Audiovisual media services are as much cultural services as they are economic ones. Their growing importance for democracy, education and culture accounts for the application of specific rules across the EU. The first Commission implementation report on the Audiovisual Media Services Directive concludes that in general, the EU regulatory framework has performed well.
The first attempts to shape a European Union (EU) audiovisual policy were triggered by the development of satellite broadcasting in the early 1980s. In 2010, the Television Without Frontiers Directive of 1989 and its subsequent 1997 and 2007 amendments were incorporated into a single text, the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD).
Today, this Directive is the cornerstone of media regulation in the EU, covering both traditional TV broadcasting and new, on-demand services such as films and news. The AVMSD is an internal market instrument which covers the right to provide audiovisual services, the right to freedom of expression and information, and the protection of public interest (notably those of minors), while promoting European and independent works.
The AVMSD submitted audiovisual commercial communications and sponsorship to stricter rules (i.e. sponsorship of audiovisual services and programmes by tobacco manufacturers was banned, as were communications encouraging behaviour prejudicial to health and the environment) and prohibited the use of subliminal techniques. The ban on tobacco adverts and restrictions on alcohol advertising in traditional TV were extended to on-demand services. The Directive also addressed for the first time the issue of ‘fatty foods’ in commercials linked to children’s programmes.
Concerning the regulatory framework, the AVMSD invited EU Member States (MS) to encourage self-regulation in certain fields in combination with government intervention (co-regulation) – where their legal systems allow.
First AVMSD application report
Under Article 33 of the AVMSD, the Commission is required to report to Parliament on the application of the Directive in the MS (and specifically on publicity in children’s programmes) every three years, starting in 2011. Publication of the Commission’s first report was delayed owing, inter alia, to the fact that some MS had not fully transposed the Directive within the deadline.
The Commission’s May 2012 report concluded that the Directive’s provisions on protection of minors were rarely breached. It appeared, however, that advertising techniques targeting minors were used frequently.
The report also showed that media literacy (i.e. the ability to access, understand and critically evaluate media content) has been increasing. A positive increase was also recorded in the average broadcasting time for European works. The average share of independent works shown by all European channels however dropped slightly.
Based on the provisions of the Directive, the French regulator ordered a stop to retransmission in Europe of Al Aqsa TV, which had repeatedly broadcast material inciting anti-Semitic hatred. As alternative means of regulation, self- or co-regulatory schemes exist in most MS.
EP views and latest news
In its report on the application of the AVMSD (Piotr Borys, EPP, Poland) the EP’s Committee on Culture and Education stresses in particular that the self-regulatory initiatives of the Commission designed to limit minors’ exposure to food advertising and marketing could not replace legally binding instruments. The Committee also urges the Commission to monitor closely the development of Connected TV in the EU.
On 24 April 2013, the Commission published a Green Paper on the convergence of media services (i.e. the progressive merger of traditional broadcast services and the internet).