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Mrs Viviane REDING
European Commissioner responsible for Education and Culture
Minors and media : towards a more effective protection
Workshop of scientists in the field of the protection of minors on media violence, self-regulation and media literacy
Brussels, 10 September 2003
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure for me to have the opportunity of addressing you today. As some of you already know, I attach great importance to a scientific input on the subject of Protection of Minors against harmful effects of the media.
On the occasion of this Workshop, I would just like briefly to outline some of the latest developments in the field of Protection of Minors.
Both the Television without frontiers Directive and the Recommendation on the protection of minors and human dignity are currently under review.
The public consultation concerning the review the TVWF Directive has shown that there is a general consensus among the stakeholders on the general principles on the protection of minors laid down in the Directive. Some stakeholders considered that these principles would apply to the Internet as well.Protecting minors from harmful content is of paramount importancet. However, there remain of course - different views on the methods to be used to achieve this goal.
The real problem in this field is often not one of lack of rules, but rather one of lack of effective enforcement of rules that are already in place. Whilst there are certain problems in the TV sector, the most urgent problems arise with in the field of the internet and video games.
The Recommendation on protection of minors has a cross-media approach and it emphasises cross-border exchange of best practices and the development of co-regulatory and self-regulatory mechanisms. A co-regulatory approach can be more flexible, more adaptable and more effective than straightforward regulation and legislation. With regard to the protection of minors, where many delicate and subjective decisions have to be taken into account, co-regulation can often achieve the goals better. And co-regulation includes, from the Commission's point of view, an appropriate involvement of public authorities. It should consist in co-operation between the authorities, industry and other parties concerned, such as consumers. This is the approach laid out in the Recommendation.
A considerable number of stakeholders put forward that satisfactory regulatory solutions can be found even under the present text of the Directive as long as there are effective means of intervention by national authorities in the event of disfunctioning or abuse.
Safer Internet Programme
In additition to the Recommendation, the Commission launched in 1999 the “Action Plan for Safe Use of the Internet” (running from 1999 to 2002). It aimed to set up a European system of hotlines, to develop a European filtering and rating system for Internet content and to promote a series of educational and awareness actions. The Work Programme and the call for proposals will be extended for two years (2003-2004). Its aim is to build on the progress made, and add value by extending the programme into new online technologies, such as mobile and broadband content, online games, chat rooms and instant messages.
The focus for the extended “Action Plan for Safe Use of the Internet” will be on enhanced networking and information sharing, to improve co-ordination across and within Member States. The underlying rationale for the first Action Plan was user empowerment. This rationale remains valid but now is defined more widely with the objective of making people more aware of Internet risks related to protection of minors, by combining education, user-empowerment and consumer protection. This is linked to the main objective of the eEurope action plan: to create a digitally literate Europe, where digital literacy includes the ability to use the Internet in a wise and safe way.
The Work Programme 2003 - 2004 of the Safer Internet programme includes in particular a call for proposals to implement Media Literacy: the changing media landscape, due to new technologies and media innovation, makes it necessary to teach children (and parents) to use the media effectively. To know where to find information and how to interpret it nowadays represents an essential skill. One of the actions foreseen in the new call for proposals concerns applied research for media education, more specifically applied research on media education into children's use of Internet and new technologies so as to identify educational and technological means for protecting them from harm.
A number of stakeholders who participated in the public consultation concerning the TVWF Directive also suggested including media literacy among the subjects of the Recommendation. This is a something which the Commission will give careful consideration.
On the same subject I would like to refer to an interesting initiative : Media Smart. This is a non profit media literacy programme for UK primary school children, initially focused on advertising, which was launched in November 2002. The objective of Media Smart is to provide children with the tools to help them understand and interpret advertising in the context of their daily lives. The most important role of Media Smart is to develop and provide schools, on request, with teaching materials for teachers and parents. There is also a media literacy infoad on TV on 10 satellite channels in the UK, which encourages children to think about what they see on TV and to question whether or not it is real.
Finally, I would like to stress the essential role of rating of audiovisual content for the protection of minors. The Commission commissioned an independent “Study on the rating practice used for audiovisual works in the European Union”. The study, which is available on our website, identifies the practice of rating in the different EU and EEA Member States, depending on the different distribution channels and evaluate the impact of differences between the national legislation and practice with respect to rating on the commercialization of films. It also analyses potential confusion amongst the persons responsible for minors arising from differences in rating.
he consultants' main conclusions are that there are structural pressures that are tending towards greater uniformity. Principal among these are the twin forces of globalisation and convergence both driven by societal and technological changes. Moreover, these pressures will result in a volume and variety of delivery methods for content that will increasingly make it difficult to rate on an ex ante basis.
There will be increasing pressure to consider ex post methods of content rating and forms of co-regulation, which will involve efficient and effective channels of consumer complaint. Examples of co-regulation systems already exist with Kijkwijzer in the Netherlands, and PEGI for audiovisual games at a European level.
It should be borne in mind that the responsibility to protect minors from harmful effects of the media is a 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 audiovisual world of the future.
To conclude, I cannot but insist on the importance of this workshop. I trust that your scientific expertise in this field will give us valuable insight on the subjects to be discussed today.