BERLIN – German news web N-TV says it will take legal action against German pubcasters ARD and ZDF if they proceed with plans to launch news and documentary channel Phoenix.

“I consider it intolerable that in a market economy, a private company in which millions have been invested could be attacked by public networks financed by mandatory fees,” N-TV general manager Karl-Ulrich Kuhlo said at the web’s annual press conference in Berlin on Friday.

Kuhlo told reporters that the programming concept for Phoenix closely resembled that of N-TV and CNN. Because German pubcasters collect monthly fees from all German TV households, they are not, Kuhlo said, legally permitted to compete with commercial webs backed by private investors.

N-TV, launched four years ago, still commands a very small share of the German TV market. The web’s audience consists primarily of high-income business people. Kuhlo said N-TV is now seen by close to 3 million viewers daily, up from 2.74 million in 1995. Ad revenues in 1996 are up nearly 25% over last year, to about 145 million marks ($97 million).

Time Warner Turner currently owns close to 50% of N-TV, having shed about 12% of its stake when the German business publishing group Handelsblatt purchased a 25% share in the web in July. The other major shareholder in the news web is Siemens-Nixdorf.

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