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Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 05:43 GMT 06:43 UK
Fired chief hijacks French TV
Pierre Lescure, Canal Plus' ousted chairman
Pierre Lescure complained of unfair dismissal
Pierre Lescure, the ousted chairman of French pay-television firm Canal Plus, has hijacked the airwaves to tearfully complain he had been unfairly dismissed.

"A board meeting at least is required to fire me from the post of chairman," he said.


How can we trust a guy [Mr Messier] who can't count up to 24?

Pierre Lescure
Mr Lescure was fired by Jean-Marie Messier, the chief executive of French media giant Vivendi Universal which owns Canal Plus.

Canal Plus' regular programmes were interrupted as Mr Lescure asked for support from staff live on air.

Mr Messier then appeared on state television to personally defend his actions.

The ousting is seen as an attempt to tighten control over the loss making pay-TV unit.

Vivendi is suffering from huge debts and a share price slump, and Mr Messier is likely to face the wrath of shareholders at a meeting next week.

Independence at threat

Mr Lescure openly criticised Mr Messier live on air, before the station managers pulled the plug and switched to the weather forecast.

"Messier gave the management 24 months to turn round the station's finances and fired them one month later.... How can we trust a guy who can't count up to 24?" he said.


It had become necessary to change the team to give it a fresh start

Vivendi boss Jean-Marie Messier
A meeting of Canal Plus' staff was also broadcast live by the station and employees announced a strike for 24 April.

In a statement, Mr Lescure said he was "pushed overboard" just 10 minutes before Mr Messier's press conference started.

He also said that Canal Plus' 17 years of "editorial independence and liberty are now threatened".

The French pay-TV business has been making heavy losses after facing increased competition from satellite and cable channels.

"We profoundly believe in Canal Plus' future. It had become necessary to change the team to give it a fresh start," Mr Messier said.

Political implications

France's prime minister, Lionel Jospin, weighed into the argument, saying that Vivendi Universal must respect the undertakings of Canal Plus' financing to French cinema.

Canal Plus is the main source of finance for French films.

Six French professional film societies have already issued a joint statement expressing their "deep regret" at Mr Lescure's dismissal and calling on the regulator and the government to study the situation.

Crossroads

The forced departure of Mr Lescure follows last week's resignation of Denis Olivennes, the second in command at Canal Plus, and has prompted speculation of a management crisis at Vivendi Universal as a whole.

"Mr Messier is at a crossroads," said Paul Kim, an analyst at Kaufman Brothers in New York.

"This could consolidate his power as a bold executive willing to take risks. But Mr Lescure is a popular personality with connections in French government," he said.

"It's a big risk to alienate someone like that."

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Rogers in Paris
"Messier made it very clear it is a business decision, that there has been a management problem."
See also:

15 Mar 02 | Business
Vivendi sells Polish telecoms stake
05 Mar 02 | Business
Vivendi posts huge loss
17 Dec 01 | Business
Vivendi seals $10bn US media deal
11 Dec 01 | Business
Vivendi eyes US expansion
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