A Czech Billionaire Buys a Piece of Le Monde

His stake in Le Monde, an afternoon paper with more than 300,000 subscribers, allows him to play a more prominent part in supporting “trans-Atlantic democracy,” he said, and to push for greater regulation of Facebook, Google and other internet giants, which, he argued, undermine the free press.

“Being around Le Monde, it’s much easier to launch this debate as a real member of the family of French publishers,” Mr. Kretinsky said. “The Czech Republic is just too small.”

Le Monde’s executive editor, Jérôme Fenoglio, said that the other two major shareholders, Mr. Pigasse and the internet entrepreneur Xavier Niel, have kept the proper distance from the paper’s journalists since taking control of Le Monde Group nine years ago.

“The newsroom is completely independent,” Mr. Fenoglio said.

Le Monde’s reporters and editors had a controlling stake in the paper from its founding in 1944 until it was sold with their approval in 2010, and they still have a say in how it is run. What troubled some in the newsroom about Mr. Kretinsky’s entry into the ownership group, the editor added, was the lack of transparency surrounding it.

“The problem is that we heard it through the grapevine, truly the worst way to win our trust,” Mr. Fenoglio said. “The condition that would allow us to have confidence in Mr. Kretinsky is simply to agree to our right of approval, and our right to approve or block his ownership in the company. Whoever the new shareholder is, if he loves Le Monde and wants to help it grow, he has to respect its independence.”

Alain Beuve-Méry, the editor of Le Monde’s economic opinion pages, and the grandson of the newspaper’s founder, Hubert Beuve-Méry, noted that Mr. Kretinsky had yet to meet with Le Monde’s reporters and editors. “If the value of a newspaper is its journalists, then, when you buy a newspaper, the first thing you do is you try to win over the journalists,” Mr. Beuve-Méry said.

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