Tuesday, May 24

Auditioned in the Senate, Vincent Bolloré dodges angry questions

Auditioned by senators worried about his growing influence in the media, billionaire Vincent Bolloré continued Wednesday to minimize the extent of the “dwarf” Vivendi in the face of “foreign” giants, while dodging questions about his political role.

“I assume and I do not shirk,” assured the Breton businessman. Yet to hear it, the senators questioned for two hours an “advisor”, a “scapegoat”, whose “expiry period is coming to an end”, a few weeks before the bicentenary of the family group which he intends to hand over to their children.

Largest shareholder of Canal+, two major publishing groups (Editis and Hachette), numerous newspapers (Prisma Media magazines, JDD, Paris Match), one of the heavyweights in advertising/communication (Havas) and radio Europe 1, Vincent Bolloré (69) is the figure who best illustrates the influence of a media empire on public opinion and his hearing was therefore highly anticipated.

Asked about the many departures from the newsrooms he already controls or soon (Canal +, Prisma Media, Europe 1), he said that journalists work “like the sea”, a wave leaves, another returns. “Content creators are extremely sensitive people by nature,” he slipped.

Faced with questions about the place given on his CNews channel to Eric Zemmour despite his multiple convictions for incitement to hatred, he claims to “never do politics”, recalling that the presidential candidate had previously intervened on competing channels and newspapers and posing as a defender of “freedom of expression”.

– “A purely economic interest”

But “no one knew he was going to be President of the Republic”, he added in an obvious slip, claiming to have had lunch “only once” with the far-right polemicist to recruit him.

On the merits, he presented slides and an argument explaining that the French media giant Vivendi, which he controls, is in reality “very small” in the face of the “real danger” of foreign competition from the giants of the net, the Gafam (Google , Amazon, Apple, etc.).

But its growth is possible and desirable, with the aim of promoting French culture abroad, he explained. “The media is the second most profitable economic sector today in the world, after luxury. (…) Our interest is not political and is not ideological: it is a purely economic,” he said.

“Nobody has the ambition or the intention or the error to try to make chains of opinion, it is not the objective of the group Vivendi-Canal +”, he affirmed.

Very comfortable, he sometimes got tense, tackling for example the planned evolution of the media chronology which paves the way for financing of French creation by SVoD platforms (Amazon, Apple, Disney or Netflix) against faster access to these creations.

– Danger of Gafam

“What interests them is possibly gaining a foothold in France and standardizing the same film around the world, so it’s unlikely that it’s French culture that will do it,” said he argued.

“If it is your choice to open the door to Gafam to destroy Canal, you do what you want and then Canal will manage, adapt”, in particular via partnerships, said its boss.

The same ills have the same remedies in the publishing sector, where “most people (…) are starving”, but could benefit from a Hachette-Editis marriage, which “will not happen without there are measures that are taken in France” by the competition authorities, he acknowledged.

Other press and audiovisual magnates will appear in the coming days before this commission of inquiry, which is due to report in March on the economic and democratic consequences of such a concentration.

The hearings of Bernard Arnault (Les Échos, Le Parisien, Radio Classique), Patrick Drahi (BFMTV, RMC) and Martin Bouygues (owner of TF1 who plans to merge with M6) are notably planned. Those of Xavier Niel and Arnaud Lagardère have been postponed to an as yet undetermined date.


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