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EPC media alerts: December 2006

Your monthly EU media issues update direct from Europe's leading publishers

Dates for the diary

7th December - Reding Round Table with Publishers' trade organisations
11-14th December - EP Plenary adoption of TVWF
11-14th December - EP debate on Rome II
18-19th January - EPC Corporate Affairs Group meeting in Brussels
7th February - EPC dinner with Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, Brussels
12-13th February - Informal Ministerial on Germany on TVWF
14-16th February - Conference on the digitisation of cultural heritage, Berlin
15-16th February - Conference on Scientific Information, Brussels
15th March - German presidency conference on Digital Rights
9-11th May - Conference, Strengthening User Trust in Media Services, Leipzig
15-16th October - EPC CEO meeting, London



Key issues of the month

TVWF/AMS: Media industry warns against road to censorship

The European Publishers Council (EPC) is leading Europe's media industry in calling on MEPs to reject proposed amendments to the draft audiovisual media services directive that would give individual Member States a possible derogation to the country of origin principle laid down by the Commission's original text. MEPs cast their First Reading vote on AMS in the December Plenary (11-14/12).

The EPC joins nearly 60 signatories from the media and Internet world in presenting a Declaration to MEPs this week.

EPC Executive Director Angela Mills Wade said: "We call on Members of the European Parliament to ensure that one Member State cannot raise objections to programmes or advertising contained in incoming broadcasts or on-demand services from another Member State on the very broad grounds of "general public interest". Here lies the road to censorship. This derogation gives Member States carte blanche to summon up "general interest" as an excuse to block any content from other countries. Content is based on national culture and allowing Member States to interfere would completely undermine the integrity of the directive.

Country of Origin, argues the media industry, provides the level of legal certainty necessary to encourage companies to exploit opportunities afforded by the internal market.

Angela continued: "If the AMS directive allows for any derogation to the country of origin principle, a media service provider will never know until the day he launches a service which laws he will be subject to...Without this principle of mutual recognition based on home country control, media service providers will be subject to content control from outside their own jurisdiction.

"Any such derogation would be completely at odds with the notion of an internal market and must be rejected to safeguard the future viability of Europe's media services."

TVWF/AMS: Council adopts general approach and EP prepares for First Reading vote

Both the Culture Council and the EP's lead Culture Committee debated this directive in November, the Council coming up with its General Approach and the EP making recommendations for the First Reading vote in plenary in December. In brief, the key conclusions are listed below:

  • Country of Origin
    • Council: supports country of origin but with derogations that could undermine press freedom (see publishers' declaration below)
    • European Parliament: supports country of origin but with derogations that could undermine press freedom (see publishers' declaration below)
  • Scope
    • Council: narrowed to ‘TV-like services'
    • European Parliament: is seeking to subject providers of "on demand services" to only a minimum set of rules compared to more thorough regulation for linear (traditional TV) services
  • Product placement
    • Council: is largely prohibited, but individual Member States can make exceptions
    • European Parliament: is largely prohibited, with a few derogations
  • Advertising
    • Council: breaks are banned from short children's programming and limited to every 30 minutes in other programming European Parliament: advertising breaks in "films made for television, cinematographic works, concerts, theatre plays and operas" limited to "once for each period of 45 minutes" . Children's programming and news programmes to be interrupted for advertising only once for each period of 30 minutes - provided that such programmes exceed 30 minutes to begin with.
  • On regulation
    • Council and Parliament: agree that the provisions of the Directive should not disrupt or jeopardise current co- or self-regulatory initiatives which are already in place within Member States and which are working effectively.

Publishers call on MEPs to protect press freedom in forthcoming Rome II debate

As the European Parliament prepares for its Second Reading on Rome II (debates tabled for 13 December during plenary), the EPC and other publishing groups are calling on MEPs to accept the complete exclusion of violation of privacy, rights or personality from the scope as per the Commission's Common Position that was adopted in September this year. EP Rapporteur Diana Wallis, MEP, has re-tabled her amendment that was adopted at first reading but rejected by the Commission at Common Position stage. This amendment called for the "Country of destination" principle to be applied, that is the country where the media is principally directed. This was acceptable to the media but exclusion is preferred to any solution other than one based on country of origin principles.

