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Vincent Bolloré’s Vivendi has threatened legal action against the Italian regulator after it ruled that the group is breaching the country’s rules on concentration of power and said Vivendi can’t hold onto the large stakes it has built up in both Mediaset and Telecom
On Tuesday Agcom, the Italian communication authority, ruled that Vivendi’s stake-building in the two companies breaches Italy’s Gasparri Law, a set of antitrust rules designed to protect media pluralism and prevent a dominant position by a single party. The regulator gave Vivendi a year to cut its position in either of the two companies and said it need to present a “plan of action” within 60 days.
Agcom’s ruling appears to deal a blow to Mr Bolloré’s plans to build a southern European media empire anchored in telecoms, content and media. As part of Bolloré’s strategy in Italy, Vivendi became the biggest holder in Telecom Italia, with 24 per cent, and recently built up a stake of 28.8 per cent of Mediaset, becoming the company’s second-largest shareholder. This provoked fears over Mr Bollore’s influence within corporate Italy.
Mediaset, Italy’s biggest private broadcaster, is controlled by Fininvest, the family holding company of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Ironically the Gasparri Law was initially drawn up in the 1990s partly out of concern over then prime minister Mr
Berlusconi’s influence. Now the laws appear to be working in his favour.
Vivendi released a statement on Tuesday evening arguing that it “neither controls nor exercises a dominant influence on Mediaset” and said it could fight the ruling with legal action.
The statement said: “Vivendi reserves the right to take any appropriate legal action to prevent its interests, including filing an appeal to the AGCom decision at the Regional Administrative Court and to submit a formal complaint to the European Commission for the breach of EU law.”
Agcom’s regulatory crackdown marks the latest step in an Italian adventure for Vivendi that has been marked by legal battles and controversy over corporate governance.
Vivendi and Mediaset are suing each other for defamation, as part of a fight between the two groups over a deal for Vivendi to buy pay-TV channel Mediaset Premium that collapsed in July.
Meanwhile Vivendi has been attempting to tighten its grip on Telecom Italia, and last week named its chief executive Arnaud de Puyfontaine at the the top of a list of 10 proposed directors ahead of a Telecom Italia shareholder meeting next month.