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News Briefs II

Report Predicts Italy Will Not Meet Requirements forEuro Union

The Washington Post

Italy is reeling from a preliminary report by the European Commission in Brussels predicting it will not be able to meet the economic criteria for entry into the club of the euro, as the new money is called.

On Wednesday, the commission report predicted that 13 of the European Union's 15 member nations will be able to cut their budget deficits enough to qualify when the final selection is made almost exactly a year from now. The only two projected non-starters: Italy and Greece. The list of non-participants actually is likely to be longer than that, but that was little comfort to the Italians.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has virtually staked his government on getting into the first wave of the euro and is engaged in an all-out effort to reform Italy's traditionally uncontrollable spending and inflation. Among other measures, he has imposed a special tax and major budget cuts.

The fuss over one report may seem overblown. But all of Europe is focused these days on who qualifies and who does not.

Joining the single-currency program, which British Prime Minister John Major has called "the most important decision in a generation," is a matter not just of economics but of politics.

Economically, the criteria - setting targets for low inflation, interest rates, budget deficits and debt - are clear-cut. They were designed principally by Germany, with an eye to making sure that the German mark is not weakened when it is melded with other currencies.

Broadcasters Oppose Rumored Choice to Head Digital TV Panel

Los Angeles Times

Squaring off against the computer industry and one of television's most legendary critics, TV broadcasters told the Clinton administration they will oppose any White House effort to appoint computer executives or former regulator Newton Minow to a blue-ribbon panel that will recommend what public service rules should be imposed on operators of digital TV stations.

The presidential panel is expected to play a key role in developing public service rules that will be imposed by the Federal Communications Commission on digital TV broadcasters as they received licenses. The FCC approved a digital TV licensing plan for the nation's 1,600 TV broadcasters but delayed action on the public service rules.

In a letter to Vice President Al Gore, National Association of Broadcasters President Edward O. Fritts said that while the group supports consideration of a broad cross-section of candidates, "we will protest vigorously the inclusion of computer industry representatives and other outright competitors on such a body."

Fritts also said he was concerned about rumored consideration of Minow, a Democrat and former FCC chairman who 36 years ago in a speech to the broadcast industry called television programming "a vast wasteland."

Broadcasters and the computer industry have been at odds over technology standards for digital television.

Postmaster General Rebuffs Conflict-of-Interest Charges

The Washington Post

Postmaster General Marvin T. Runyon, his voice quaking with emotion, defended himself from conflict-of-interest charges Thursday, saying "I didn't come here to make money."

Speaking out for the first time since it was publicly disclosed that he is being investigated by a federal grand jury, Runyon said he had not profited from his participation in "a few meetings" over proposals to put Coca Cola Co. vending machines in the lobbies of the nation's post offices. At the time Runyon held Coca Cola stock valued at between $350,000 and $360,000.

"I have never had a question asked about my ethics before," Runyon told the subcommittee, saying "This is really a rather traumatic thing with me. It is something that I would have never expected."

The postmaster general's comments won him praise from both Republicans and Democrats on the subcommittee. Chairman John M. McHugh, R-N.Y., said he was poised to ask him about the investigation. But he added he had "never questioned why you are serving" and noted Runyon had made far more money in private industry.

Snapple Debacle Takes Toll: Quaker Oats to Replace CEO

The Washington Post

Quaker Oats Co. said Wednesday it is looking for a successor to chief executive William Smithburg, whose career included the company's strikingly successful acquisition and expansion of Gatorade but who may be best remembered for a disaster called Snapple.

On the same day that the Chicago-based food products company posted a $1.1 billion first-quarter loss caused by Snapple, it announced that its board of directors would form a committee to look for a successor for the 58-year-old Smithburg, who will remain on the job until a replacement is found.

"It was under his leadership that they bought Snapple, and Snapple produced essentially a $1.4 billion hole in the balance sheet," said Chris Jakubik, an industry analyst with SBC Warburg Inc. "From that perspective, many investors were rather disgruntled."

Quaker acquired Snapple in 1994 when the brand that created the market for flavored iced teas was at the peak of its popularity. But after Quaker paid $1.7 billion for it, sales began to decline.

Quaker announced March 27 that it would sell the Snapple beverage business to Triarc Cos., a New York company that markets rival new-age brand Mistic and the soft drink Royal Crown, for $300 million.