Italy’s communication authority Agcom ordered Vivendi to cut its stake in either Telecom Italia or Mediaset to comply with the country’s strict ownership legislation.

Vivendi must notify Agcom of it’s plans within the next 60 days, and was given 12 months to comply with the authority’s demand.

The France-based media company is Telecom Italia’s largest single shareholder with a 24 per cent stake, and also owns the second largest holding in broadcaster Mediaset, with 28.8 per cent.

Italian laws covering ownership and control in the communication and media sectors are strict and, following a lengthy investigation, its regulator concluded Vivendi’s position did not meet the required standard.

In a brief written statement, Agcom said Vivendi “did not conform to requirements” due to its stake in the two companies. No details were given publicly on the level of reduction Vivendi must make to comply with regulations.

Right to appeal
Vivendi said it reserved the right to appeal the decision and could take the case to the Regional Administrative Court in Italy or complain to the European Commission for what it perceived as a breach of EU law.

It stated: “Vivendi has always operated within Italian law, and specifically the Gasparri Law regarding the protection of media pluralism from the creation of dominant positions. In particular, it is undisputable that Vivendi neither controls nor exercises a dominant influence on Mediaset which is controlled on an exclusive basis by Fininvest with a stake close to 40 per cent.”

“Vivendi continues to be fully confident in the rule of law and is certain that finally its rights will be recognised.”

While the company was quick to highlight its position with Mediaset was one of a minority shareholder, Vivendi looks to be trying to increase its influence on Telecom Italia ahead of the company’s board elections in May.

The French company nominated ten candidates for the operator’s board, including Vivendi CEO Arnaud de Puyfontaine, who looks to have been earmarked for chairman.

According to reports in Reuters earlier this month Vivendi also informed the European Commission it intended to take “de facto” control of the operator.