Schroeder wary of Berlusconi taking Kirch stake

Teuton leader OK with a Murdoch deal

BERLIN — German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and other leading politicians have spoken out against the possibility of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi acquiring a minority stake in Teutonic TV giant Kirch through his holding company Fininvest.

“I think it is not unproblematic if the prime minister of a friendly country had influence in the German media sector via his private company,” Schroeder said.

Wolfgang Clement, state minister for North Rhine-Westphalia, added: “The political and opinion-shaping power that Berlusconi has is incompatible with Germany’s constitution. It’s monstrous that a man who controls 90% of the Italian media could now gain substantial influence in the German media market.”

Schroeder, however, said he would not have the same problem with Rupert Murdoch picking up a piece of Kirch.

“I think if he did pay TV with the same success he has had in Britain, we should have no objections,” he said in reference to News Corp-controlled satcaster BSkyB. “We must also be careful about deterring private foreign investors.”

Murdoch could become the first foreign media player to gain control of a major German media operation.

With a €1.6 billion ($1.4 billion) claim against Kirch, Murdoch appears to be the front runner to take over the group’s core KirchMedia division if he and his fellow shareholders – including German retailer Rewe, Saudi group Kingdom Holdings and U.S. investors Lehman Brothers and Capital Research – reach agreement with Kirch’s creditors on how to carve up the company.

Meanwhile, German newspaper group Axel Springer is understood to have rejected an offer to swap a $675 million put option on its stake in ProSiebenSat.1, Germany’s largest TV broadcaster, for a stake in KirchMedia. KirchMedia owns 52% of ProSiebenSat.1.

KirchMedia’s creditors and shareholders met again Thursday after weeks of marathon talks to hammer out a $750 million rescue plan to keep Kirch afloat.

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