Saturday

24th Jun 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. Merkel and Macron hold symbolic joint press conference
  2. Juncker has 'no' clear idea of kind of Brexit UK wants
  3. Belgian PM calls May's proposal on EU citizens 'vague'
  4. UK lacks support of EU countries in UN vote
  5. Spain to command anti-smuggler Mediterranean force
  6. Estonia confirms opposition to Nord Stream 2 pipeline
  7. Ireland and Denmark outside EU military plan
  8. EU leaders renew vows to uphold Paris climate deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUOn Public Services Day, Stop Austerity! Workers Need a Pay Rise!
  2. EGBAOnline Gambling: The EU Court Rejects Closed Licensing Regimes In Member States
  3. World VisionFaces of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow: Join the Debate on Violence Against Girls - 29 June
  4. ECR GroupThe EU Must Better Protect Industry from Unfair Competition
  5. Malta EU 2017Better Protection for Workers From Cancer-Causing Substances
  6. EPSUAfter 9 Years of Austerity Europe's Public Sector Workers Deserve a Pay Rise!
  7. Dialogue PlatformGlobalised Religions and the Dialogue Imperative. Join the Debate!
  8. UNICEFEU Trust Fund Contribution to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Response Reaches Nearly €200 Million
  9. EUSEW17Bringing Buildings Into the Circular Economy. Discuss at EU Sustainable Energy Week
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan an Ideal Body Weight Lead to Premature Death?
  11. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Charges: What Does It Entail?
  12. World VisionWorld Refugee Day, a Dark Reminder of the Reality of Children on the Move

Latest News

  1. Macron’s investment screening idea watered down by leaders
  2. Leaders unimpressed by May’s offer to EU citizens
  3. New Irish PM praises unscripted nature of EU summits
  4. EU extends sanctions on Russia
  5. UK's universities set 'Brexit wish list'
  6. Decision on post-Brexit home for EU agencies postponed
  7. May's offer on citizens’ rights dismissed as ‘pathetic’
  8. 'Historic' defence plan gets launch date at EU summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Social Services ConferenceDriving Innovation in the Social Sector I 26-28 June
  2. Dialogue PlatformMuslims Have Unique Responsibility to Fight Terror: Opinon From Fethullah Gülen
  3. EUSEW17Check out This Useful Infographic on How to Stay Sustainable and Energy Efficient.
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Criticises the Juncker Plan's Implementation
  5. The Idealist QuarterlyDoes Europe Really Still Need Feminism? After-Work Chat on 22 June
  6. EUSEW17Create an Energy Day Event Before the End of June. Join the Call for Clean Energy
  7. UNICEF1 in 5 Children in Rich Countries Lives in Relative Income Poverty, 1 in 8 Faces Food Insecurity
  8. International Partnership for Human Rights26 NGOs Call on Interpol Not to Intervene Versus Azerbaijani Human Rights Defenders
  9. Malta EU 2017Significant Boost in Financing for SMEs and Entrepreneurs Under New Agreement
  10. World VisionYoung People Rise up as EU Signs Consensus for Development at EU Development Days
  11. ILGA-EuropeLGBTI Activists and Businesses Fighting Inequality Together
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Prime Ministers Respond to Trump on Paris Agreement