Publishers are calling on the European Parliament to:

  • Accept the exclusion of violation of privacy/rights of personality from the scope of Rome II
  • Reject the specific mention of defamation and personality rights in the review clause
  • Reintroduce a reference to compatibility with other EU legislation (notably internal market instruments)

Publishers' arguments:

  • The Commission has cited Article 65 of the EC Treaty as the legal base for this regulation which means that any measures must be justified according to cross-border implications and to issues relating to the proper functioning of the Internal Market. The Commission itself has admitted that there is an insufficient number of cross-border cases in the area of privacy/defamation to justify any action.
  • Press freedom would be under threat if any further compromise to the EP amendment relating to country of destination of the media - already the minimum protection acceptable - were made. The media cannot be subject to the liability and sanctions of 25 different legal systems just in case their articles are accessed outside the country or countries of their principle audiences/readers.
  • Academics and legal practitioners in this field have concluded that case law should be allowed to develop in the rare cases of cross-border disputes.

Commissioner Reding joins Europe's publishers at media roundtable, 7 December

Commissioner Viviane Reding will join all the main representatives of Europe's publishing organisations in Brussels on 7 December to thrash out key media policy issues that will have a significant impact on the media industry, including the controversial Audiovisual Media Services (TVWF) directive, copyright, press freedoms, advertising restrictions and VAT. The groups represent newspaper, magazine, book, journal, online and database publishers. The publishing organisations are hoping to secure the support of Commissioner Reding for specific measures that will encourage a thriving information society and that will protect the fundamental freedom of the press, currently under threat in several draft regulations/directives.

The publishing organisations will ask Mrs Reding for her views in several areas including:

  • On AMS (European Parliament due to vote in December Plenary, First Reading):
    "Would the Commissioner agree that allowing one member state to decide whether another country's audiovisual media, or the advertising which supports its production, meets their own version of "general public interest" or their national interpretation of what is offensive...will stifle the freedom of expression? Is there any room for derogation from the principle of the country of origin?"
  • On Content Online (current work on content online directive):
    "In view of the revision of the copyright framework at EU level, what can be done to ensure that publishers' businesses and investments will not be challenged by the introduction of new or broader exceptions to copyright and increasing piracy on their content?"
  • On VAT (future revision of VAT directive):
    "Would the Commissioner be open to analyse further the need for publishers to benefit from lower VAT rate for online content whilst ensuring that zero, super reduced and reduced VAT rate on printed products is not questioned?"
  • On Press Freedom (ROME II. Brussels I; AMS):
    "Press freedom is put under pressure when new EU initiatives do not sufficiently affect this fundamental right. How could the Commission prevent such a risk of interference?"
  • On Advertising (AMS/TVWF):
    "How can further legal bans and restrictions be avoided? What can be done to ensure the separation of advertising and editorial content and to ensure fair competition between all players in the digital world, including search engines and ISPs?"

Following on from a successful Publishers Forum last year, the publishers are expecting a fruitful dialogue and some firm decisions that will be reflected in current and future policy decisions. The organisers: European Association of Directory and Database Publishers (EADP) European Newspaper Publishers Association (ENPA) European Publishers Council (EPC) European Federation of Magazine Publishers (FAEP) Federation of European Publishers (FEP).

Information society

Political correctness threatening press freedom, says EPC Chairman

Speaking at the European Media Leaders summit in London on 13 November, European Publishers Council (EPC) Chairman, and Francisco Pinto Balsemão warned that political correctness was threatening freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the future competitiveness of Europe's media.

On the day that the European Parliament and Europe's Ministers made key decisions on the future direction of the TV Without Frontiers Directive, Mr Balsemão warned politicians not to destabilise the very basis of free circulation of Europe's TV channels by destroying the country of origin principle. "Allowing one member state to decide whether another country's TV channels meet their own version of general public interest or interpretation of what is offensive to religious or political beliefs, or racially or sexually discriminating will stifle freedom of expression".

Controversial moves to extend the scope of the regulation to new media services on the internet and mobile platforms, as proposed and supported by MEPs and some Member States, could cripple the future dynamics of the whole media industry. He said, "When we hear politicians or regulators talking about controls on what we upload to the web we become very uncomfortable... No programme or newspaper editor wants to break the law or be publicly embarrassed for overstepping the mark. But what he will fight to reject, is the imposition of new laws that control what he can and cannot say or indeed that require him to publish particular material as the licences and laws covering broadcast TV now do, including European programme production quotas."

At the same time, the EPC's chairman warned of the repeated threat to advertising, used, he said, to take the blame for society's wrongs; blame for obesity and alcohol abuse, for example. "This is an era of Political Correctness... when those who run the State seem to feel that they should tell people what to eat and drink and, even, what people should be allowed to say and that they have a right to intercede in decisions and behaviour that should properly be the domain of the individual." He made the point that shooting the messenger that finances the media would lead to fewer publications, less quality programming and less investment in innovation.

