Kirch, Springer deny SAT1 is up for sale

Move comes as financial pressure mounts for media mogul

BERLIN — German media magnate Leo Kirch and publishing group Axel Springer on Monday sought to downplay speculation that television channel SAT1 is up for sale.

German press reports have suggested that Kirch might sell his 43% stake in the loss-making channel to cover huge losses he has run up with his DF1 digital pay TV channel.

“The Kirch Group emphasizes again that it will not sell any of its SAT1 shares,”‘ a statement from the two partners said.

Earlier Monday Deutsche Bank confirmed it would extend Kirch a large loan. Kirch is under financial pressure after the European Commission blocked his plans for a digital TV alliance with media giant Bertelsmann.

The bank said Kirch’s 40% stake in Axel Springer, which publishes the best-selling tabloid Bild, would serve as collateral.

The news magazine Der Spiegel reported that Deutsche Bank would take over Kirch liabilities from the Bankgesellschaft Berlin totaling around 900 million marks ($500 million) as well as provide an additional amount of fresh cash.

Bertelsmann chairman Mark Woessner, Kirch’s rival and would-be partner in pay-TV service Premiere, heads Deutsche Bank’s advisory committee.

The EU in May rejected Kirch and Bertelsmann’s plans to merge their digital TV activities.

In another development, Springer plans an international expansion of its TV production activities, Springer chairman August Fischer told journalists at a press conference late last week in Berlin.

A TV version of Bild has been put on ice, but TV formats based on other Springer publications are in the works.

“In the medium term, we would like to become a programming supplier for Germany and Europe,” said Fischer, who took over as chairman of Springer at the start of this year.

(Reuters contributed to this report.)