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Xavier Niel’s Progress Brings Independence Within Reach for Le Monde

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Xavier Niel, the billionaire owner of Le Monde, plans to place over 40% of the newspaper in a foundation by the end of the year. The move comes after Niel bought out Czech energy tycoon Daniel Křetínský’s stake in France’s largest national daily. The governance reform is aimed at protecting the newspaper’s independence and preventing takeovers. Louis Dreyfus, Le Monde Group’s chief executive, stated that the reform is necessary to reassure readers that the paper’s coverage will not be compromised by reliance on a wealthy owner. Among the issues in France is a lack of media independence, with major outlets owned by billionaire industrialists who control large companies.

Le Monde, which has approximately 580,000 subscribers in both print and digital, has faced financial challenges since the digital transition. In 2010, Pierre Bergé, Matthieu Pigasse, and Xavier Niel committed €110mn to recapitalise the newspaper. They also made promises on governance and established a group to represent Le Monde’s journalists, staff, and readers, who together own 25.4% of the company. Niel later transferred his shares to a foundation, ensuring that the newsroom would remain as independent as possible. Dreyfus expects the process of moving stock to the foundation to accelerate, but it is dependent on resolving a legal dispute and securing Prisa’s shares.

Critics remain concerned that Niel or his co-investors may interfere in the newspaper’s operations. However, Dreyfus argues that their actions over the past 13 years demonstrate their commitment to strengthening the editorial staff and ensuring profitability. The business has seen significant growth and now relies mostly on digital subscriptions. Le Monde plans to expand its English content to capture a 15% share of digital subscribers from outside France within five years. The newspaper’s editorial director, Jérôme Fenoglio, appreciates that Le Monde has made progress in both business and governance, avoiding the control issues that other outlets with dominating owners have faced.

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