'Le Monde' in crisis as senior editor quits

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The Independent Online

A period of extreme turbulence in the French press deepened yesterday when a leading figure on the national newspaper, Le Monde, resigned.

A period of extreme turbulence in the French press deepened yesterday when a leading figure on the national newspaper, Le Monde, resigned.

Edwy Plenel, the much-loved and much-detested, executive editor, said he was quitting to go back to "the simple pleasures of journalism and writing".

The departure of M. Plenel, 52, comes at a time when Le Monde is losing money and readers and has been strongly criticised, from within and without, for becoming too populist and abusing its influence as one of the pillars of the French political-media establishment.

M. Plenel, a Trotskyist turned investigative reporter and then editor, known for his Groucho Marx moustache, has been de facto number two of the newspaper but the day-to-day editorial decision-maker since 1996. His boss, friend and partner, Jean-Marie Colombani, Le Monde's "director of publication," said last night that his departure was a "traumatism".

The French media world was rife with rumours last night which purported to explain M. Plenel's departure (or rather his voluntary return to writing and reporting). It was suggested his head had been demanded by outside financial interests before they were prepared to put up the ¤50m (£35m) needed to keep the newspaper afloat.

On the other hand, it was suggested that M. Plenel had decided to resign after a stormy AGM of the editorial committee last week in which he was criticised, and his supporters, in turn, criticised the financial management of the group.

His departure comes at a time when all French daily newspapers ­ never strong ­ are struggling to cope with a sharp fall in sales, partly caused by the launch of daily free-sheets in Paris and other large cities.

Yesterday also brought the bizarre news that the centre-left daily newspaper Libération, founded by Jean-Paul Sartre and others after the leftist student revolt in 1968, may be the subject of a partial takeover bid by the banker Edouard de Rothschild, an emblematic figure of French capitalism.

M. Plenel made his name as an investigative reporter at Le Monde in the 1980s. He was so successful in digging out the secrets of the ruling classes that he was the object of an illegal phone tap by the staff of President François Mitterrand which ­ 20 years later ­ is the subject of a criminal case. With M. Colombani he transformed the austere Le Monde, introducing such unheard of innovations as photographs and sport, and stories about celebrities.

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