Public sector broadcasters will have to prove they are not distorting the media market before launching mobile phone or internet services, according to revamped EU rules on broadcasting unveiled by the European Commission yesterday (2 July).
The EU executive will now insist that new media ventures funded by state broadcasters are subject to an “ex-ante test” to examine whether the service strikes a fair balance between competition in the marketplace and the social and cultural needs catered to by public media outlets.
However, it will be left to each EU member state to work out precisely how the test will operate. Similar tests have already been used in Germany, the UK and the Belgian Flemish governments, and Ireland is set to introduce one shortly.
In the UK, for example, the BBC Trust assesses the public value of new media ventures while Ofcom, the media regulator, measures the impact on the market.
The revised rules are built on principles laid down in 2001 but have been updated to take account of new media and in response to claims by private sector media firms that public broadcasters were using public money to encroach on their turf. State broadcasters have consistently held that new media are fair game, just as expanding from radio to colour television was once seen as the next frontier.
A spokesperson for the European Commission said transparency would be at the core of the new rules and that independent national bodies will be required to ensure full accountability. Financial transparency will be essential in order “to verify there is no excessive cross-subsidisation” of services with public money, the Commission said.
Further battles ahead
The new rules are the result of a lengthy battle between the EU, member states, and lobbyists for the public and private sectors.
The next battle will be over how the ex-ante tests will be applied. Private sector media groups will seek a significant role for external bodies in weighing the public value against market impact.
The Commission has said that interested stakeholders should have an opportunity to participate in a consultation process as part of the ex-ante test, but there are concerns that this could hold up innovation in the public media sector.