The independence and freedom of the press is one of the most precious assets in any democracy.
Agence France-Presse, which is not only the source of most of the news distributed in France but is also one of the world's three biggest global news agencies, is today under threat, as regards not only its independence but even its future existence in its present form.
Under a French law passed in 1957 AFP enjoys a unique status, intended to ensure its structural independence both from the state and from any other "ideological, political or economic grouping".
The company's mission is to "seek out, in France... as well as abroad, the elements of a complete and objective information service"
For several years now, demands for AFP's special status to be brought to an end have become more and more numerous, both inside and outside the company.
One sign of this has been the unprecedented attacks directed at the agency in 2008 by a number of politicians close to the French government.
On the one hand AFP has been described as a "state news agency" that is marked out for privatisation, and on the other it has been criticised for not being ready to publish all the news releases put out by the ruling party.
Today plans are well advanced to end the special status and the independence of a company which is one of a kind, being neither public nor private.
In particular, there are plans to transform, or to abolish altogether, the statutes laid down by parliament in order to turn the agency into a joint-stock company and bring in shareholders.
Such changes, pushed through at a time when France's media landscape is already being severely shaken up, and during a period of worldwide economic instability, are almost certain to mean that AFP's worldwide news services will fall under the sway of governmental or other special interests.
"We the undersigned, members of the general public, employees of Agence France-Presse and organisations committed to media pluralism and the right to complete and objective information, express our support for the structural independence of AFP.
"For more than half a century its statutes have not prevented AFP from growing into one of the world's three major news agencies, present on five continents and working in six languages.
"We reject any change which would have the effect of either turning AFP into a government agency, or handing it over either wholly or partially to private companies of any type and in whatever form.
"We demand that the agency retain its specific characteristics, its ability to carry out its mission in the general interest and its structural independence. We therefore oppose any changes which would compromise its statutes, laid down in a law passed by the French parliament in 1957."