Les Echos journalists protest over removal of editor by billionaire owner Bernard Arnault

Journalists at France’s largest business newspaper are protesting against the abrupt removal of their editor-in-chief, which they say was decided by the publication’s billionaire owner Bernard Arnault in breach of the daily’s editorial independence.

Reporters at Les Echos will not sign their names to their articles online and in print for 24 hours from noon on Thursday to protest against the “forced departure” of Nicolas Barré by Arnault, according to a statement from a group representing the newsroom.

“We are undertaking this action for 24 hours to highlight our determination and our anger that the owner has not respected the independence of our publication,” said Leila de Comarmond, president of the journalist’s association at Les Echos, adding that “the vast majority” of journalists would participate.

The company “cannot mask the reality” that Barré was “removed by the owner in contradiction of the guarantees of independence negotiated” at the time of the sale of the newspaper to LVMH, the luxury group owned by Arnault, the journalists’ association said.

LVMH bought Les Echos from British publisher Pearson, the former owner of the Financial Times, in 2007 and signed an accord intended to protect the newsroom’s independence.

Staff suspect Arnault removed Barré because he was unhappy about a review, published in Les Echos, of “Story of an ogre”, a book critical of fellow billionaire Vincent Bolloré, who has risen as a powerful media owner, four people with knowledge of the matter said. LVMH declined to comment.

France’s biggest newspaper and television channels are owned by billionaire industrialists who use them as tools of influence. In addition to Les Echos, LVMH owns Le Parisien daily newspaper and a classical radio station.

The Bouygues family construction-to-telecoms conglomerate owns TF1, the biggest private broadcasting company. The Dassault family, owner of defence company Dassault Aviation, owns Le Figaro newspaper. Telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel owns a stake in Le Monde.

A relative late comer to media, Vincent Bolloré, who is the largest shareholder in Vivendi, has proven the most interventionist at his group’s television news channel, radio and newspaper, often replacing editors and journalists and shaping the editorial line. Under his ownership, CNEWS has been revamped as a conservative debating forum, playing a role in the French media landscape akin to Fox News in the US.

Barré will “pursue new challenges” in a new role within the company, the LVMH’s media arm said in a statement announcing the editor’s departure on Wednesday. François Vidal, Barré’s deputy, will take over his responsibilities on an interim basis until a new editor is appointed.

“I am very happy Nicolas Barré has chosen to pursue new opportunities at the group in a new role. I want to thank him for his work over the past decade leading editorial where he has proven his great value as an editor and a manager,” Arnault said.

Barré did not respond to a request for comment.

Additional reporting by Leila Abboud


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