B'casting org wants 'French law to be respected, not only by sleight of hand'

PARIS — France’s broadcasting authority has said it won’t settle for verbal promises from Vivendi over the future of Canal Plus and the company’s heavy investments in French cinema.

In a warning to Vivendi chairman Jean-Marie Messier, Herve Bourges, the head of the Conseil Superieur de l’Audiovisuel, said Friday: “We will not be satisfied with verbal promises or fine declarations. In response to our numerous questions, we expect written answers to be brought to us.”

Under the Vivendi Seagram deal, most of the pay TV group’s assets will be absorbed into the new Vivendi Universal while, in order to comply with French law, the French TV company will be spun off into a separate entity.

The CSA fears that this maneuver will allow Vivendi to circumvent French broadcasting rules and lay its hands on Canal Plus’ biggest assets while ducking out of the company’s financial commitments to French film production, which until now have been calculated as a percentage of its earnings.

“We want the French law to be respected, not only by sleight of hand,” Bourges said, “and we want Canal Plus to conserve its identity, its revenues and its obligations to French cinema.”

Bourges’ tone contrasted with an official joint statement by Vivendi and Canal Plus following a meeting last week between Messier, Canal Plus chief Pierre Lescure and the CSA.

The statement said that the companies were “confident” following an “in depth exchange” with the CSA.

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