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Canal Plus switch

France’s television regulatory body CSA is to take over license renewal negotiations with pay TV giant Canal Plus from the government-appointed negotiator Jacques Friedmann.

The license talks, scheduled to be concluded in December, were extended to August amid reports of confrontation between Friedmann and former Canal Plus chairman Andre Rousselet.

Rousselet, who quit his job last month after a web shareholder shuffle, is known to have been angered by government efforts to make the pay TV web invest around 450 million francs ($ 77 million) to support France’s ailing cable industry. Indications are that the payment was linked to the renewal of the Canal Plus license.

Rousselet made no secret that he opposed the move, which he described as a loss for his company. Canal Plus’ finance department predicted earlier this year that profits for 1994 would slip by as much as 20% and put part of the blame on the forced cable payment.

The exact status of the 450 million francs was unclear Tuesday, but it seems less likely that the CSA will pursue the matter with the same zest as Friedmann and his political masters. Canal Plus would not comment.

Observers in Paris said the decision to put the CSA in charge of the talks was an effort by the government to distance itself from what has become an increasingly embarrassing dossier.

When he quit, Rousselet publicly lashed out at Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, accusing him of attempting to put pro-government execs in top industrial jobs.

Balladur has also come in for criticism for initially announcing that his conservative administration would not carry out a witch hunt of socialist-appointed TV heads in the public service — and then doing just that.

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