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The Green Paper on the Convergence of Telecommunications, Audiovisual and Publishing industries will address the regulatory implications of convergence for publishers.


The current legal framework for publishers


At present, there is no legalisation that specifically applies to publishers at national or EU level unlike in the broadcasting sector where a legal framework has evolved. Nevertheless, on a day to day basis, newspaper and magazine editors will spend a large part of their time checking the content of their papers before it is sent to press to ensure that the content of their newspapers (editorial and advertising) complies with the law. Data Protection legislation controls how publishers collect, process and ultimately publish material about individuals and competition law prevents abuse of a dominant position of any publisher. But there are no constraints in terms of setting up as a publisher such as those which exist for broadcasters in terms of licensing. 


Because of the special role of the press in terms of democracy and the freedom of expression, the starting point has always been quite different when talking about legal frameworks. The whole structure has been designed to foster maximum freedom of speech and minimum interference from the authorities apart from the requirement that what is published is lawful. There has been no need to control the establishment of publishing businesses (at least in democratic countries) whereas access to television channels has necessarily been controlled because of past scarcity of outlets and the immediate access of broadcasters to large audiences. 


At this moment of profound change to traditional mass media markets publishers find themselves at the centre of discussions on a regulatory framework that will affect them as much as broadcasters, telecommunications companies and new service providers.


Special rules on media concentration versus competition policy


With dramatic increases in Internet use and the start of digital television the regulatory framework must evolve to recognise the natural shift away from the historical need for centralised regulatory controls which were necessary in days of spectrum scarcity and move towards helping the consumers find new ways to control what they receive in the home. Plurality will be guaranteed by the unprecedented increases in media sources and content. 


As well as examining the regulatory implications for a converged communications, entertainment and information market, the Commission is also considering the need for separate rules for broadcasters (TV and radio) and publishers governing media concentration. The EPC's submissions on media concentration have always tried to put our views into the context of the market, and the changes to that market, in which publishers compete on a day to day basis. Already since the Commission's Green Paper on Media Concentration was first published in December 1993, many of the changes that were then only predicted have become a reality. The forthcoming Green Paper on Convergence offers a timely opportunity to take a much needed, broader view.


What kind of legal framework is needed in Europe for a converged communications, information and entertainment market?


With the advent of digital technologies, particularly the introduction of digital television, European consumers will be able to receive hundreds of different information and entertainment services from all over the world. Many of these new services will be interactive, changing the face of media as we know it today. The convergence of traditional media companies with new players, new types of electronic services and new forms of delivery will lead to lowered barriers to entry and increased consumer choice. Any changes to the existing legal framework must result in simple and effective rules to regulate a highly competitive business environment.


The Role of Competition Policy


A converged multimedia market, with a glut of choice, reduces the need for regulators artificially to promote plurality through media-specific legislation. As pictures travel along telephone wires and television sets are routinely fitted with modems to supply Internet services, a new, more generalised approach to regulation based on competition policy will more appropriate. We recognise that both the telecommunications and media sectors are prone to concentration as successful companies attract more customers and profitable companies attract offers of take-over, merger or joint venture. In such a competitive business environment we welcome vigilant antitrust regulation. Many concentrative joint ventures involving media companies already fall within the Commission's competence and the EPC has always supported the Commission's moves to reduce the thresholds and simplify procedures under the EU Merger Regulation.


The Role of Self-regulation in Controlling Content


Self-regulation by content providers will play a major part in content control in the future as global networks proliferate. Voluntary rating systems, together with technical means of protecting and filtering content, will be important contributions to content control. Regulators face new challenges in terms of consumer protection such as ensuring confidentiality of data where electronic networks are used for ordering goods or services, for electronic payments and private communications. Consumer protection will be aided by technology, combined with best practice to provide users with secure systems for their transactions and the protection of their privacy.


The emphasis in terms of control will naturally shift away from the output to the end use. Because there will be so many outlets of information and entertainment it will become increasingly impossible to control so users will have to learn to use technology to help them become more responsible for what they access rather than relying on centralised content control. This is true in terms of how consumers use copyright-protected material as well as for the handling of illegal content such as pornography.

Control at the country of origin of new services

Increases in the number of distribution channels - both in terms of broadcasting and the new on-line services, will lead to massive diversity and choice for Europe's consumers. The legislators could look to the model of traditional publishing in the newly converged digital world. The EPC suggests that, instead of controlling and restricting ownership and/or access to distribution channels and establishing stringent content regulations, it might be more efficient to set down requirements on the new "communicators to the public" simply that their content must not be illegal as defined by their country of origin. With all the technical systems of identification and possibilities for voluntary rating of material consumers will be able to filter out what they don't want. Following the principles laid down in the Treaty, so long as the material has been legally made available to the public in the country of origin, consumers should have access to it from anywhere in the EU. 


The European Publishers Council

23 June 2023