Lescure in at Canal +

Former radio journalist Pierre Lescure was appointed chairman and CEO of French pay TV giant Canal Plus Wednesday, following the resignation of network topper Andre Rousselet.

The Canal Plus board voted unanimously in favor of Lescure, ending speculation that the network No. 2 might not accept the post.

As the dust began to settle at the pay TV web, Rousselet publicly attacked conservative Prime Minister Edouard Balladur. Writing in the influential daily Le Monde, the outgoing Canal Plus chairman insisted, “Edouard (Balladur) killed me.” Rousselet accused the prime minister of systematically placing his supporters at the head of major French groups.

Rousselet himself benefited from the same political patronage system when the Socialists were in power in the early ’80s. He became chairman of the then-nationalized Havas in 1982 after serving for two years as then-French President Francois Mitterand’s chief of staff.

At last week’s Havas board meeting, Rousselet was told that Havas, Generale des Eaux and Societe Generale had joined forces to form a 48.7% controlling block of Canal Plus shares. The three shareholders are all run by pro-government chairmen.

As a friend and former adviser to Mitterand, Rousselet appears convinced that recent attacks on Canal Plus were aimed more athim and his political allegiances than at the network — hence his decision to step down in order to spare Canal Plus further damage.

The 48-year-old Lescure, who is widely respected for his programming capabilities, joined Canal Plus in 1983 having previously worked at Radio Monte Carlo, the Europe 1 radio station and pubcaster Antenne-2.

Lescure was instrumental in bringing key execs such as program director Alain de Greef and programming manager Albert Mathieu to Canal Plus and has long been groomed to succeed the 71-year-old Rousselet.

His appointment came as a relief to staffers and entertainment analysts who have been badly shaken by the abruptness of Rousselet’s departure. “Lescure has a very loyal team around him and I doubt they would have stayed if someone else had been named chairman,” opined one Paris analyst.

The three web shareholders (Havas, Generale des Eaux and Societe Generale), whose alliance precipitated Rousselet’s resignation, agreed and offered no opposition to Lescure’s nomination.

The feeling in Paris Wednesday was that while personal differences between Rousselet and Havas chairman Pierre Dauzier meant few tears were shed when Rousselet ankled, there is no desire to damage the moneymaking pay TV giant. Canal Plus profits for 1993 are in the region of $ 200 million.

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