French Government Asks Court to Rule on Growing US Ownership of Vivendi

23 January 2002

The French government, for half a century leery of the cultural corruption wafting eastward across the Atlantic, is alarmed at the growing US involvement in one of the nation’s largest media companies Vivendi Universal.

Invoking a 1986 law that limits non-EU ownership to 20 per cent of a French-registered television broadcaster (and also prevents any single shareholder from owning more than 49%), broadcasting regulator the CSA has asked the nation’s senior administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, to judge whether the recent acceleration of Vivendi’s US shareholders breaches national media legislation.

Vivendi Universal currently owns 49% of French television chain Canal Plus, the remainder floating on the Paris bourse. At six-monthly intervals, Canal is required to show the CSA a breakdown of its shareholders, which currently indicates that between 5% and 6% of Canal is held by non-EU investors. The ruling will hinge on whether the twenty per cent barrier applies indirectly as well as directly.

Vivendi chief executive Jean-Marie Messier did not help his own cause when he recently proclaimed to a New York press conference: “The Franco-French cultural exception is dead” [WAMN: 04-Jan-02].

This indiscreet remark predictably infuriated many compatriots, spurring French education minister Jack Lang to declare: “We won't let ourselves be intimidated by a private company. Now more than ever, a country must have control of its intellectual and creative capital.”

News source: Financial Times