Teutonic pol swats at media ‘locusts’

Muentefering gets snippy with Saban

BERLIN — Haim Saban says he’s happy with his multi-million dollar investment in Germany, deflecting continued rumors that he may sell his share in broadcasting group ProSiebenSat 1.

But the Egyptian-born Israeli-American mogul may be feeling unwelcome here after the chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party, Franz Muentefering, compared him and other equity investors to a plague of locusts descending on Germany intent on sacking workers, making quick profits and threatening the fabric of society.

The feisty politico drew up a “list of locusts” that includes a dozen industrialists that he says are a scourge on the country.

In addition to Saban, the list names capital market players Goldman Sachs and Apax, owners of cable giant Kabel Deutschland (KDG), and equity firm Permira, majority shareholder of pay TV group Premiere.

He has drawn widespread criticism from both sides of the political aisle.

Despite strong public sympathy with Muentefering’s diatribe, foreign capital investors have clearly benefited the German media industry after stock market excesses during the 1990s left players in financial ruin or traumatically risk averse.

Joachim Herrmann, parliamentary leader of the conservative CSU party in the state of Bavaria, calls Muentefering’s assertions “intolerable,” adding that Muentefering and the SPD owed Saban an apology. As he pointed out, if Saban hadn’t invested in ProSiebenSat 1 following the Kirch insolvency, “several thousand people” in the Munich region would have lost their jobs.

“Numbers speak louder than words,” adds a Saban Capital spokesman, pointing out that since Saban took over ProSiebenSat 1 in 2003 its share price has more than doubled to $17.12.

Company also saw record profits last year and in April the broadcaster managed its largest TV market share, thanks to new hit shows like “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” as well as beefed-up local productions.

Similarly, Premiere has risen from the ashes of the Kirch Group bankruptcy, gone public, slashed its debt and last year reached above-line profitability for the first time.

Goldman Sachs and Apax’s investment in KDG has helped spur the cabler’s digital rollout across much of the country as it continues to sign up new digital outlets from Universal, Sony, Viacom, Disney and others.

With the SPD’s popularity sliding in the polls and unemployment at a record 5 million, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s party is facing defeat in a state election this month, not to mention a general election in 2006.

Muentefering, who heads the SPD delegation in parliament, has been railing against what he says is unbridled capitalism and corporate greed.

Although his attacks on big business are seen as a move to mobilize voters, industryites worry that they may also poison Germany’s corporate climate.

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