Libération staff in revolt against takeover by financier Rothschild

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The Independent Online

The future of the respected centre-left French newspaper Libération is being clouded by renewed financial worries and the acrimonious resignation of its most celebrated journalist. Florence Aubenas, 45, who survived five months as a hostage in a cellar in Iraq last year, is one of four senior journalists who have demanded a pay-off from the struggling daily.

Mme Aubenas says that she can no longer go along with "what is happening in the newspaper". She complains that it has been "taken over" by the financier, Edouard de Rothschild, who bought almost 39 per cent of its capital last year.

In a letter to the Libération management, Mme Aubenas and three other senior journalists, Jean Hatzfeld, Antoine de Baecque and Dominique Simonnot, demanded the right to a pay-off on the grounds that they no longer accept the editorial direction of the newspaper

Their demand for a pay-off has since been refused, and the four are now taking legal action.

Their decision - and public statements - have infuriated colleagues at a time when Libération is struggling to survive. The newspaper has reduced its size and has asked for a one-month deferment of its staff contributions to national social security funds.

Other journalists at Libération, founded in the wake of the 1968 student-worker revolt, are furious that Mme Aubenas and the others have implied that the newspaper is no longer editorially independent.

One Libération journalist, Olivier Costemalle, said: "They don't seem to be aware of how damaging their comments might be. Aubenas is a kind of icon. If they want to go, fair enough, but they didn't need to attract so much attention".

Mme Aubenas denied that she was being disloyal. She told the French news agency, Agence France Presse: "I always wanted to finish my life at Libération, even if the ship foundered. I am leaving because the situation has changed and I can no longer accept what is happening at the newspaper." Since M. de Rothschild rescued it from bankruptcy, he has removed its founding president, Serge July, but has not changed its outlook. If anything, the newspaper has become more radical as it attempts to boost circulation by regaining readers among the left-leaning youth of France.

Libération campaigned daily for the release of Mme Aubenas, who was kidnapped while reporting in Iraq last year.