No guarantee for German b’casters

Government leaders reject change in law

BERLIN — Germany’s commercial broadcasters were dealt a blow last week as government leaders rejected a change in media laws that would ensure private webs a place on newly privatized regional cable systems.

With U.S. cable tycoon John Malone in control of six of Germany’s nine cable franchises, broadcasting groups Kirch and RTL have expressed fears that their channels could be yanked from cable by the new gatekeepers. Local broadcasters — particularly fearful of Malone, who can use plenty of his own programming — lobbied for legal assurances that their cable carriage slots would be protected.

But government is adopting a wait-and-see policy, and will consider changes on a case-by-case basis only.

Call for safeguards

Following the $5 billion purchase by Malone’s Liberty Media of Deutsche Telekom’s six regional cable networks, with access to 10 million households, government leaders and broadcasting execs called for measures to ensure the protection of local commercial webs (pubcasters already enjoy the legal right to cable frequencies). One proposition, from Kurt Beck, minister president of Rhineland-Palatinate, was to limit to 50% the channels cable providers could fill with their own programming.

Beck, a member of the center-left SPD party, also had sought to prohibit cable providers from charging viewers extra fees in order to receive commercial webs like Kirch’s ProSieben and Sat.1 or the RTL channels.

“Instead of crying they should all be happy that there are investors willing to modernize the cable systems,” countered Erwin Huber, head of media affairs for Bavaria’s conservative CSU party. Huber, who is hoping to attract Liberty’s new German headquarters to Munich, has said Liberty’s planned technical upgrade of the cable networks would create more space for new channels.

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