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French Business Reporters Stage Historic Protest

For the first time in French media history, the country's top two business newspapers La Tribune and Les Echos will not be published on Monday.

Reporters at Les Echos are protesting against their possible sale to Bernard Arnault, head of the luxury group LVMH while their colleagues at La Tribune have voted with their feet against their possible disposal by Arnault.

LVMH could confirm as early as this week that it has put La Tribune up for sale after a Friday report in Les Echos said it had hired Lazard bankers to find a buyer.

La Tribune is to hold an extraordinary works council on Tuesday with LVMH representatives to grill them on its fate.

"At at that time, we will have the right to find out whether we are being sold or not," Jean-Baptiste Jacquin, a journalist and spokesman for La Tribune journalist said on Sunday.

It not yet clear who could bid for La Tribune which employs 200 staff, has a daily circulation of 77,000 and incurred a loss of 18 million euros ($24.22 million) last year.

Reporters at La Tribune fear a sale could lead to job cuts and damage the paper's editorial content and credibility. The luxury group has declined to comment on the sale of La Tribune.

In contrast to its rival, Les Echos with 500 staff, is one of the few money-making dailies in France with a circulation of 119,000. It made an operating profit of 10 million euros on revenues of 126 million euros in 2006.

Les Echos journalists have hired lawyers to examine their options. They are planning a meeting on Monday and resume the paper's publication on Tuesday.

Reporters at Les Echos went on strike last Tuesday to oppose its sale to LVMH. They believe ownership by a luxury group would threaten the paper's independence as its journalists write about it frequently.

LVMH has promised to preserve the paper's editorial freedom.

NO WHITE KNIGHT

Les Echos reported that Arnault had offered their owner Pearson a cheque of 250 million euros - between 80-100 million euros more than what some analysts estimate it is worth.

"I very much doubt Les Echos employees will find a white knight (a rival bidder) at that price," a former senior manager at Pearson said on Sunday on condition of anonymity.

Pearson has agreed to give Arnault until November - an unusually long period of time for exclusive talks.

The media industry is caught in a wave of consolidation last seen in 2000 as players seek to address the impact the Internet, new technologies and changing consumer habits will have on their business model.

Turmoil in the French press comes after Pearson and General Electric decided last week against making a joint-offer for publisher Dow Jones , clearing up the way for a $5 billion bid by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.. GE is the parent of NBC Universal's CNBC and CNBC.com.

Meanwhile, Canadian group Thomson last month agreed to buy Reuters for about 8.7 billion pounds but the deal is still subject to regulatory and shareholder approval.

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