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NMa upholds commitments of Dutch media company Wegener

The Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa) has ruled that Dutch media company Wegener must preserve the independent positions of regional newspapers PZC and BN/De Stem, and that it must continue to publish both papers in the region of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, a region in the southwestern part of the Netherlands. Wegener had filed a request to relieve it from the commitments it made in 2000 to the NMa to get an approval for the acquisition of publishing company VNU Dagbladen.

Wegener has failed to convince the NMa that market conditions in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen have changed so much since 2000 that the commitments would no longer be necessary. Furthermore, Wegener has failed to substantiate its claim that publishing both papers in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen would be unreasonable. ‘That is why we believe there are enough reasons to uphold the commitments. Readers will thus continue to have freedom of choice, and, at the same time, we prevent potential price increases and reader selection reductions,’ Henk Don, member of the Board of the NMa, explains.

If Wegener fails to comply with the commitments, it will owe a penalty payment of EUR 1 million as of October 14, 2011, up to a maximum amount of EUR 20 million. This penalty payment is the result of a decision of July 14, 2010, in which the NMa established that Wegener operated in violation of its commitments. Wegener disagreed with that ruling, and filed an objection. The NMa is expecting to rule on Wegener’s objection in August.

Wegener proposed the aforementioned commitments because its acquisition of VNU Dagbladen was expected to negatively affect readers of newspapers in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen. As a result of the acquisition in 2000, regional newspapers PZC and BN De Stem became part of the same holding, which, as a consequence, enjoyed a dominant position in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen. The solution, which had been put forward by Wegener itself, ensured that, among other things, people in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen would continue to have a choice between both regional newspapers. The NMa changes or reconsiders commitments that are attached to a decision in special circumstances only.