13 November 2006
Today (13th November) the European Parliament’s Culture Committee votes on their Report and Amendments to the European Directive to regulate Audiovisual Media Services and the Council of Culture Ministers of individual nations will take a position on the self same draft legislation. EPC Chairman, Francisco Pinto Balsemão, speaking at the Media Leaders Summit in London (Landmark Hotel) today said: "The deliberations in the Parliament and in the Council – running in parallel, possibly with different results, will shape the future of Communications at a time when we are in the midst of one of the great revolutions in man’s technologicaland social history".
The two decisions to be taken today in Brussels spring from the Commission’s revision of the 1989 Directive "Television without Frontiers"which established a vital principle: that the country of origin of the broadcaster was the place where media should be regulated, so that programmes could freely beam across borders without interference from foreign governments and that the freedom of speech remained paramount.
Mr Balsemão said: "This principle of free circulation of ideas is now under threat. I cannot urge the politicians strongly enough not to destabilise the very basis of free circulation of Europe’s media by destroying the country of origin principle. Allowing one member state to decide whether another country’s programmes, or the advertising which supports its production, meet their own version of ‘general public interest’, or their national interpretation of what is offensive to religious or political beliefs, or even racially or sexually discriminating will stifle freedom of expression".
One of the most controversial aspects of the new Directive is the way in which statutory rules will be applied to on-demand content on the web or via mobile before it is made available to citizens,through a requirement to follow comprehensive statutory rules on both editorial and advertising content. Up until now this prior control of content has only been applied to licensed television services because of historical reasons of spectrum scarcity and because it has been possible for regulatory authorities and/or governments to exert effective control over licensees; whereas the press – newspapers, books, magazines and latterly internet content – is not subject to prior control in the same way.
Mr Balsemão said: "Although the Commission – quite properly, recognised they had no mandate to regulate the printed press, and included an exemption for online versions of newspapers and magazines in the Directive which accordingly, the EPC continues to query the overall approach to covering non-linear services. As you browse the pages of media groups’ online content, it becomes rapidly clear that this is no mere clone of our paper versions; but a new type of news source with stills and graphics and video clips – whatever it takes to express the story. So, whether as broadcasters or publishers, we hear regulators talking about rules to control what we might upload to the web we become very uncomfortable because we view the web as a medium of free expression more akin to publishing than broadcasting".
The EPC has always welcomed moves by the Commission, where regular television is concerned, to free up the amount of advertising allowed on broadcast TV and to establish rules to permit product placement but fears that even these moves will be lost during the next phase of negotiations in Parliament and the Council throwing doubt over the validity of the legislation. Mr Balsemão said: "Taking the threat to the internal market basis of the Directive together with the loss of any real benefit to broadcasters as MEPs and nation states chip away at the Commission’s proposals to liberalise some of the advertising provisions, casts doubt on the future validity and viability of the legislation." Mr Balsemão continued : "With no clear benefit to the broadcasters, and wide consensus between media, telcos, ISPs and advertisers that the regulators are in danger of going beyond their ability to enforce any law they might pass for the non linear media available on the internet and on mobile devices,we must question the justification to continue".
Finally, the EPC points out that if the directive went into law as originally proposed it would place controls on website video material emanating from within the European Union but if that same material came from another continent it could be viewed and used openly and freely.
The final version of the report voted through today by MEPs will be transmitted to the plenary session of the EP in December. Further amendments may yet be tabled before this final vote which completes their first reading.
The Culture Council of Ministers is expected to confirm its general approach to the legislation today but further meetings will take place before a Common Position is confirmed – currently due May 2007 under the German Presidency.
For further information, please contact:
Angela Mills Wade,Executive Director of the European Publishers Council on Tel: +44 1865 310 732, or
Heidi Lambert, Press Officer, on Tel: +44 1245 476 265,email@example.com
A copy of Francisco Balsemão’s speech is available on the EPC website.