Bizwatch

4 minute read
MICHAEL BRUNTON

Public TV’s Screen Test
Europe’s public service broadcasters all tuned in last week when the E.U. Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes warned the German, Dutch and Irish governments that the funding of their state channels could be illegal. Her signal was clear — their “current financing system is no longer in line with E.U. rules.” These “preliminary views” arose from complaints by commercial rivals that some website services of the state-owned German channels ARD and ZDF

INDICATORS
Off The Tracks
Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, 70, once ranked as the world’s richest man, was arrested in Japan on suspicion of insider trading and conspiring to falsify the accounts of Seibu Railway group ahead of a stock sale last year.

Owe So Much, Peso Little
In the largest debt restructuring of modern times, Argentina persuaded the bulk of 500,000 creditors to swallow losses of up to 70% on the $102.6 billion they were owed when Argentina defaulted on its payments in 2002.

No More Bale Outs
WTO appeal judges declared subsidies to U.S. cotton growers, worth about $2.7 billion in 2003, illegal. The verdict will likely inspire other challenges to U.S. and E.U. trade subsidies.

INDICATORS
Off The Tracks
Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, 70, once ranked as the world’s richest man, was arrested in Japan on suspicion of insider trading and conspiring to falsify the accounts of Seibu Railway group ahead of a stock sale last year.

Owe So Much, Peso Little
In the largest debt restructuring of modern times, Argentina persuaded the bulk of 500,000 creditors to swallow losses of up to 70% on the $102.6 billion they were owed when Argentina defaulted on its payments in 2002.

No More Bale Outs
WTO appeal judges declared subsidies to U.S. cotton growers, worth about $2.7 billion in 2003, illegal. The verdict will likely inspire other challenges to U.S. and E.U. trade subsidies.

Owe So Much, Peso Little
In the largest debt restructuring of modern times, Argentina persuaded the bulk of 500,000 creditors to swallow losses of up to 70% on the $102.6 billion they were owed when Argentina defaulted on its payments in 2002.

amount to e-commerce, which should not be subsidized. But the big picture remains fuzzy. State funding is still OK, said Kroes, as long as it is “necessary to fulfill a task in the public interest.” To determine that, Kroes demanded more detail on how all three governments fund their channels. How do the BBC’s far-reaching online services stay off the hook? The Beeb quietly dumped its more commercial sites last year, and the British government’s restructuring plan for the BBC, published last week, waxed lyrical on “transparency.” “It’s a judgement call,” says Nicholas Francis of competitive market watchers Reckon. “BBC Online seems to fit in with where it’s going anyway.” Still, you can bet the BBC will be glued to Kroes’ next show.

Called To Serve
What price politics? If you’re Thierry Breton, the answer is about €3.5 million. That’s the amount Breton, 50, left on the table when he stepped down as chief executive of France Télécom late last month to become France’s new Minister of the Economy, Finance and Industry, replacing Hervé Gaymard who resigned in a scandal over subsidized housing. Breton’s annual salary drops to €140,000 from €1.4 million. He also waived a €2.3 million severance package and had to resign all his French directorships.

Why bother? Friends say he has political aspirations and is close to Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin. Some worry about a potential conflict of interest, as the Ministry oversees the telecommunications industry. There is, though, a silver lining: the 11,000 France Télécom shares Breton got in 2002 on joining the company had more than doubled in value by the time he sold them — to just over €250,000. — By Peter Gumbel

Emerald Isle Denial
Intel is reconsidering future investments in Ireland, its European base, after the state withdrew aid worth €170 million for a €1.6 billion computer chip plant in County Kildare, following hints from Brussels that the subsidy would fall foul of E.U. rules.

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