Sunday

17th Dec 2017

Focus

EU parliament hosts battle on future of public broadcasting

  • Smaller member states spend much more per capita on producing broadcasting content than larger states (Photo: EUobserver)

While the pendulum in the financial world may have swung toward the importance of government and regulation, in the realm of European broadcasting and online content, a free-market versus public-service dust-up is just getting going in Brussels.

The players in the epic contest are, in one corner, public broadcasters such as the BBC or Germany's ZDF, and, in the other corner, commercial broadcasters tag-teaming with private print and online publishers.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The field of battle is a consultation, launched last November, on a draft revision of the 2001 European Commission communication on state aid to public broadcasters. The communication is to set out how the commission will interpret state aid rules to public broadcasting.

On Thursday (5 March), the two sides gathered in the European Parliament in Brussels to put their case to MEPs in the culture committee.

Private broadcasters have long complained that their public counterparts are producing little more than imitations of commercial content, and are hoping that the communication will see public broadcasters reined in at the EU level back to production of what they claim is their raison d'etre - "quality programming."

The Association of Commercial Television in Europe, representing the private sector channels, says that the public broadcasting remit "must insist on distinctive content" and that to ensure this, "long-established EU Treaty rules on state aid should be applied."

There is a "huge structural advantage of one party receiving guaranteed state financing on a multi-annual perspective," Ross Biggam, the director-general of the ACT, told the MEPs.

"There is a funding gap in favour of the publicly-funded sector," he added.

Under the "current economic conditions ...it is disingenous for [public broadcasters] to argue ...that the private sector wishes to have the digital future all for itself at a time when the publicly-funded model is so much more secure than the commercial sector."

Publishers meanwhile are horrified that with the advent of the internet, there has been "an increasing tendency of public broadcasters to migrate to the internet."

With their news webpages and dozens of themed websites, the BBC and their colleagues are, according to the European Publishers' Council, "becoming in many cases publicly funded online newspaper or magazine publishers in direct competition with our own web-based services."

Raising the spectre of Pravda or Izvestia - organs of Soviet-era propaganda - they warn that governments have no mandate to produce newspapers or magazines, whether in print or online.

Public broadcasters however rubbish the idea that something like BBC online is any more a mouthpiece for the UK government than its television or radio stations are, and say that the division between television, print and online is disappearing. To restrict their online activities is to leave them in an "analogue ghetto" as more and more citizens - particularly young people - are accessing their media via the internet.

"The new broadcasting communication should avoid any distinction between 'old' and 'new' media," said the European Broadcasting Union in a statement. "Instead, it should apply the principle of technological neutrality."

Underscoring that public service broadcasting is needed to deliver quality journalism, "original European fiction" and ensure audiovisual access to major sporting events for all citizens, not just those that can afford to watch them, the public broadcasters say their mission "should be defined in relation to the needs of society and not in relation to the market."

The public defenders are not confident they will win this contest, however.

"It's not so much the private broadcasters, but the publishers that are the real enemy of public broadcasting," Marit Ingves, of the Nordic Public Broadcasters, told EUobserver. "The private broadcasters don't have a problem with all online activities, they just want it restricted somewhat."

"But the publishers want to kill off entirely everything we do online," she said. "And it looks like [information society commissioner] Reding has really come down on their side."

"I'm not optimistic, but it is just shocking that they are still sticking to this free-market mantra after everything that's happened in the financial world these last few months," she said.

Nevertheless, the member states have largely taken the side of the public broadcasters, who argue that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work for every EU country, particularly smaller nations, where per capita funding of culture and information is much more expensive than in the larger countries.

Pressure mounts on EU cloud deal as deadline looms

The European Commission is under pressure to keep to its self-imposed September deadline to publish an EU cloud computing strategy, as new evidence revealed widespread public confusion about it.

Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June

Divisions on relocating asylum seekers remain entrenched following an EU summit. The east-west divide opens up the possibility of relying on a majority vote for a key asylum in June, further exacerbating disputes among opposing capitals.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives