Brussels, 19 March 2009
The Commission today warned Estonia that it is not complying with EU rules on television advertising. The major Estonian television channels are frequently breaking the rules in the EU's "Television without Frontiers" Directive that limit spot advertising and teleshopping to a maximum of 12 minutes per hour, according to an independent expert report requested by the European Commission. The Commission does not agree with Estonia's interpretation that certain forms of advertising spots are sponsorship and therefore has sent a letter of formal notice, which is the first of three steps in an infringement procedure under the EC Treaty.
"The commonly agreed rules of the game for advertising on European TV have to be respected by everyone in Europe, in the interest of fair competition and to ensure that TV programmes are not excessively interrupted," said Viviane Reding, the EU's Media Commissioner. "Sponsorship messages are designed to inform the viewer, but not to place more advertising than is allowed under European law."
At the request of the Commission, independent experts monitored how Estonia applies the rules contained in the EU's "Television without Frontiers" Directive. The monitoring exercise revealed that Estonia interprets "spot advertising" too narrowly and does not use a correct definition of "sponsorship messages" (as required by Articles 17 and 18(2) of the "Television without Frontiers" Directive). Many Estonian broadcasters combine a sponsorship message with an advertising spot and the Estonian authorities do not count these combined advertising spots within the EU's limit of 12 minutes per hour. This means that Estonia is not respecting the EU's advertising rules, and that as a result there is more advertising on TV in Estonia than in other EU countries.
Under EU law, the promotional nature of an advertising spot is not changed by the fact that it also contains information about the sponsorship of the programme. Sponsorship messages exist to inform viewers that there is a sponsorship agreement. These combined spots fall within the 12 minute advertising limits set by EU rules.
The Commission has sent Estonia a letter of formal notice asking it to fulfil its obligations under the EU's "Television without Frontiers" Directive. The Estonian Government now has two months to respond to the concerns expressed in that letter.
Today's decision by the Commission comes at a crucial time as Member States are currently putting the modernised rules for Europe's audiovisual industry (the Audiovisual Media Services Directive) into national law. The new Audiovisual Media Services Directive reaffirms the limit of 12 minutes per hour for spot advertising and teleshopping.
The "Television without Frontiers" Directive was adopted in 1989 (IP/91/898) and amended for the first time in 1997 (IP/97/552). In 2005, the Commission proposed a second revision in order to take account of rapid technological changes and developments in the audiovisual services market such as video on demand, mobile television and audiovisual services via digital television (IP/05/1573,MEMO/06/208). The (new) Directive on Audiovisual Media Services entered into force on 19 December 2007 (see IP/07/1809, MEMO/08/803) and gives Member States 24 months to incorporate its provisions into national law. Last December, Commissioner Reding called on Member States to put the new rules in place quickly (IP/08/2032).
The European Commission is responsible for monitoring the application of EU law in all 27 Member States and as part of this it regularly examines how they are complying with the advertising rules of the "Television without Frontiers" Directive. Usually an independent expert records the main TV channels over a period of two months and analyses all forms of advertising second by second. In cases where the report finds a high number or serious infringements, the Commission initiates infringement proceedings (see IP/08/1801 for an infringement proceeding against Spain, now pending at the European Court of Justice). This is in the interest of both the consumer and the industry as it ensures a level playing field in the audiovisual market throughout Europe.
The texts of the Television without Frontiers Directive and of the new Audiovisual Media Services Directive are available at