European Court finds against Berlin DTT subsidy

By Julian Clover
October 7, 2009 10.15 UK

Six years after the first analogue switch off in Berlin and Brandenburg, the European Court has rejected the use of €2 million in subsidies for not complying with European rules on state aid.

The Medienanstalt Berlin-Brandenburg (MABB) was an early proponent of digital broadcasting, offering the highly cabled region as a pilot project for analogue switch off in 2003.

Funds were paid to facilitate the switchover by the commercial broadcasters for a minimum period of five years at a time when they were otherwise unwilling to commit to the new broadcast technology. At the same time funds were made available to help vulnerable groups with the cost of a set-top box, which at the time cost in the region of €200.

The promotion was banned by the European Commission in 2005 and a repayment of the funding arranged. However, the now defunct Berlin regional channel FAB argued against the decision.

In a statement MABB said in spite of the issues the transition to digital broadcasting had been more successful than anticipated and in comparison with other countries, Germany had made the transition with much less use of public resources.

MABB director Dr Hans Hege said the decision showed serious deficiencies in European legal protection. “The national media institutions have an independent regulator with a degree of autonomy, so they had been given a legal mandate by the Federal Constitutional Court.” He added that MABB would, in consultation with the other media authorities decide over the next few weeks whether it would launch an appeal against the Court’s ruling.

With its funds returned, MABB has not ruled out using the funds for the further promotion of digital technologies, subject to the new guidelines set out by the Commission.

In May Dr Hege told the ANGA Cable conference in Cologne that he would consider assisting the cable sector in its digital transition.