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The “Television without Frontiers” Directive at a crossroads.
Par Viviane Reding, Member of the European Commission responsible for Information Society and Media
Business without frontiers: Europe’s new broadcasting landscape European Media Leaders Summit 2004 London, 7 December 2004 Extract

European Audiovisual Policy has consistently sought to provide a framework favourable to the development of the audiovisual sector and to support the transnational dimension of this essentially cultural industry. In this respect the “Televison without frontiers” Directive is the essential centrepiece for a “business without frontiers” drive. This is as true today as it will be in the future in a wider media perspective. The “leitmotiv” is to create added-value at European level and not to seek to do what can better be done at national level. I am grateful for this opportunity of addressing you today, which is particularly timely, because the “Television without Frontiers” Directive is currently at a crossroads. The future of European audiovisual policy will be shaped over the coming months.


Historically, European audiovisual policy was launched with the holding of the 1989 “audiovisual assizes”, the adoption, in the same year, of the “Television without frontiers” Directive and, a year later, of the first MEDIA programme. The driving force at that time was the advent of satellite television.

Community policy has always had three strands:

•Setting the rules of the game; the main example in terms of instruments has been the “Television without frontiers” Directive;

•Providing financial support for the development and competitiveness of this cultural industry; the main instrument has been the Media programme;

•Ensuring that audiovisual policy objectives are taken into account across a range of other relevant, Community policies.

What is the state of play today? Let me begin with the “rules of the game” or the regulatory strand. At the beginning my previous mandate, the time was not ripe for a substantial revision of the legal framework for audiovisual: the relevant markets were depressed and the existing framework was in place for a short time (a revision of the TVWF directive had taken place in 1997).

Now, we must prepare the future. This is the reason why, a year ago – in 2003 – I launched a far reaching consultation process on the future of the “Television without Frontiers” directive. The Communication on the future of regulatory policy adopted by the Commission last December draws the conclusions from this consultation and sets out guidelines for future policy work. The consultation confirmed that the Directive has provided a flexible and appropriate framework for regulating the audiovisual sector in Europe. Overall, there is consensus that the principles underlying the Directive, such as safeguarding cultural diversity, protecting certain categories of viewers and ensuring free movement of services, remain valid. Such objectives are not called into question by technological or market developments. What is at stake is the means by which these objectives can be achieved in a changing environment. In the Communication on the future of regulatory policy the Commission decided to address the open issues in a two-stage procedure of short-term measures and medium-term considerations. In the short term the Commission proposed measures that steer or interpret existing law. In April this year an interpretative communication on new advertising techniques was adopted, clarifying to what extent the text of the present Directive allows new forms of advertising such as split-screen and virtual advertising. We also proposed an up-date of the 1998 Recommendation on the protection of minors and human dignity, with special reference to online audiovisual services. This proposal was accepted by the Council and is now being discussed by the European Parliament.

In the medium term the December Communication also defines the areas where further investigation is necessary. We invited experts to discuss these issues with us in focus groups. The three focus groups are presently dealing with these specific topics: How should we regulate the different modes of delivery of audiovisual content in general in future?

For the time being no information society service has achieved a level of importance or impact comparable to television. However, I am convinced that this situation will change, as new services will be rolled out.

•What is the appropriate level of detail in the regulation of advertising?

•Can we replace today’s detailed, often prescriptive, rules with a ”light” framework while continuing to meet public policy objectives such as the protection of viewers / consumers ?

•Do we need, at Community level, further provisions to guarantee the right to information?

•Reserving major, mainly sports events, for free-to-air TV has proved a popular measure. Should the right to short extracts also be included in the Directive?

The first meeting of the expert groups revealed some consensus on the need for a new graduated regulatory framework for the delivery of audiovisual editorial content to the general public.

Graduation could be linked to :

•the impact of the medium;

•the choice and control users can exercise – this is also linked to the distinction between linear and non-linear programming.

In the expert groups there appeared to be consensus on the fact that the present framework needs to evolve to respond to the massive changes that have taken place in terms of technological and market developments. The experts came to the conclusion that graduated regulation would be the only possible answer to differentiated regulatory needs. Regulation needs to be sufficiently flexible to be future-proof but sufficiently clear not to create uncertainty as to which services are covered.

The expert groups seemed to support the approach to strive for less detailed regulation of advertising but also the need to safeguard the policy objective that underpin the present Directive – including the protection of the consumer against an excessive amount of advertising. The discussion on the usefulness of enshrining a right to short reports in Community law still was somewhat controversial.

I would like to be clear on this issue. My staff are analysing the need for a coherent regulation of any form of delivery of audiovisual content. This is the logical consequence if we want to apply technological neutrality in our regulatory approach, and it is essential to guarantee a level playing field between new and old content providers. But this does not mean more regulation in an overall perspective. It might be necessary to cover more modes of delivery of audiovisual content, but the regulatory regime as a whole could be lighter. The proposal for a draft Directive I will present to the Commission next year is likely to be less detailed as regards quantitative rules for advertising. And I think it might even be conceivable to limit to primary broadcasters some of the obligations that the TVWF Directive today establishes for all broadcasters. Primary broadcasters could be defined by the impact they have on the market and on society.

You might ask – why regulate at all? The answer is simple: to ensure that business without frontiers is also possible in the future. We can already see the Member States regulating “new services”: be it “licenseable services” in the United Kingdom or “Mediendienste” in Germany. If we want to avoid a patchwork of 25 different legal systems we have to agree on a common set of minimum standards. Non-action is simply not an option. Regulation will be limited to what is necessary to guarantee the functioning of the common market and will in particular take into account co- and self-regulatory measures. It is against this background that we have launched a study on co-regulatory models in the media sector. This analysis should provide the full picture of such measures taken to date in Member States, as well as of research already done. Finally, the long-awaited study on the impact of measures to promote European and independent works (the so-called “quotas”) will be completed soon.

The results of all this work will be presented in 2005, accompanied by a proposal for a revision of the Directive at the end of the year.

A last word on the interface with other Community policies: the Commission has always sought to ensure that other Community policies provide an enabling and, as far as possible, a favourable framework for the development of the audiovisual sector, taking into account its defining characteristics as a cultural industry. It has done this in both external and internal policies. The appointment of a media Commissioner has to be seen as a move to strengthen this approach with a view to the media business as a whole.


I have mentioned here the main aspects of audiovisual policy and ICTs as such. There are, of course, many related policy issues (interactive TV, for example) I have not had time to touch on. There is no one easy answer to the challenges posed by the need to develop a strong and diverse audiovisual sector in Europe. It is through a range of legal, financial and other measures, taking into account what the Community can do best and what the Member States can do best, that our goal can be achieved: Business without frontiers.


SPEECH/04/518 Date: 07/12/2004

Article mis en ligne le 10 décembre 2004
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