The UK's commercial TV channel ITV has already said that if children's advertising is compromised, it may pull out of children's programming entirely.

Mr Balsemão concluded: "It is the role of the Media to stimulate, to challenge, to create new ideas, new futures but to do so, of course, with responsibility. It is the duty of the regulator to approach any needs or problems they observe with consummate care, to take hold of the tiller with a light and sensitive touch. You cannot steer by political belief or political correctness. You must steer towards a horizon where the view will become clearer once the rain has gone."

Commission calls on Members States to step up fight against spam

The Commission has called on all regulatory authorities and stakeholders in Europe to step up the fight against spam, spyware and malicious software. Despite existing EU legislation to outlaw spam in Europe, Europe continues to suffer from illegal online activities from inside the EU and from third countries, the Commission underlines in a new Communication. The Communication stresses that although internet safety is on the political agenda for some time, national authorities should step up their actions to prosecute illegal online activities.

The Communication can be found at: http://europa.eu.int.

EU plans 9 billion euro investment in communication technologies

The EU plans to invest over €9 billion in research on information and communications technologies (ICTs). This is, by far, the largest single budget item in Europe's 7th research framework programme that will run until 2013 - a priority set by the EU, acknowledging the importance of ICTs for Europe's growth and competitiveness. To discuss the new research framework programme and the strategic priorities for fundamental and applied ICT research for the future, nearly 3500 members of the research community gathered from 21 to 23 November in Helsinki for the "Information Society Technology 2006" conference and exhibition.

Reding calls for telecoms regulator

Commissioner Reding has repeated her call for an EU regulatory authority for telecommunications to supplement the 25 national authorities.

Speaking to the European Competitive Telecommunications Association conference in November, Reding repeated her proposal concerning a European-level regulatory authority for telecommunications, modeled on the European Central Bank.

EU provides worldwide model for internet safety

An EU programme to tackle illegal and harmful content on the internet has been so successful that it is being used as a model by other regions of the world.

The Safer Internet programme, which has been independently commended, is now being used as a model in how to tackle harmful online content whilst respecting freedom of expression in countries outside the EU including Asia-Pacific region and in Northern and Latin America.

'We have come a long way and very quickly,' said Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media. 'For many years the Safer Internet programme has been successfully promoting safer use of internet and other online technologies, particularly by children, and fighting illegal and harmful content ranging from child pornography to racism. The Commission has also encouraged industry to be more proactive in dealing with child safety.'


Commissioner will not challenge authors' rights

Speaking to MEPs in November, EU internal market Commissioner McCreevy conceded that rights holders suffering harm as a result of private copying should be remunerated. However, he still questioned whether consumers were getting a fair deal when they pay extra for technical gadgets.


Council debates alcohol-related harm

Meeting 30 November - 1 December in Brussels, the Employment, Social Policy and Health Council will be working on its political agreement on a draft decision on a second programme in the field of health (public deliberation). It will adopt conclusions on health in all policies (public debate) and on the EU strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm (public debate).

The Council will hold exchanges of views on the international health regulations and on the follow-up to the high level reflection process on patient mobility and healthcare developments in the EU (public debates).


Ban on junk food advertising threatens children's broadcasting in the UK

Media agencies have apparently begun planning to withdraw millions of pounds worth of junk food advertising and sponsorship from TV shows in the UK following proposed new rules by UK regulator Ofcom. It is estimated that at least £39 million a year will be wiped off TV ad revenues.

Ofcom has announced that it will no only ban advertising of junk food within dedicated children's programming, as expected, but will extend the ban to all shows with a high under-16 audience.

Self-regulation not enough to combat obesity, says Commissioner

Heath Commissioner Markos Kyprianou has stated that self-regulation governing advertising to children and labelling of foods does not go far enough to promote health and prevent obesity in the EU. He was speaking following the pan-European conference on obesity that took place on 15-17 November in Istanbul.

The Commission is concerned that serious legislative measures will have to be adopted to tackle the problem. 27% of men, 38% of women are obese and 400,000 children a year are becoming obese in the EU.

The Istanbul conference saw 48 countries sign up to the European Charter to fight obesity, with the objective of reversing the trend by 2015, with a particular focus on children and teenagers.

People in Luxembourg, Denmark and Ireland are gaining weight at the fastest rate in the EU, according to a survey conducted for the European Commission.

Published on Thursday (9 November), last year's research shows that Luxembourgers put on an average of 2.7kg since 2002, the Danes 1.7kg and the Irish 1.6kg.

