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EU media law back-burnered

BRUSSELS — Controversial new proposals for legislation designed to prevent dominance of the media in the European Union by a few moguls have been taken off the agenda of the European Commission’s weekly meeting today in order to give the commissioner responsible for them — Mario Monti — time to rethink.

“Monti picked up a political hot potato and has got his fingers burned,” said one observer.

It is not yet clear whether he intends to drop his proposal, but whatever he decides to propose, Monti will need extra time to prepare his pitch to his colleagues.

EU trade commissioner Sir Leon Brittan has opposed legislation in this area from the outset, arguing that there is no need for any legislation and that the market will provide its own solutions. Culture commissioner Marcelino Oreja now appears to prefer something less binding than legislation.

The decision to postpone discussion of the commissioner’s proposals on cross-border media ownership may also have something to do with the intense lobbying carried out by EU media groups. The European Publishers Council, which represents major newspaper and magazine publishers across Europe, has warned that legislation would run counter to the media industry’s long-term interests.

Under plans put forward by Monti in September 1996, a 30% ceiling on ownership in single media (such as TV or radio) would have been imposed, while groups operating in more than one medium would have been limited to a threshold of 10% of overall audience share.

The commission had planned to discuss Monti’s proposals in Strasbourg last week, but, according to officials, did not have enough time.

Barry Cox, director of Britain’s Independent Television Assn., also warned that the commission’s plans would be detrimental to the interests of the European media industry.

“If commissioners agree (to the proposals) as currently drafted, they will pose a serious threat to the future of regional broadcasting in the U.K. (where all independent TV companies exceed the 30% audience share ceiling in their respective regions) and could stifle investment in digital terrestrial television.”

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