Friday, August 19, 2005
Germany: diversity of opinions at stake?
After German publisher Axel Springer announced plans to buy ProSiebenSat1 Media, a big German broadcaster (see previous posting), reactions of newspapers, politicians and media experts have been mixed. Many non-Springer papers fear for the diversity of opinions.
MedienCity reports that many remember what chancellor Gerhard Schröder once said: that to run Germany you need Bild, Bild am Sonntag and TV. With the planned acquisition of Pro7Sat1 Media, Springer would have those three elements. It bodes badly for Schröder that Springer traditionally has sympathies for the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU). The Sueddeutsche Zeitung writes that with Springer and Pro7Sat1 there are two things merging that do not belong together if diversity of opinions should persist. Sueddeutsche Zeitung points to the power of Bild, the tabloid that sells an amazing 3,7 million copies each Monday to Saturday and reaches almost 12m readers. Politicians are already afraid of the tabloid, but when combined with Pro7Sat1, the biggest private broadcaster in Germany, it would only get much worse. No German top politician has yet openly criticized the deal, reports the Economist. It cites Siegfried Weischenberg, journalism professor at the University of Hamburg: "They are all too scared to pick up a fight with Bild." By contrast, Edmund Stoiber, leader of CSU, the CDU's sister party, welcomed the move and said that it will strengthen Germany as media location and will secure and create jobs.
Besides Bild, Springer owns Die Welt (circulation 230.000), Hamburger Abendblatt (270.000), Berliner Morgenpost (149.000) etc. Moreover, Springer owns many magazines. According to Die Zeit, Springer reaches 35m readers with its publications. More than every fifth paper sold in Germany is a Springer paper. Bild is the most cited newspaper which means that other papers pick up what Bild is writing. ProSiebenSat1 Media, the biggest private TV company in Germany includes, besides the two TV channels ProSieben and Sat1, further TV channels: Kabel eins, the information channel N24 and Neun Live. Last year its channels reached on average about 22% of viewers (all numbers according to Die Zeit).
The Deutsche Journalisten-Verband (DJV), the German Journalist Union, warned that the evolving media giant would have an enormous influence on public opinion: "Germany does not need Springer TV, but diversity of opinions". The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes in a comment piece that the merger affects policy, society and economy and is also a new challenge for democracy.
According to Der Spiegel publisher Holtzbrinck is going to protest the merger in front of antitrust authorities. Also public broadcaster ARD thinks that the merger is problematic in terms of diversity of opinions and also for the advertising market as Springer will be the only one to offer advertising packages including print and TV in Germany.
Der Tagesspiegel doubts that market power will lead to opinion power automatically. Of course, the company will have possibilities to offer attractive advertising packages and to reuse content in the different media. But, the Tagesspiegel concludes, Springer will first have to prove that it knows how to make television.
However the deal is currently being inspected by Antitrust authorities. This will take some months as cross-media effects will have to be checked, reports Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Meanwhile Springer's revenues are rising. Today, the publisher revealed that first half net earnings jumped almost 50%, reports Reuters. Mathias D?pfner, chief executive of Axel Springer, said that the company is 'optimally prepared' for the takeover.
Sources: Die Zeit, MedienCity (in German), Sueddeutsche Zeitung (in German), DJV (in German), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (in German), The Economist, Reuters (in German), Der Tagesspiegel (in German), Der Spiegel (in German)
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