Vivendi appeals against Italian watchdog probe into Mediaset, TIM stakes -sources

MILAN, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Vivendi has appealed against a decision by an Italian watchdog to carry out an inquiry into the French media giant’s stakes in broadcaster Mediaset and in the country’s biggest phone group Telecom Italia (TIM), three legal sources said on Friday.

As a result of the investigation Italy’s communication watchdog AGCOM could impose curbs on Vivendi’s interests in the country’s media and telecom sectors, potentially helping Mediaset in its battle against the French media giant.

Mediaset, controlled by the family of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and Vivendi have been at loggerheads since 2016 when the French group ditched an accord to buy Mediaset’s pay-TV unit and built a 29% stake in the company, a move the Italian broadcaster considers hostile.

Last year Rome passed a law which triggered an inquiry by AGCOM into whether Vivendi’s positions in the country’s media and telecoms sectors hurt Italy’s media plurality on the basis of total revenue, entry barriers and the level of competition in those industries.

Vivendi is TIM’s top investor with a 24% stake.

This week Vivendi has filed a request to an Italian administrative court in order to annul the probe, the sources said, adding no date for a hearing has been set yet.

Mediaset declined to comment. Vivendi was not immediately available for comment.

In 2017 Vivendi was forced to transfer two-thirds of its voting rights in Mediaset into a trust after Italy’s communications watchdog ruled it had broken media plurality rules.

The trust has been prevented from voting at Mediaset’s shareholder meetings.

Last year, however, the European Union’s top court ruled that such an Italian law violated EU rules, potentially giving back to the French group voting rights on its full 29% holding in Mediaset.

That prompted Rome to approve the law which triggered the regulator’s inquiry.

Vivendi lodged a complaint with the European Commission against such a law, saying it was aimed at circumventing the EU court decision. (Reporting by Elvira Pollina in Milan, Domenico Lusi in Rome; editing by David Evans)