EP backs careful revision of ‘TV without frontiers’

Parliament has proposed only minor changes to the Television without Frontiers (TVWF) directive, in a report on promoting works made in Europe and by independent producers.

The Parliament’s report notes that:

  • over the reference period analysed in the Commission’s report, the proportion of independent productions has declined by 3.48% over four years;
  • independent audits have shown that discrepancies among methods of implementing and interpreting the provisions of TVWF make it impossible to give an accurate picture of the situation;
  • there is an urgent need to analyse figures from the EU-15;
  • central terms of Articles 4 and 5 like “European content” and “independent producer” still aren’t unambiguously defined. 

Other than that, the Parliament had very little criticism of the Commission communication, which may be interpreted as a signal that Parliament might oppose any attempts at major changes when it comes to revising the TVWF directive later this year. 

There have been rumours of an all-around redrafting of the Directive being in the making, including among other things the inclusion of internet-based TV. Commissioner Barrot, replacing Commissioner Reding in the 6 September 2005 Parliament session, becalmed MEPs, saying the Commission wanted nothing more than to adjust existing rules to structural changes, without changing principles underlying the present TVWF directive. 

Rapporteur Henri Weber said that the Commission should maintain at least the present minimum standards for independent and European productions when revising the TVWF directive. Mr. Weber asked for measures to prevent broadcasting from becoming entirely commercial and for minimum requirements for plurality. 

PPE MEP Luis Herrero-Tejedor said the freedom to choose from a multitude of TV channels was part of the freedom of expression. He said TVWF should protect the media from having to follow arbitrary whims of the government in power at a certain time. 

Liberal MEP Claire Gibault said TV was crucial in European construction, because it creates obvious links between European cultures. 

Green MEP Helga Trüpel  said Media concentration has increased in a frightening way - the EU should step forward to defend plurality.

Left-wing (GUE/NGL) MEP Dimitrios Papadimoulis said media concentration had reached a major level, which was bad for plurality. He said a particularly fierce implementation of the EU's anti-trust policy was needed to fight this threat off. 

Eurosceptic MEP Vladimír Železný called TVWF a "ridiculous attempt to expel American culture from Europe".

The TVWF directive was adopted in 1989 by the Council and amended on 30 June 1997 by the Parliament and the Council with a view to boosting the development of a European market in broadcasting and related activities, such as television advertising and the production of audiovisual programmes. Since the Directive's adoption, the number of TV channels in the EU has multiplied by a factor of 50 to the current figure of around 2,500. 

The increase was a result mainly of the growth of the private-owned television channels. Since many of these channels buy their content mostly from a global market for TV entertainment productions, this tendency raises questions namely on the application of articles 4 and 5 of the directive, which deal with the promotion of European productions and of productions by independent producers. According to Article 5, broadcasters must reserve a minimum of either 10% of their transmission time or 10% of their programming budget for European works from independent producers. 

DG Information Society is constantly monitoring the application of those two articles of the directive. Since 1994, the Commission has produced six reports outlining developments in this field. The last such report marked TVWF as a success story, in particular concerning the promotion of European content: Two thirds of the EU-15 broadcaster's transmission time is devoted to works made in Europe. Slightly more than one third was devoted to independent producers' works. 

One result of the report is, however, that 2002 was the first year in which no progress was made on either of these indicators; on the contrary there has been a slight decrease in the number of independent and European productions broadcast. 

The Parliament's culture and education committee has launched an own-initiative report on the Commission's report. Henri Weber (PSE, France) was named as the rapporteur. 

  • In parallel, the Commission has held a public consultation on the revision of the TVWF directive. One of the issues papers concerns "Cultural Diversity and Promotion of European and Independent Audiovisual Production". The deadline for the consultation was September 5; results will be published on the Commission's website anytime soon. 
  • The UK Presidency and the European Commission will be hosting an audiovisual conference from 20 to 22 September 2005 in Liverpool. The aim of the conference will be to facilitate expert discussions of the revision of the Television without Frontiers (TVWF) Directive, with a view to providing recommendations for the legislative proposal which the European Commission plans to produce. 
  • By the end of 2005, the Commission should come forward with a proposal for a second revision of the TVWF directive

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