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Vivendi addresses competition probe on Mediaset holding

The Vivendi office is seen in Paris on Wednesday, May 17, 2006.Any move by Italian competition watchdog AGCOM against Vivendi because it holds significant stakes in both Telecom Italia and Mediaset would imply a rewriting of existing rules and could be discriminatory, according to the French media group, as reported by Italian press.

AGCOM weighed into the dispute between Vivendi and Mediaset at the end of last year, holding that the French media giant’s acquisition of a significant stake in the Italian broadcaster could be in breach of a provision of the Testo Unico dei Servizi di Media Audiovisivi e Radiofonici (TUSMAR) regulation that electronics communications companies with a market share in excess of 40% cannot control more than 10% of a Sistema Integrato delle Comunicazioni (SIC) – meaning a large TV, radio and publishing outfit, such as Mediaset.

The TUSMAR rule is intended to set a ceiling on the extent of concentration of communications and media in the interest of pluralism, competition and the rights of citizens.

The regulator said that Vivendi was the controlling shareholder in Telecom Italia with a stake of 24.68%, and that Telecom Italia had a 44.7% share of the telecom market, while Mediaset, whose controlling shareholder is Fininvest, had a 13.3% of the overall SIC market. According to AGCOM, the numbers mean that an operation to “concentrate control of the two companies” could be prohibited.

According to the Radiocor press agency, owned by financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore, Vivendi has put forward the argument that freezing Vivendi’s stake in Mediaset or putting its stakes in both Telecom Italia and the broadcaster under review would effectively mean rewriting the rules.

Vivendi, which requested a hearing with AGCOM to put its case, reportedly argued that the fact that it had stakes in both companies did not imply it had a relationship of control or joint control, which would be necessary if the TUSMAR ruling is to be invoked.

The AGCOM investigation has been unfolding in parallel to the ongoing legal battle between Vivendi and Mediaset, which came to court for the first time earlier this month.

Tags: Mediaset, Vivendi