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Brussels, 16 December 2003

Protection of minors: European Commission to propose improved framework during the first quarter of 2004

The European Commission has just adopted a new evaluation report on the September 1998 Council Recommendation concerning the protection of minors and human dignity in audiovisual and information services. The report analyses the measures adopted in the Member States and at EU level since the year 2000. Commissioner Reding, Member States and other interested parties have been expressing concerns for several years on the high level of violence in some media. Accordingly, and in order to be able to keep up with the challenges which technological developments bring, the Commission intends to follow up on this evaluation report by proposing an update of the Recommendation during the first quarter of 2004.

Viviane Reding, European Commissionner in charge of Education, Culture and Audiovisual, said: "Although the Recommendation is still being applied in different ways by the Member States and the accession countries, the developments are, in general, positive. But, I am convinced that we need to do more. For example, next year's update of the Recommendation should cover notably issues relating to media literacy, the right of reply, and measures against discrimination or incitement to hatred on the grounds of race, sex or nationality in all online media."

New technologies, new challenges for the protection of minors

Illegal, harmful and undesirable content and conduct on the Internet continues to be a concern for law-makers, industry and parents. The Recommendation calls on the Member States, industry and interested parties, as well as the Commission, to take steps to enhance the protection of minors and human dignity in the broadcasting and internet sectors. New techniques will raise new challenges both in quantitative (more "illegal" content) and qualitative terms (new platforms, new products). Taking into account the ever-increasing processing power and storage capacity of computers, and the fact that broadband technologies allow distribution of content such as video on 3G mobile telephones, the need for a safe environment is greater than ever.

Therefore, the coverage of the new Safer Internet Action Plan will extend to new online technologies, including mobile and broadband content, online games, peer-to-peer file transfer, and all forms of real-time communications such as chat-rooms and instant messages, primarily with the aim of improving the protection of children and minors. Action will be taken to ensure a broader coverage of areas of illegal and harmful content and conduct giving rise to concern, including racism and violence.

Indeed, although the Report shows that the number of hotlines and codes of conduct has increased significantly, and that campaigns to encourage safer use of the Internet have been launched in most Member States, measures concerning the protection of minors in the accession countries do not seem to be as far-reaching as in the Member States. In most Member States and accession countries, the measures or initiatives concerning UMTS and the control of chat-groups are still quite abstract or left to self-regulation.

The situation is less problematic on TV: even though self- or coregulation is still less developed in the broadcasting sector, the relevant systems seem to be working quite well. However, the involvement of consumer associations and other interested parties in the establishment of codes of conduct and other self-regulatory initiatives still leaves a lot be desired.

What's next ? Recommendation update during the first quarter of 2004

As far as online media are concerned, the right of reply could be enshrined in the Recommendation as a first step towards an effective right of reply applicable to all media, for instance in cases where the allegation has been published in another country.

The responsibility to protect minors from harmful effects of the media is a commonly shared one. Regulators, the audiovisual industry and parents all have to play their part to achieve the goal. Media-literate children and parents supported by efficient self-regulatory and rating systems are best equipped to prosper in the world of the future. Hence, the idea of including media literacy among the subjects covered by the Recommendation seems very appropriate.

Rating or classification of audiovisual content serves an essential role in the protection of minors. Because of the cultural and social diversity among Member States, rating of programmes is carried out at national level. Nevertheless, there could be a "bottom-up" harmonisation through collaboration between self-regulatory and coregulatory bodies in the Member States, and through the exchange of best practices concerning such issues as a system of common, descriptive symbols which would help viewers to assess the content of programmes.

The report is available on:

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