TAKING A STAND: Staffers at French Elle have voiced their concern about the sale of the magazine to a Czech entrepreneur, and have pledged to maintain their editorial independence regardless of their future owner.
France’s Lagardère Group said last week it has entered into exclusive talks with Czech Media Invest for the sale of local magazines including Elle, Version Femina, Art & Décoration and France Dimanche, as part of a broader restructuring of the company.
Virtually unknown in France, Czech Media Invest owns Czech News Center, one of the leading media groups in the Czech Republic with publications including the tabloids Blesk, Aha! and Sport. Its chairman, billionaire Daniel Kretinsky, made a fortune in energy and is also co-owner of soccer club AC Sparta Prague.
In a statement issued after a special meeting on Wednesday of the Society of Journalists at Elle, editors evoked the heritage of the magazine, founded in 1945 by Hélène Gordon-Lazareff. The French weekly has spawned dozens of international editions, including a monthly U.S. version published by Hearst.
“It has belonged to France’s cultural heritage for 73 years, accompanying four generations of French women in their daily life, their struggles and their emancipation,” the statement read.
It underlined that notable contributors over the years included writers Françoise Sagan and Marguerite Duras, feminist philosopher Élisabeth Badinter and politician Simone Veil, who is best known for her fight to push through the law legalizing abortion in France in 1975.
It concluded by saying the editorial staff wished to state “with gravity and determination that this magazine fully intends to protect its editorial independence, whatever its future may be.”
In an interview with French daily Le Figaro published over the weekend, Kretinsky pledged to respect the history of the brands he was taking over.
“I have a great respect for these magazines and for the work of their teams. It is not in our interest to damage these brands. This heritage will be treated with caution and respect,” he told the newspaper. “We are there to help these publications grow and to allow them to face the future serenely.”
Asked why he decided to invest in the struggling media sector, Kretinsky said it was his duty as a citizen to support the press at a time when populist and nationalist movements were sweeping across Europe, due in part to the weakening of traditional media in favor of online platforms where “fake news” is able to flourish.
His rival Andrej Babis, founder of the populist Action of Dissatisfied Citizens movement, was elected prime minister of the Czech Republic in December. The controversial oligarch owns Czech media group Mafra.
Czech Media Invest is also buying Lagardère’s radio businesses in Eastern Europe. The sale of the magazines, which the parties said should be signed in the coming weeks, remains subject to clearance from employee representative bodies and competition authorities.
Lagardère Group’s news division, which includes Paris Match, the Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche and Europe 1 radio station, as well as the Elle brand and its international licenses, is not part of the transaction.