RTL Demands Media Investment Reciprocity With US

12 September 2002

Bertelsmann-owned RTL Group, Europe’s largest TV and radio broadcaster, called on the UK government to block media investment access to non-European Union states who refuse to grant reciprocal concessions.

“Why give the US access when we are not getting anything in return?” rhetorically asked RTL chief executive Didier Bellens. Addressing the Royal Television Society’s International Conference in London, Bellens urged the European media industry to lobby the US government to liberalize its TV ownership rules, which at present limit non-US holdings to 25%.

“We are certainly not against US investment in Europe but simply asking for the same treatment,” he said. Without this quid pro quo, he argued, it would be unfair for the UK government to lift the current non-EU ban as proposed under its draft Communications Bill.

Bellens’ viewpoint is shared by a vast number of Britons, not least BBC director general Greg Dyke and the Parliamentary Joint Scrutiny Committee, charged by the government with scrutinizing the draft bill.

But the UK government intends to ride roughshod over the considerable opposition to the move as well as the recommendation of its appointed committee. Culture media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell insists that that ‘liberalization’ will boost inward investment in the UK.

“We are clear that we want more foreign investment from beyond the EU and we will lift the existing rules to allow that,” she has said. “At the same time we'll negotiate reciprocity, but it is not a condition. We want the investment before we want the reciprocity.” [WAMN: 20-Jun-02]

But Jowell has yet to favour either Parliament or the electorate with an explanation of this curious governmental negotiating tactic which concedes everything before bargaining even starts. Nor did she explain why it is so desirable that the investment be “foreign”.

According to some media cynics, for “foreign” read “US” and for “US” read “News Corporation”, the support of whose UK newspapers is vital to the government’s re-election in 2004/5.

Data sourced from: BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff