TV license fees dispute heats up

European commissioner Kroes rejects settlement effort

BERLIN — A dispute between German pubcasters and the European Commission over the use of TV license fees has heated up after European watchdogs rejected further negotiations with German broadcasting commission officials.

For the past three years, European regulators have been probing claims that ARD and ZDF illegally used license fees for commercial activities including funding their Web sites.

The probe was launched following complaints by German commercial broadcasters RTL and ProSiebenSat 1, which argued that online offerings were not part of the pubcasters’ legal mandate.

Neelie Kroes, European commissioner for competition, last week rejected an effort by Kurt Beck, premier of Rhineland-Palatinate and head of the country’s broadcasting commission, for a settlement.

The EC wants greater fiscal transparency and an end to commercial activities.

ZDF topper Markus Schaechter called for a renewed political solution: “Haggling at the expert level is not getting us any further. The time has come for this matter to be decided at the political level.”

The European Commission, Schaechter added, has to respect the protection of the pubcasting systems of member states “and acknowledge the far-reaching concessions already made by the German side.”

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