Sunday

30th Apr 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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

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.

News in Brief

  1. Vote of no confidence prepared against Spanish PM
  2. Syria to buy Russian anti-missile system
  3. Germany seeks partial burka ban
  4. Libya has no plan to stop migration flows
  5. EU has no evidence of NGO-smuggler collusion in Libya
  6. Poland gets 'final warning' on logging in ancient forest
  7. Commission gives Italy final warning on air pollution
  8. Romania and Slovenia taken to court over environment policies

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCharlotte Hornets' Nicolas Batum Tells Kids to "Eat Well, Drink Well, Move!"
  2. ECR GroupSyed Kamall: We Need a New, More Honest Relationship With Turkey
  3. Counter BalanceParliament Sends Strong Signal to the EIB: Time to Act on Climate Change
  4. ACCARisks and Opportunities of Blockchain and Shared Ledgers Technologies in Financial Services
  5. UNICEFRace Against Time to Save Millions of Lives in Yemen
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  7. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  8. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  9. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  10. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  11. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  12. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process

Latest News

  1. EU boasts unity on Brexit talks
  2. May’s election juggernaut
  3. EPP scolds Orban over university and NGO laws
  4. Oxford-Studie besorgt über 'Schrott' News in Frankreich
  5. Alte Freundschaft zwischen Le Pen und Putin
  6. EP chief faces questions after homophobic 'summit'
  7. EU signals Northern Ireland could join if united with Ireland
  8. One year later: EU right to open internet still virtual

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  2. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  3. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  4. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTime to Turn the Tide and End Repression of Central Asia's Civil Society
  6. European Free AllianceAutonomia to Normalnosc - Poland Urged to Re-Grant Autonomy to Silesia
  7. UNICEFHitting Rock Bottom - How 2016 Became the Worst Year for #ChildrenofSyria
  8. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  9. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  10. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  11. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  12. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved