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Business

Too Much Tabloid Power in Germany?

Germany's antitrust head Ulf Böge said he was concerned the mass daily "Bild" could get too powerful should a merger between Springer publishing and broadcaster ProsiebenSAT.1, go through.

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Bild's muscle would be increased through the merger

Böge's office has yet to analyze the 3.57 billion euro ($4.39 billion) merger, which lay the foundation for Germany's second-largest media corporation with one stroke of the pen on Aug. 5. But he has joined the chorus of journalists, media analysts and government politicians concerned at the combined power wielded by the broadcaster and Germany's largest conservative publishing house, which includes the 5 million-circulation Bild.

"The Bild newspaper dominates the market with a 60 percent share," he said in an interview with Frankfurter Rundschau. "This will only be strengthened by merging with television."

Bild is already the paper of record for most Germans, and has a right-of-center slant that has made it a fierce opponent of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder during his seven years in office.

The Antitrust Office president also said he was carefully observing Springer's cooperation agreement with Bertelsmann, Europe's largest media company, in the printing business.

Second-largest media company

Springer announced on Aug. 5 that it had bought a majority stake in ProSiebenSAT.1, Germany's largest TV group, from a consortium of US investors led by US-Israeli businessman Haim Saban and a number of investment funds.

The consortium, P7S1 Holding, has held 50.5 percent of the capital and 88 percent of the voting rights since 2003.

Springer-Verlag übernimmt TV-Konzern ProSieben Sat.1, Döpfner (l) und Saban (r)

Springer head Matthias Döpfner (l.) with Prosieben investor Haim Saban at the press conference

Under the terms of the offer, P7S1 Holding received a cash payment of 23.37 euros for each vote-wielding common share in ProSiebenSAT.1 and 14.10 euros for each preferred share without voting rights, Springer said in a statement.

Too much share of the ad market

The deal immediately raised the hackles of antitrust advocates and government politicians, who saw a threat in the combined power of the two conservative companies.

Monika Griefahn, a social democrat and president of the parliamentary committee on culture and media, evoked the control of Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi over media in Italy in voicing her concerns.

"We should avoid developing relationships similar to those in Italy," she said at the time of the announcement.

Böge pointed out that around 40 percent of the ad market is controlled by the new company and their biggest broadcast competitor, the RTL Group. His office will decide on the merger by the end of November.

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