Brussels, 8 October 2009
Commission ends legal action after Italy and Estonia comply with EU advertising rules
The European Commission decided today to close infringement proceedings against Italy and Estonia as both countries now fully comply with EU TV advertising rules. For Italy, the Commission had concerns over: 3 minute teleshopping messages not being counted in advertising limits and confusing viewers; TV stations' own promotional spots were not covered by Italy's legal definition of advertising; inefficient sanctions for breaches of advertising rules. The Commission also launched infringement proceedings against Estonia as TV channels were regularly breaking the EU's limit of 12 minutes of advertising per hour. The two countries were in breach of the EU's Television without Frontiers Directive, but have meanwhile adjusted their national legislation and practice to comply with European audiovisual rules.
" I welcome the real steps taken by Italy and Estonia to comply with European advertising rules. Thanks to successful collaboration between national authorities and the European Commission, television viewers in Italy and Estonia are now better protected by clear rules. Above all, it should be 100% clear that what they are watching is an ad," said Viviane Reding, the EU's Media Commissioner.
Following the launch of an infringement procedure by the Commission in December 2007 ( ), Italy's media and telecoms regulator AGCOM has modified national advertising rules by imposing minimum 15 minute duration for teleshopping windows. This ends Italian broadcasters' practice of inserting 3 minute teleshopping messages during TV programmes, without counting them in the hourly limit. EU audiovisual rules (the ) say teleshopping windows should be at least 15 minutes long, so that viewers can identify them as such. AGCOM also updated Italian rules to specify that teleshopping spots should be included in hourly advertising limits – in line with EU rules.
The modified rules also specify that EU rules on insertion and separation of advertising apply to self-promotion (when a TV channel inserts announcements for upcoming programmes). Until now, Italian broadcasters would for example interrupt news broadcasts with such announcements, which was against EU rules.
The Italian authorities have also clarified that self-promotion messages are subject to general advertising rules on the protection of minors, inappropriate content like hate speech and promotion of harmful substances like tobacco, and that messages promoting a broadcaster's products or services, (like premium pay-per-view) are considered to be advertising and should be counted in the 12 minute hourly advertising limit. On 3 September 2009, the supreme Italian administrative court ("Consiglio di Stato"), while upholding the validity of the changes introduced by AGCOM, referred several teleshopping and self-promotion issues to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling ( ).
Italy has also speeded up and strengthened its sanctions for infringements of advertising rules, in line with EU law. Law n.101/2008, eliminates the letter of formal notice sent to recalcitrant broadcasters (the " diffida"), it abolishes the " oblazione" – a possibility for broadcasters to pay a reduced fine, and introduces higher financial penalties for such breaches (between €10,329 and €258,228 compared to previously between €5,165 and €51,646).
Meanwhile, a report conducted by an independent contractor revealed that major Estonian TV channels were frequently showing more than the EU limit of 12 minutes advertising per hour.
An exchange of letters that ended in a letter of formal notice in March 2009 ( ) made clear that these infringements resulted from an erroneous interpretation of the difference between advertising spot and sponsoring message by the Estonian authorities. Estonian broadcasters were combining sponsorship messages (which exist to inform TV viewers about a sponsorship agreement) with advertising spots and Estonian authorities did not count them within the EU advertising limit.
As the promotional nature of an advertising spot is not changed if it also has information about the programme's sponsorship, it has to be counted within the hourly limit. To comply with EU advertising rules, the Estonian Ministry of Culture drew up guidelines with clearer explanations. The terms of reference for monitoring broadcasting organisations were also amended and improved.
The Television without Frontiers Directive was adopted in 1989 ( ) and revised in 1997 ( ). On 13 December 2005 the Commission proposed its modernisation to address technological and market changes in audiovisual media services ( IP/05/1573 , MEMO/06/208 ). The Audiovisual Media Services Directive was agreed on 24 May 2007 ( ) and the final text voted by the European Parliament on 29 November 2007 ( ). The Directive must be transposed into national legislation by 19 December 2009 and provides a minimum set of common EU rules encouraging a single market for all audiovisual media services.
The text of the modernised Directive is available at: