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Principles and guidelines for the Community's audiovisual policy in the digital age
As digital technologies are introduced, to define the European Commission's priorities for the next five years and the aims and principles of the Community's audiovisual policy in the medium term (adaptation both of the regulatory framework and of the various national and Community support mechanisms).
Communication of 14 December 1999 from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Principles and guidelines for the Community's audiovisual policy in the digital age [COM (1999) 657 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
Digital technologies are bringing about major changes in the audiovisual sector.
Digitisation not only means a quantum leap in the amount of audiovisual content and information available to the citizen; it also allows a wide range of new operators to participate in the production and distribution of this information.
For example, whereas cable TV networks can usually only deliver some 30 to 40 channels using analogue transmission technology, digital cable networks can offer not only hundreds of TV channels but also interactive services, voice telephony and fast Internet access. The Internet best embodies the digital revolution. At increasingly lower cost, it provides access to a virtually limitless quantity of electronic data, thereby opening up a host of new opportunities for content providers, including creators, producers and distributors in the audiovisual sector. Digital television is likely to play a key role in this regard: digital television services, via a set-top box or through an integrated digital television set, may well provide the main route into the home for most online content and electronic commerce.
The growth of the audiovisual sector through the development of digital technology will bring with it economic growth and the potential creation of jobs. It is important for the legislative framework to maximise this growth and potential. In view of the social and cultural role of audiovisual media, this legislative framework must at the same time protect the general interest, which has been at the basis of audiovisual policy regulation since its inception.
More specifically, this regulation protects the general interest by basing itself on such principles as freedom of expression and the right of reply, pluralism, protection for authors and their works, promotion of cultural and linguistic diversity, the protection of minors and human dignity, and consumer protection.
The European Community's audiovisual policy has incorporated these principles and common objectives, particularly vis-à-vis the freedom to provide services and support for the industry. More specifically:
- the " Television without Frontiers " Directive established a legal framework ensuring the freedom to provide television broadcasting services in the Community, taking due account of certain general interests;
- the Media I and Media II programmes complemented and built on action by Member States by supporting training, project development and the distribution of European works.
Although these principles and objectives still form the hard core of audiovisual policy, developments in the sector call for the regulation of audiovisual content to be defined more closely.
The regulation of audiovisual content must be guided by the principles arising from numerous consultative and analytical exercises. The principles of proportionality and the separation of transport and content regulation, general interest objectives, recognition of the role of public service broadcasting, self-regulation and regulatory authorities are the basic principles according to which the Commission intends to carry out its regulatory activities.
The Commission's activities will thereby cover the different areas of audiovisual policy.
- The " Television without Frontiers" Directive
Adopted in 1989, this Directive was revised in 1997. A report on its application is required by the end of 2000. A second report, taking into account technological developments in the sector and the results of studies carried out for the Commission into the protection of minors and advertising aimed at minors, will be required two years later. Any proposals for amendment of the Directive will be made in this context.
- Access to audiovisual content
In a digital broadcasting environment, access to audiovisual content is not simply a question of whether certain content is accessible, but also of whether content is readily accessible. To navigate through the multitude of content on offer, the viewer will require an Electronic Programme Guide (EPG). Developments in technology could also lead to a situation in which viewers can choose from a range of EPGs, in which case regulation may have to be reassessed. However, the Commission does not envisage any specific action at this stage.
- Copyright protection and the fight against piracy
The Internet provides new ways and means of distributing audiovisual works, and digital technology makes it possible to make perfect copies of such works. This means that the protection of copyright and related rights must constitute a central element of audiovisual policy.
In view of this, the Commission considers the rapid adoption of the proposed Directive on Copyright and Related Rights in the Information Society to be of paramount importance.
- Protection of minors
Digital technology may in some cases render traditional approaches to the protection of minors ineffective. In this regard, the Council Recommendation on the Protection of Minors and Human Dignity illustrates the importance of providing for self-regulation measures alongside regulations to improve the protection of minors.
The Commission will present an evaluative report on its effect to the European Council in the final quarter of 2000.
- Advertising and sponsorship
The "Television without Frontiers" Directive contains a number of provisions on advertising which serve to protect consumers as well as the integrity of audiovisual works and editorial independence. Digital technology will inevitably create a whole new range of advertising and marketing possibilities. The Commission will therefore carry out a study into new advertising techniques with a view to a possible future extension of the provisions of the "Television without Frontiers" Directive (in particular with regard to interactivity and product replacement), in order to guarantee respect of the fundamental principles such as the prohibition of surreptitious advertising and the need for clear demarcation between advertising and other content.
- The legal framework for the cinema sector
In 2000, the Commission will present a communication on legal aspects relating to the cinema sector, which will cover matters such as the definition of a European work.
Where the principles for the development of Community support instruments for the European audiovisual industry are concerned, the communication points to the complementarity of national and Community mechanisms. It also reiterates the guiding principles of the MEDIA I and MEDIA II programmes, focusing on distribution, the development of projects and production companies and vocational training. The emphasis with these support instruments will be on adaptability and flexibility to keep pace with the technological development of the market.
On the basis of these principles, the Commission intends to take action in the following fields:
- cultural and linguistic diversity;
- the new "Media plus" programme, considered to be of crucial importance for the future of the European audiovisual industry. In all areas of action (training, development, distribution, promotion) this new programme will take account of the new digital environment.
- Research and development. The Fifth Framework Programme for Research and Development provides for a number of action lines of interest to the audiovisual sector.
The external dimension of Community audiovisual policy will necessarily hinge around two central elements: the enlargement of the European Union and the new round of multilateral trade negotiations in the framework of the World Trade Organisation.