MILAN (Reuters) - French media group Vivendi (VIV.PA) is close to reaching a preliminary deal with Italy’s communications watchdog on cutting its stake in Silvio Berlusconi’s broadcaster Mediaset (MS.MI), two sources said on Thursday.
Vivendi’s influence in Italy has come under close political and regulatory scrutiny since the French group led by billionaire Vincent Bollore built up its stake in Italy’s biggest private broadcaster Mediaset last year.
It had already tightened its grip on Telecom Italia (TIM) (TLIT.MI) and Rome is looking into whether Vivendi failed to meet an obligation to notify it of its effective control of a company which is considered a strategic national asset.
Italy’s AGCOM regulator has demanded Vivendi reduce its stake in either Mediaset or TIM to below 10 percent after ruling that by holding both it breached Italian rules meant to prevent concentration of power.
Vivendi is the biggest single shareholder in Telecom Italia with a 24 percent stake and also holds 28.8 percent of Mediaset, making it the second-largest investor after the family of former Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi.
The French company’s preliminary agreement with AGCOM should land on the desk of the regulator’s board of commissioners, who have to approve any deal, at their next meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 13 although a final decision will not be taken until April 2018, the sources added.
The solution agreed with AGCOM envisages Vivendi transferring the Mediaset shares above the 10 percent threshold into a blind trust, one of the two sources said.
Vivendi will have one year to comply with AGCOM’s ruling if it is to avoid being fined up to 5 percent of its revenues, some 540 million euros ($648 million).
($1 = 0.8334 euros)
Reporting by Alberto Sisto; writing by Giulia Segreti; editing by Alexander Smith