Springer bounces terms

Co. may try to gain group through foreign partners

Axel Springer chief executive Matthias Doepfner has rejected the conditions imposed by media watchdogs on its planned e2.5 billion ($3 billion) takeover of Haim Saban’s ProSiebenSat 1 TV group as unacceptable, absurd and in violation of corporate laws.

In an interview to appear in today’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, Doepfner said if Springer’s attempt to create a second international media powerhouse in Germany alongside Bertelsmann is thwarted by the Commission on Concentration in the Media (KEK) or by antitrust authorities, Springer would try to acquire the TV group through foreign partners.

KEK has told Springer to cede financial control of a major TV channel at ProSiebenSat 1 to address concerns about the merged company’s influence over public opinion. It also ordered Springer to set up an independent media advisory board to oversee the Sat.1 TV channel. The powerful board would have the right to approve annual business plans and budgets.

“Giving up control of finances and market-oriented goals would violate the rules of listed companies whose expressed aim is to earn profits,” Doepfner said. “We would betray our shareholders and a series of lawsuits would be, justifiably, the consequence. Unacceptable!”

The print media giant, eager to expand its empire into the German TV market, has already accused the media commission of overstepping its duties.

Springer’s leading position in the print media with its conservative dailies, especially the influential Bild tabloid, read by 12 million each day, has sparked fears it could dominate public opinion — a sensitive issue in Germany even a half-century after the Nazi abuses.

“What I don’t understand is why our national masochism goes so far as to view mostly negatively a promising merger between German companies that could allow a second German media group with an internationally competitive position to be established,” said Doepfner.

He added that Springer could agree to a less powerful board that would be charged with preventing cross-promotion: “We can easily agree to ban what we’re not planning anyhow.”

Doepfner said if the merger is blocked, Springer would then strengthen its position abroad and look for an “international solution” to acquire ProSiebenSat 1. “That would mean more than half of the commercial television in Germany would be owned by foreigners,” he said.

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