COLOGNE — The 15th Medienforum NRW kicked off Sunday with rallying cries by the French ambassador to Germany and the head of Franco-German web ARTE for “Old Europe” to stick together and take pride in its border-crossing TV ventures as well as its heritage.

“For us culture is not a commodity,” said ARTE prexy Jerome Clement. “Orson Welles once called television ‘chewing gum for the eyes.’ That is not the case in Old Europe. It’s up to us to convince our Eastern European neighbors that the U.S. model is not necessarily the best one. Our strength is our shared culture, our heritage, our creative artists.”

He also warned of the dangers of market forces run amok: “In southern Europe we have a prime minister who controls the entire media and has all bow down before him,” he said, alluding to Italo Prime Minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi.

French ambassador Claude Martin used his opening address to warn that European politicians could inadvertently allow market forces to dominate TV. That “could force German channels off the air in France. The market alone cannot determine the flow of information to our citizens. We have to do everything possible to support and strengthen European broadcasters.”

Martin praised German media giant Bertelsmann for its commitment to pan-European TV through its RTL Group and greeted French commercial broadcaster TF1’s interest in the assets of bankrupt Kirch Media.

Speaking on CNN’s role during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and thorny issues like embedded journalists and working with Arab broadcasters, Tony Maddox, senior VP CNN Intl. for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, praised the Medienforum as the kind of event broadcasters need to discuss difficult subjects. “We consider this as one of the most important such events in the entire world.”

The three-day Medienforum in Cologne presents the major issues facing the industry and spotlights potential ways forward for the sector. It also hosts a number of sub-events, including the Intl. Film Conference, the Cologne Conference Screenings and the technology-oriented MediaVision.