German parliament votes for tobacco ad ban

The lower house of the German parliament has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a ban on tobacco advertising that would bring Berlin in line with European Union directives.

Under the bill, cigarette manufacturers will still be able to advertise on billboards and on cinema screens after 7:00 pm.

Parliament supports restrictions on junk food advertising

The European Parliament's Environment Committee voted this week on the Green Paper ‘Promoting Healthy Diets and Physical Activity'.

Although MEPs have recognised that ‘obesity is multi-factorial and as such requires a holistic approach involving many different policy areas' many detrimental amendments to the freedom to advertise have been accepted by the Committee.

MEPs have condemned ‘the frequency and the intensity of television campaigns designed to advertise and promote foodstuffs targeted exclusively at children' and calls for ‘EU-wide controls to restrict TV advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and salt to children' arguing that ‘there is strong evidence that TV advertising influences short-term consumption patterns of children aged between 2 and 11 years'.

MEPs agreed that should the EU Platform on Physical Activity, Diet and Health should focus on industry commitments to end the promotion of foods high in fat, sugar and salt to children. Should these measures be unsuccessful the Parliament urges the Commission to propose binding legislation.

In addition, MEPs have pointed out that ‘new forms of advertising to children such as text messaging to mobile phones, on-line games and sponsorships of playgrounds should not be exempt from such consideration'.

The European Parliament requested the Commission ‘to conduct impact assessments on relevant policy proposals to determine their impact on public health, obesity and nutrition goals'.


Commission proposes extending VAT directive to electronic services

The European Commission proposes to extend the period of application of the "e-commerce VAT" Directive to 31 December 2008. In May 2006, the Commission already proposed an extension till end 2008. However, the Council of Ministers decided last June to limit the extension till the end of 2006. The objective of this proposal remains the same as the earlier extension proposal (see IP/06/621). Without this extension, the rules for services supplied by electronic means as well as to radio and television broadcasting services would revert to those prevailing prior to the changes introduced by the Directive. Further information on current legislation on VAT applied to electronically delivered services is available on the following website: http://europa.eu.int.

French finance minister calls for reduced rate for online press

French economic affairs and finance minister Thierry Breton has presented a proposal to his colleagues in the ECOFIN Council aiming to authorise member states to apply a reduced rate of VAT to the online press (papers and periodicals). These rates cannot currently be below the minimum VAT rate of 15% set in the Sixth VAT Directive (only traditional' papers are eligible for reduced rates).

He argued that the development of the online press was being held back at a time when the written press needed to adapt to the ongoing digital revolution. He proposed that the Council include this derogation to Annex H of Directive 77/388/CE.

Consumer protection

New Commissioner for Consumer Protection

Speaking to the European Parliament the Consumer Protection Commissioner designate, Bulgaria's Meglena Kuneva, announced that she plans to make her future portfolio "more visible".

"I will be taking decisions on the basis of an open dialogue with Members of the European Parliament and with other interested parties," such as consumer groups, she announced at her hearing before the European Parliament on 27 November. For Kuneva, consumer protection, which for the first time is being treated under a separate portfolio, has a separate legal basis. "I will make use of this," she promised. The commissioner designate plans to ensure continuity in her action with the work already achieved by Markos Kyprianou, who keeps the health and food safety portfolio. They will implement a "common strategy" against tobacco and alcohol abuse.

Her responsibility will focus on reform of the Community acquis governing consumer protection in the EU. A Green Paper that will kick off a public consultation on this subject is due out on 12th December.

The review of the Consumer Protection Acquis covers eight directives aiming at protecting consumers. The Green Paper is said to list three possible option to approach the review of the consumer acquis: the horizontal approach (consolidating issues which are common to all directives in a horizontal directive whilst being complemented by certain number of vertical actions whenever needed), the vertical approach (the existing directives would be amended separately), and thirdly no legislative action.

Commissioner Kuneva also intends "to identify certain areas" where "maximum harmonisation" should be applied. "All identified shortcomings could be remedied through an initiative," she explained, mentioning the digital environment and online. "The idea is not to have a levelling-down, but a similar culture in Europe of compliance with internal market standards," replied Kuneva. (whatever this will mean - it cannot be good).

"Total harmonisation is desirable where it is possible, in very targeted areas," she continued. She mentioned the success of the Directive on unfair commercial practices.

For more information please contact:
EPC Executive Director Angela Mills Wade on Tel: +44 1865 310 732 or EPC Press Officer Heidi Lambert on Tel: +44 1245 476 265

Please note that anyone not receiving regular updates on the TVWF/AMS directive who would like to, should contact Heidi at the email above.