Merkel sings EU praises to TV execs


COLOGNE, Germany -- See Europe as an opportunity, not a threat, was the message German Chancellor Angela Merkel communicated to a packed room of television executives Tuesday at industry confab NRW Medienforum.

The chancellor, and current head of the European Union's rotating presidency, used her keynote speech to reassure the German TV industry of the benefits of EU membership after German public broadcasters took a regulator beating last month from bureaucrats in Brussels.

In a wide-ranging reform of EU broadcasting law, German public channels ARD and ZDF were highlighted for violations of product placement laws (HR 5/29).

Earlier this year, the European Commission -- the EU's regulatory authority -- forced the German government to end special subsidies for public broadcasters that the EC deemed illegal and damaging to commercial TV rivals.

Merkel said the new regulations, far from being a bureaucratic burden on broadcasters, will stimulate the German TV industry by providing "greater economic security" and "a clearer delineation" between what is and is not allowed in on-air advertising.

While many observers saw the Brussels rulings as a defeat for the German industry, Merkel assured the crowd that Germany will continue to assert influence over its national media industry.

"A solely market-oriented approach (to media regulation) is not in our interest," she said, adding that the German government will continue to negotiate with the EU to determine exactly "what Brussels should be allowed to regulate and what we have to do ourselves."

Merkel called for greater internal regulation when it comes to issues of child protection, pointing to the German gaming industry, which she said has effectively policed itself by strictly limiting the sale of so-called "killer" and "ego-shooter" games to those over 18. The chancellor praised similar child-friendly initiatives on the Internet.

Merkel ended her speech with praise for the German news media, a sharp contrast to her U.K. counterpart, outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair, who last week compared the Brit media to a "feral beast."

"For those of us who lived in a system where the media wasn't free, we know what we are missing," said the chancellor, who was born and raised in communist East Germany. "Sometimes you watch the news and think you could easily do without all this 'freedom,' " she joked. "But as good democrats we have to immediately ban that thought from our minds."