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Belgian channel in limbo

Regs force RTL-Vi into combat with b'casting org

BRUSSELS — The launch of a third Belgian channel by commercial broadcaster RTL-Viis bogged down in a legal dispute that could threaten the channel’s existence.

At the heart of the dispute is a change in broadcasting regulations for Belgium’s French-speaking community that came into effect in April. The change, approved by the community’s Parliament in February 2003, took responsibility for licensing new channels away from the government and gave it to independent broadcasting regulator the CSA.

The sticking point is that RTL-Vi topper Philippe Delusinne had already obtained the government’s agreement for his projected new channel before the new rules went through, and sees no need to go through the same process again with the CSA.

The CSA, keen to assert its authority, does not see things that way. The result has been a bitter standoff between the two sides, with CSA president Evelyne Lentzen threatening to go to the highest court in the land, the Conseil d’Etat, to prevent the channel from being launched.

Negotiations are underway among Delusinne; Lentzen; and the French community’s minister for audiovisual affairs, Daniel Ducarme, to find a way out of the impasse. After the latest meeting, held Jan. 7, Ducarme said he had passed the government’s authorization of the channel over to the CSA for ratification.

RTL-Vi has so far been tight-lipped about the channel, confirming only that it is due to launch in February or March this year and will be aimed at the 15-34 age group. Unless the dispute can be resolved, the French-speaking part of Belgium looks set to get more than its fair share of disaffected youngsters in the months to come.

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