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Belgian B’caster Focus Of Probe

Growing concern in the Benelux region about antitrust violations has sparked a major investigation of a leading Belgian commercial broadcaster, as well as calls for a Dutch government probe into a commercial network now being set up in Holland.

The Belgian government’s Ministry of Economic Affairs has launched a formal investigation of violations of the country’s competition laws by Flemish commercial market leader VTM following complaints by the upcoming ABC/pan-Scandinavian SBS-backed VT4. The fine, if VTM is found guilty, could be as high as 10% of the station’s revenues, or nearly $2 mil. Regulators from the ministry last month seized boxes of documents from VTM that are believed to be related to charges the station had abused its monopoly position in Flanders to coerce producers and advertisers into refusing to work with VT4. VTM, the only Flemish commercial channel in that territory, has denied the charge.

VT4, which plans to launch in Flanders on Feb. 1, charged independent producers were refusing to make its programs because of fear of reprisals by VTM. Currently, VTM accounts for more than 50% of the total spent on independent production in Flanders.

In Holland, government state secretary Aad Nuis says he will look into whether an agreement currently being drawn up between pan-European media conglomerate CLT, top European producer Endemol Entertainment, giant Dutch publishing group VNU and top Dutch broadcaster Veronica to form a four-channel commercial web violates an anti-cartel Dutch law.

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