Berlin court orders VOX channel off local airwaves

Yet another chapter was added to the continuing saga of Cologne info-channel VOX’s troubles last week when the Berlin Administrative Court ordered the channel off the air in the important Berlin-Brandenburg area.

The order applies only to Berlin-Brandenburg and only to terrestrial broadcasting, and becomes valid upon receipt of the order.

The bone of contention is Bertelsmann (Ufa), which holds shares not only in VOX but also in RTL and RTL 2. While federal law allows a company to hold shares in a total of three stations, Berlin-Brandenburg state law limits holdings to two stations.

According to the media watchdogs Medienanstalt Berlin-Brandenburg, this precedent-setting decision may have consequences for other stations in Berlin as well, mainly SAT 1, which has to apply for license renewal this year. SAT 1’s major shareholder, Leo Kirch, holds shares in two other stations — Pro 7 and Kabelkanal.

According to the Medienanstalt, this represents problems for the city’s media industry, since SAT 1 would then probably change current plans to move its headquarters into the city — an important factor for the financially pinched city.

A few months ago, RTL 2 rejected Berlin as a location for its headquarters when the city refused to allow the channel onto the Berlin cable net.

Both VOX and the Medienanstalt are filing appeals against the Administrative Court’s decision.

The Berlin question is only one of VOX’s many problems. VOX topper Bernd Schiphorst currently needs to find someone to take over the 19% holder-less shares of which Holzbrinck and MUK recently divested themselves.

To gain time, Bertelsmann has applied for temporary permission to take over those shares (thus elevating their percentages above the legally possible level) until buyers can be found.

With a rumored deficit of more than DM 1 billion ($ 590 million), buyers could be scarce, though both Murdoch and Disney are rumored to be interested.

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