(Corrects spelling of CEO’s name in fifth graph)
PARIS, June 22 (Reuters) - Vivendi Chairman Vincent Bollore urged French lawmakers on Wednesday to help him build a global media giant by easing anti-trust rules he said were shackling the industry.
The billionaire, who took the helm of Vivendi in 2014, fended off accusations during a Senate committee hearing that he is jeopardizing the editorial independence of the group’s main pay-TV unit Canal Plus.
“You have number one problem: do you want a national champion?” Bollore told the Senate’s cultural affairs committee.
“If you don’t want a national champion, that’s quite easy. You put anti-concentration measures in place and you have what we have today. That is to say, no French group trying to promote the French culture overseas.”
France’s regulatory landscape prevented Vivendi from competing on a level playing field with new content producers and distributors such as U.S-based Netflix and Qatari-controlled beIN Sports, Vivendi’s chief executive, Arnaud de Puyfontaine, told the hearing.
Bollore’s ambitions to transform Vivendi into an integrated media group to rival the likes of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire were dealt a blow this month when France’s competition watchdog blocked a rights deal between Canal Plus and Qatar-controlled beIN Sports.
Bollore drew fierce criticism this year in the French press and on social media after he fired the channel’s top management, cut free content and put the cult satirical puppet show “Les Guignols” behind a pay wall.
Legislators have expressed concern at the cost-cutting at Canal Plus, which invests about 200 million euros ($226 million) in French movies per year. It is a key contributor to the country’s much-cherished film industry, which relies heavily on funding from the cash-strapped French state.
Senators pressed Bollore on his involvement in the editorial line of Canal Plus’ channels, including accusations that he spiked a TV report on Credit Mutuel, a French bank with which his family-controlled group has regularly done business.
Bollore denied any intervention.
“I don’t know how to ban stories. I don’t know how to do it,” Bollore said. “Criticisms have surfaced because the work that we’re doing at Canal Plus isn’t popular.”
Bollore has pledged to revive the iconic pay-TV channel, which was founded 32 years ago by an aide of former President Francois Mitterrand but has let slip a commanding market position that was forged by offering coded movies, soccer and other popular sports and late-night pornography.
Bollore reiterated that his priority was to stem losses at Canal Plus’ French channels. The losses totalled 264 million euros ($298 million) in 2015 and could reach 400 million in 2016 and about 460 million in 2017, he said. ($1 = 0.8846 euros) (Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain and Gwenaelle Barzic; Editing by Richard Lough and Alexander Smith)
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