Euro competish chief eyes TV license fees

Monti vows to investigate system

BRUSSELS — A tremor shook the European public broadcasting industry last week, as incoming competition commissioner Mario Monti vowed to investigate the jealously guarded system of TV license fees.

Monti was being grilled by the European Parliament ahead of his appointment as Europe’s competition supremo. He voiced concerns that the license fee system discriminated against private broadcasters.

Monti’s words mark a startling progression in EU policy. Back in July, the Commission made a point of leaving out the issue of the license fee in its investigation of controversial subsidies handed out to the Italian and French pubcasters, RAI, France 2 and France 3.

Monti now appears to have decided that the license fee is indeed a form of state subsidy. He told the Parliament that he intended to drastically reduce the level of state aid dished out in the EU, and that the license fee system would be investigated thoroughly.

Monti made his name as Internal Market commissioner since 1994, earning a reputation for quietly getting his way. He takes over his new office on Sept. 22.

Monti was appointed to the Internal Market job by then-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi remains one of Europe’s leading media barons, and his three Mediaset channels are RAI’s most powerful competitors.