Involving big commercial interests and complex issues of cultural diversity, public service and social responsibility, audiovisual policy is formulated at national level by individual governments. The EU's role is to set some basic groundrules and guidelines in defence of common interests, like open EU markets and fair competition.
The EU has been successfully regulating cross-border TV broadcasting since 1989. Since then, it has had to update the rules to take account of the expanding range of TV services on offer – including on-demand TV – via a whole range of devices, such as mobile phones and tablets (see the Audiovisual Media Services Directive).
EU rules protect children against harmful material.
The Directive requires EU countries to coordinate national legislation with each other so that:
The EU supports European film-makers.
EU member countries are committed to public broadcasting services – the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam recognises its role in providing for democratic, social and cultural needs and preventing the industry from being dominated by one or several big players.
Governments may grant public broadcasters financial support, provided the funding is used to pursue the public-service goal and does not impede normal commercial operations or distort competition among broadcasters.
The Audiovisual Media Services Directive requires broadcasters to show a minimum quota of European programmes, reflecting concerns that American productions will otherwise take the lion’s share of the European market. Although EU countries make more films than the US, 75% of the income of European cinemas comes from American films.
The EU is party to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and, as one way of protecting its own cultural diversity and promoting local productions, has secured an exemption from the free-trade rules of the World Trade Organisation. Known as the ‘cultural exception’, this entitles its member countries to place limits on imports of cultural items like films.
The MEDIA programme provides financial support for quality European films and TV programmes. The aims are to boost output and distribution in Europe and to promote European films, other audiovisual works and new digital technologies.
The new MEDIA Mundus programme (2011-2013), with a €15m budget capitalises on the audiovisual industry's growing interest in global cooperation and the opportunities it offers. It increases consumer choice by bringing more culturally diverse products to European and international markets. It also creates new business opportunities for audiovisual professionals from Europe and around the globe.