Television Without Frontiers Reloaded
Another directive, COD/2005/0260, is currently snaking its way through the EU legislative process. As always, the Commission is using it as an opportunity to showcase snappy phraseology, as demonstrated by the title: “Television broadcasting services: simplify the regulatory framework for broadcasting or linear services, introduce minimum rules for non-linear audiovisual media services (amend. direct. 89/552/EEC, règl. 2006/2004/EC)”. You’ll need the help of a jargon-killer, or perhaps the the wikipage created by the Open Rights Group (UK).
Television Without Frontiers (TWF) was passed in 1989 and set out rules governing television broadcasts in the single market. Matters covered included:
- mandatory quotas for european-produced content
- mandatory quota of 10% transmission time/budget for independent producers
- limitations of time alloted to advertising (15% of the day, 20% maximum in any hour)
- protection for children
- restrictions on alcohol advertisements.
At the heart of the directive lies the country of origin principle. This meant that a broadcasteer needed to comply with the law as set out only in their jursidiction – they did not have to tailor their products for the various national regimes. How to determine the location of a station’s ‘origin’ was clarified in a 1997 amendment stipulating that for the these purposes it would the country wher the channel had its main office.That amendment also enable national legislators to require the free over air broadcasting of cultural events considered to be of vital natioanl importance – thanks to this clasue we get access to important sporting events which would otherwise be monopolised by the pay-per-view merchants.
The current proposal will relax controls on non-linear on-demand style services, and introduce new elements as well as amendments to the existing reglation:
- product placement will be brought under an EU wide regime
- the rules on advertising interruptions will be relaxed
- extension of country of origin principle to non-linear services
- end of focus on tv transmission; the effects of the directive will now be extended to the delivery of media over devices including mobile phones and the net.
The current amendment process kicked off in 2005. The novelty in the latest version is the attempt to cover all audio-visual services and abandon the technology specific language that treated the boob-tube as the means by which people would get their eye-candy forever. Having gone tech-neutral, the key distinction determining the type and extent of regulation is whether you are like a traditional broadcaster – pushing fixed-schedule content at mass audiences – or non-linear where the user can pull down material she selects.
- In October the blogosphere eruptedmomentarily over the directive based on the concern that the new law would be applied to the non-commercial and user-generated sphere of content. That ambiguity has apparently now been eliminated and the directive will only apply to clearly commerical operations.
- In Britain everyone seemed to be against the directive, including Ofcom, former minister James Purnell MP and the Digital Content Forum. The gebneral thrust of these objections is that the directive is premature given that the market in mobile and new delivered content is in its infancy, and that deregulation would be preferable.
- The European Consumersorganization, BEUC, is (a) opposing the parts of the directive relaxing restrictions on advertising (b) fighting the sanifiucation of product placement and (c) lobbying to ban the marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and salt to kids.
The Commission original proposal; another version annotated with the Parliament’s amendments can be seen here, whereas you can track the legislative process at the Observatory. The Audiovisual and media Policies unit at the commission has a page providing something of an overview of the process so far. Basically the Parliamnet approved it on a first reading, now it will return to the Council before heading back to the prliament for a second reading some time this year.
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