Arnault Seeks Media Influence With Pre-Election Takeover

Bernard Arnault, France’s richest man, is seeking to buy a major newspaper with the country’s presidential election less than two years away.

The billionaire’s company, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE, on Tuesday said it has entered exclusive talks to buy France’s Le Parisien daily from Groupe Amaury. The Paris-based company didn’t disclose financial details.

LVMH already owns the Les Echos and Investir newspapers as well as Radio Classique, which account for a fraction of the world’s largest luxury-goods maker’s 30.6 billion euros ($33.3 billion) of sales.

Acquiring Le Parisien, which goes by the title Aujourd’hui en France outside the capital, would add broad readership and influence in newsrooms and political circles, according to Pierre Lefebure, a researcher who specializes in media and politics at Paris 13 University.

“Financially, it’s hard to see the industrial strategy behind this plan,” said Lefebure. “But his purchase ahead of the 2017 presidential election does raise questions. Politicians want to be in that paper. The access to voters is huge.”

Emilien Amaury created Le Parisien at the end of World War II. Known then as Le Parisien Libere, it developed into one of France’s most read and most influential dailies in the 1970s. Though sales have dwindled in the past decade, the newspaper’s combined regional and national circulation is the second highest in France, according to OJD.

Sporting Events

The Amaury family also own sports daily L’Equipe as well as the cycling races Tour de France and Spain’s Vuelta, among other sporting events. These aren’t part of any sale.

France’s three major political parties are moving into campaign mode before the May 2017 presidential ballot.

Incumbent Francois Hollande, who has the lowest approval rating in political history, is multiplying visits to the country’s schools, factories and farms. His predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy is changing his party’s name to The Republicans ahead of their November 2016 primary ballot. And National Front Leader Marine Le Pen is getting rid of her father and the racist hardliners of her party to present a fresher face to voters.

Arnault hasn’t declared his political support for anyone and Gaspard Estrada, a media specialist at the Paris Insitute for Political Sciences, doesn’t expect him to at this stage.

Yet if LVMH were to buy Le Parisien, Arnault would join French billionaires Patrick Drahi and Xavier Niel investing in media companies ahead of the elections. Telecoms mogul Drahi purchased daily Liberation in 2014 and weekly magazine L’Express this year, while Niel and other investors acquired Le Monde in 2010, two years before Hollande became President.

“Either editors change or there are major acquisitions,” said Estrada. “There are always movements in media before French presidential elections.”

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