requests for comment. A representative for LVMH declined to comment.
French media outlets are increasingly coming under the control of the ultra-wealthy. Newspaper of record Le Monde is owned by a group of investors including telecommunications tycoon Xavier Niel and Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky.
Le Figaro, another prominent paper, is owned by Groupe Industriel Marcel Dassault SA, the holding company of the Rafale aircraft-making Dassault family. Through Vivendi, Bollore also holds pay-TV group Canal+, radio station Europe1, and Paris Match magazine, among other media assets.
Telecom mogul Patrick Drahi holds properties including BFM TV, while construction and telecoms firm Bouygues SA — controlled by the Bouygues family — is the biggest shareholder in Television Francaise 1 SA, operator of France’s most-watched channel.
The most recent ultra-rich entrant is French shipping billionaire Rodolphe Saade, who is seeking more media acquisitions after buying regional newspaper La Provence and a stake in broadcaster Groupe M6 through the family’s container line CMA CGM.
Arnault’s interest in media assets has prompted some observers to conclude that he’s attempting to buy political influence. His other titles include Le Parisien, an influential daily covering the capital and national news.
--With assistance from Angelina Rascouet and Tara Patel.
(Updates with details on French media ownership)
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