Cash-starved news show threatened with closure

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Series Details Vol.7, No.47, 20.12.01, p6
Publication Date 20/12/2001
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Date: 20/12/01

By Martin Banks

A HIGHLY respected television programme that provides coverage of the European Union for millions of viewers around the world faces the axe.

Contact Europe, which is funded by the European Commission, is shown each month, mostly in non-EU countries, and is the Union's most widely watched information programme.

The Commission, however, has terminated its five-year contract with London-based World Wide Pictures and Wild Heart Productions, which produces the programme, due to "lack of funds".

The 30-minute programme, which has been running for ten years and is broadcast in 170 countries, is due to be shown for the last time on 15 January.

The Commission's decision has incensed the company, whose contract was due to run for another 12 months.

Anna van der Wee, the programme's editor, said: "It's disastrous, particularly at a time when the EU is trying to connect with its citizens and reach out to the outside world." She said the company was recently told by letter that the Commission planned to terminate its contract this month.

"The reason given was lack of budget and that the Commission was reviewing its communication policy."

Van der Wee, an award-winning documentary-film maker, added: "Member states and a number of other director-generals, who have used this communication vehicle, are very distressed that all the energy and resources that have gone into building up a regular information service to the world will now be lost.

"We have been widely praised for the quality of the programme which is a vehicle for explaining to ordinary people just what the EU is doing. We try to reduce the big issues to a human scale and have been successful in doing so. Contact Europe is shown on 550 TV stations, and on airlines, reaching an estimated audience of 350 million people."

Danish MEP Ole Andreasen, who is Parliament's rapporteur on information policy, also criticised the Commission's decision, saying: "Contact Europe is the EU's "face" to the rest of the world and it will be a sad day if the programme is axed."

Munoz Gomes, head of the information unit for DG External Relations, said: "This programme would have cost the Commission €1.5million this year and we just do not have the budget for that sort of expense. It is unfortunate because Contact is informative and I must stress this decision does not reflect on the quality of the programme."

DG External Relations of the European Commission has terminated the contract for a monthly television programme 'Contact Europe' with London-based World Wide Pictures and Wild Heart Productions.

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