Teutonic turnover

Media applaud new leader's plan to loosen regs

BERLIN — The toppling of German chancellor Helmut Kohl by the social democrat Gerhard Schroeder in Germany’s general elections Sunday may augur a shift away from regional to national media power and control.

Many commercially minded media players are fed up with never-ending red tape made worse by regional politics. They hope Schroeder’s sympathies for the business world will change this state of affairs.

Currently, heads of state of individual regions or lander operate in favor of their particular region and not necessarily their party, making life difficult for media players forced to comply with regional demands.

One indication that change may be afoot is Schroeder’s plan to establish a national cultural ministry. Until now, culture has always been dealt with at the regional level.

The new chancellor has also expressed progressive views about the need to loosen media regulations and to introduce incentives to encourage entrepreneurship and risk-taking by the established but often stodgy business community.

How far the new chancellor and his coalition changes the fate of individual media players remains to be seen.

In Leo Kirch’s native Bavaria, Kohl’s CDU-affiliated CSU still calls the shots. The CSU’s Edmund Stoiber, considered a Kirch protector, was re-elected as head of state two weeks ago.

“Kirch has definitely lost some important friends in important places, but his first home is still Bavaria,” said Steffan Grimberg, a consultant at HMR Intl. “With the changes going on in the Kirch Group, Kirch is likely to be less dependent on political forces and more on market forces anyway.”

While the cartel authorities and the decision on Kirch and Bertelsmann’s request to raise stakes in pay TV web Premiere unlikely to be tampered with by a new chancellor, Brussels and the EU, playing an increasingly bigger role in European media, is another matter.

Schroeder, who is relatively untested at the European level, could pursue a more aggressive line in promoting the concerns of German industry.

Although it didn’t form a main part of his campaign, Schroeder flirted with the media industry. In the state of North Rhine Westphalia (NRW), head of state Wolfgang Clements (SPD) convinced Rupert Murdoch to open the media confab, the Cologne Conference, in June, while Schroeder wined and dined media tycoon Murdoch afterward.

Clements has also extended his hand to Kirch in recent months to come to NRW.

And commercial station RTL managing director Helmut Thoma will play a leading role in Clement’s new company set up to oversee media developments in NRW.

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