French gov’t may ease regulations

May bow to pressure regarding ownership of TV channels

PARIS — The French government may bow to pressure from broadcasters and ease the strict regulations governing ownership of TV channels before the country’s switch to digital terrestrial TV, it was suggested Friday.

Current legislation forbids a single shareholder from owning more than 49% of a terrestrial broadcaster. Rule prevents media groups like Germany’s Bertelsmann, a 42% stakeholder in the French web M6, from taking over a major national web.

But it also means that a host of satellite and cable theme channels that are fully owned by companies including TF1, M6 or Canal Plus will be ineligible when France switches to digital at the end of 2002.

The changeover will boost the number of channels from 6 to 36.

TF1 chief Patrick Le Lay has been one of the most outspoken critics of the legislation, threatening to boycott France’s digital terrestrial plans unless the law is reformed.

Following a meeting last Thursday between Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and Culture Minister Catherine Tasca, government sources said the law may be modified to allow full ownership of a restricted number of digital channels.

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