Is a firm with ties to the promotion of SS troops as 'heroes', despite their units being involved in war crimes, a deserving owner of a UK radio station?
The sorry saga of the ownership of the heavily loss-making Virgin Radio, now called Absolute Radio, seemed to have come to an end last week when Times Of India, its owners, announced that subject only to regulatory approval, they had agreed to sell it and other UK radio stations to a German company, Bauer, which already owns other radio stations in the UK.
But on the very day of the announcement of the sale, 29 July 2013, the New York Times revealed that the German Interior Ministry was investigating a request to close down Der Landser, a magazine published by Bauer, on the grounds that it breached German laws against Nazi propaganda and Holocaust denial.
UK media banker and analyst Bruce Fireman has now written to Ofcom requesting that it refuse permission for the transfer of the Times of India broadcasting licences to Bauer and for the revocation of the licences it already has on the grounds that Bauer is not a fit and proper person, in terms of the Broadcasting Acts, to hold a broadcasting licence. Last year, Ofcom conducted such a test on BSkyB in the light of the phone-hacking scandal involving its largest shareholder, News International (now re-named News UK). Here is the text of his letter to Ofcom:
Section 3(3) Broadcasting Acts 7990 and 1995: Bauer Media
It has been announced that Bauer Media UK ("Bauer UK") has agreed, subject, amongst other things, to regulatory approval, to purchase British radio stations owned by Absolute Radio. Bauer UK is ultimately owned by a German company (here referred to as "Bauer Parent").
Another subsidiary of Bauer Parent publishes a magazine called Der Landser. This prints stories, said to be based on authentic experiences, about the Wehrmacht during the Second World War. Page 2 of each issue also carries (apparently true) stories of
individual German soldiers or officers, who were honoured for bravery during the war. Most received one of the Third Reich's highest decorations, the "Ritterkretz" (Knight's Cross). Among these were members of the Waffen-SS, which was the armed wing of the Nazi Party's Schutzstaffel (Protective Squadron).
Issues of Der Landser have honoured 29 such Waffen-SS members. 24 of the 29 Waffen-SS members featured by Der Landser served in units that participated in war crimes. Hermann Fegelein, an example of the "heroes" whose story has been told was Eva
Braun's brother in law and commander of the SSKavalleriebrigade in 1941, when it was responsible for the murder of 40,000 Jews in the Soviet Union.
The New York Times reported on 29 July 2013 that Der Landser "studiously avoids mentioning the word 'Nazi' and does not overtly propagate (sic) anti-Semitism. But", the newspaper continues, "critics say Der Landser, with its failure to acknowledge atrocities and little sense of regret for the deaths of millions of people, is stuck in a World War II time warp that ignores efforts by broader German society to come to terms with Nazi crimes."
Bauer Parent's response to complaints made about its publication of Der Landser is that the magazine does not glorify National
Socialism, nor does it downplay Nazi crimes. It says it is lawful to publish Der Landser in Germany. That may be. That does not
mean that a decently-conducted company would publish such a magazine which glorifies criminals but avoids prosecution by not
mentioning the word "Nazi" and not promoting anti-Semitism.
It is obviously unacceptable deliberately to evade the application of German law by not telling the whole truth about, and never condemning, the "heroes" Der Landser glorifies.
Ofcom must be satisfied that the holder of a broadcast licence is fit and proper to do so and must consider not just the conduct of a licensee but also those who manage and control it. Although Bauer UK does not itself publish Der Landser, Bauer Parent manages and controls it as well as the publisher of Der Landser.
Bauer Parent's response that publication is lawful proves that it hopes to continue to profit by studiously avoiding mentioning the truth about those it honours. Such a company should not to be trusted with a licence which requires integrity and compliance with law and regulation. We cannot have licence holders who studiously obey the letter of a law while defiantly ignoring its spirit. I therefore request that you apply a fit and proper person test, revoke Bauer UK's broadcasting licences and deny the transfer of control of the licences held by Absolute Radio.
Bruce A Fireman