PARIS — News that debt-laden Vivendi Universal is contemplating the sale of its $5 billion publishing division has rankled France’s cultural — and political — establishments.
In addition to the U.S.’ Houghton Mifflin, division contains the creme de la creme of Paris publishing houses — from Larousse, which puts out the Petit Larousse dictionary, to Plon, Charles de Gaulle’s publisher.
Over the weekend, culture minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon said President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin were worried about what Viv U had in store for its publishers as it attempts to reduce its $19 billion debt.
“We must avoid any sale that would not preserve publishing houses … that form part of our cultural heritage,” Aillagon said.
On Monday, one-time culture minister Jack Lang chimed in, evoking the perils of the “bestsellerization” of French publishing and calling for “a united front of men and women of culture and politicians of all persuasions” to block the sale to a foreign group.
Selling to an Anglo-Saxon buyer would amount to cultural expropriation, socialist Lang asserted. He appealed to France’s recently elected right-wing government to find a French solution.
Jean-Rene Fourtou, Viv U’s chairman and CEO, is due to unveil the group’s new strategy at a board meeting Sept. 25.