Tycoon Vincent Bollore takes aim at French satire show

Thu Jul 2, 2015 12:55pm EDT
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By Leila Abboud

PARIS (Reuters) - French billionaire Vincent Bollore, chairman of media group Vivendi, faced a political backlash on Thursday following reports he wants to shut down a satirical TV show renowned for its attacks on the country's elite.

Bollore owns 15 percent of Vivendi, the parent company of pay-TV channel Canal Plus, which has broadcast the show "Les Guignols", featuring puppets of everyone from presidents to sports stars, since 1988.

The tycoon wants to cancel the show and has met Canal Plus managers in recent days to discuss its future, according to one person familiar with the situation, confirming information first reported by online outlet PureMedias and then by others including in Le Monde daily.

A second source said talks between Bollore and executives were about the autumn programing line-up and strategy of Canal Plus more broadly, and no decision on "Les Guignols" had been made.

Bollore has deep ties to France's political class. His family-owned conglomerate Bollore Group is active in logistics and transport, and former president Nicolas Sarkozy celebrated his election in 2007 on the tycoon's yacht.

Leading French politicians rushed to defend the show despite its habit of mercilessly mocking those in power.

"I love seeing myself on 'Les Guignols'. We need them," tweeted Alain Juppe, a center-right presidential candidate and mayor of Bordeaux, after changing his profile photo to one of his puppet on the show.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said France needed the show in "difficult times", six months after deadly attacks on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo prompted soul-searching over free speech and religion. "In our country, caricature and impertinence are necessary," he told Agence France Presse in Toulouse.   Continued...

Vincent Bollore, chairman of Vivendi and largest shareholder, attends the company's shareholders meeting in Paris, April 17, 2015.  REUTERS/Charles Platiau