Sarkozy-backed group loses battle for Le Monde as journalists say 'no'

A battle for control of the Le Monde – the newspaper that is almost an institution in France - is over. A business group favoured by French president Nicolas Sarkozy withdrew its bid after journalists on the newspaper voted overwhelmingly against it.

The Sarkozy-favored group withdrew after 90 per cent of the paper's journalists – outraged over Sarkozy's intervention – voted against that bid, citing problems of editorial independence. Instead, the supervisory board of the ailing newspaper on Monday backed a consortium offer led by Lazard banker Matthieu Pigasse.

The final tally was 11 votes for and 9 abstentions, said Gilles Van Kote, head of the journalists' union. The newspaper's key shareholder is its journalists' union, which supported the Pigasse bid.

A subordinate board with 18 seats also backed the Pigasse-led bid with 13 votes for and 5 abstentions, he said. "There were no votes against," he added.

The sale of Le Monde increasingly became seen as a Left-Right political fight over media control in an era when Sarkozy's closest friends run several of the top media groups in France. And the ownership controversy took place within the context of the coming 2012 presidential elections.

The new trio of owners, approved by a narrow 11 of 20 votes by the Le Monde board, all have close ties to the opposition Socialist Party. They include Pierre Berge, a wealthy industrialist, gay-rights activist, and long-time partner of the late fashion tycoon Yves St Laurent; Matthieu Pigasse, a pop-music magazine owner and banker; and billionaire telecom maven Xavier Niel, who started his fortune in soft porn and has ties to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, current International Monetary Fund chief and a likely opponent of Sarkozy in 2012.