EUROPEAN UNION: TELEVISION POLICY

The European Union (EU) is a unique form of international organization created by treaty but exhibiting characteristics of an embryonic federation. It is based on amendments to the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) Treaty of 1951 (Treaty of Paris), the European Economic Community (EEC) Treaty of 1957 ( first Treaty of Rome), and the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) Treaty of 1957. The name EU derives from the Treaty on European Union (TEU) of 1992, better known as the Maastricht Treaty. For this purpose, the EU may be considered synonymous with the former terms EEC and EC (European Community). Since 1995, the EU includes fifteen members: France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Austria, Sweden, and Finland.

Among the most important purposes of the original EEC Treaty were the creation of a Common Market and an increase in economic integration among the Member States. Economic integration was intended both to promote economic prosperity and aid in the prevention of further conflicts such as occurred in World War II. Television policy in the EU reflects the underlying purpose of promoting European integration and abolishing national barriers to the free movements of goods and services within the Common Market. By decision of the European Court of Justice in Sacchi (1974), a television signal is considered a provision of services under Articles 59 and 60 of the Treaty of Rome, and national barriers to cross-frontier broadcasting or the establishment of broadcasters from one Member State in another are intended to be abolished in most circumstances.

The EU's single most important initiative in television policy is the establishment of a single EU market in television, the so-called "Television Without Frontiers" [TWF] Directive. A directive requires Member States to conform or harmonize their national legislation to standards or criteria laid down in the text of the directive. The TWF Directive, enacted by the Council of the EC in 1989, had the purposes of securing access for viewers and listeners in all Member States to broadcasting signals emanating from any other Member State and the harmonization of EU broadcast advertising standards. The European Parliament's Hahn Report on Radio and Television Broadcasting in the EC (1982) laid the groundwork for the formal TWF Directive a few years later. The Hahn Report advocated establishment of a unified European television channel and saw satellite television technology leading to a reorganization of the media in Europe and breaking down of the boundaries of national television networks.

The TWF Directive (1989) lays down minimum standards that, if met by any television program, allow it to freely circulate within the EU without restriction, provided that it complies with the legislation of the country of origin. The directive contains chapters devoted to promotion of television program production and distribution, protection of minors, television advertising and sponsorship, and right of reply. Advertising that promotes discrimination on grounds of race, sex, or nationality; is offensive to religious beliefs; or which encourages behavior prejudicial to health, safety, or the protection of the environment is prohibited or restricted. For example, advertising of alcoholic beverages is restricted, but advertising of tobacco products is totally prohibited. A right of reply is accorded to any person or organization whose legitimate interests have been damaged by an incorrect assertion of fact in a television program.

The TWF Directive also lays down two other policies which have an effect similar to the establishment of quotas on broadcasting in the EU. First, the Directive requires Member States to ensure "where practicable" and by "appropriate means" that broadcasters reserve for "European works" a majority of their transmission time, exclusive of news, sports events, games, advertising, and teletext services. This is intended to protect 50% or more of transmission time so defined from foreign (non-EU) competition. The second quota, designed to stimulate the production of European drama work, requires broadcasters to reserve 10% or more of their transmission time (as above) or alternatively, 10% of their programming budget, for European works created by producers who are "independent of broadcasters" (TWF Directive, Art. 5).

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, concern developed in Europe that a single market in television was an economic threat to national broadcasting markets and national media, as well as a threat to cultural and linguistic diversity in Europe. The threat is seen to derive from English language services and productions-originating from the United States, not England--in that only the United States is considered to have film and television industries organized on a scale large enough to take advantage of the single market. Indeed, one report indicates that the European market is largely dominated by United States productions in a proportion of 12:1. However, less than 50% of total transmission time on most European channels is accounted for by American programming.

 

Concern at the European level for the protection and aid of European programming has lead to audiovisual industry subsidy programs, such as the European Commission's MEDIA, MEDIA II, Action Plan for Advanced Television programs, and the Council of Europe's Eurimages fund. These are collectively intended to support and stimulate independent production and distribution networks for European works which are currently considered noncompetitive with U.S. programming imports.

European Union television policy thus simultaneously pursues the economic objective of creating a Single Market in broadcasting along with the fostering of cultural pluralism and protection of existing national and subnational broadcasting markets and institutions. The "Television Without Frontiers" approach, rooted in the fundamental purpose of the EU, has so far had more impact than other protectionist policies. However, there are sharp differences between Member States which could ultimately lead to less economic integration and more cultural and economic protectionism. In 1995, the TWF Directive was the subject of debate at the European Commission level concerning possible revision, but consideration of any amendments will be forthcoming.

-Clifford A. Jones

FURTHER READING

Cave, Martin. Meeting Universal Service Obligations In A Competitive Telecommunications Sector. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 1994.

Collins, Richard. "Unity in Diversity? The European Single Market in Broadcasting and the Audiovisual, 1982-92," Journal of Common Market Studies (Oxford, England), 1994.

Commission of the European Communities, Report By The Think-Tank On The Audiovisual Policy In The European Union. Luxembourg: OOPEC, 1994.

European Parliament, "Report on radio and television broadcasting in the European Community." Luxembourg: OOPEC, 1982.

Salvatore, Vicenzo. "Quotas On TV Programmes And EEC Law." Common Market Law Review (London), 1992.

Schwartz, Ivo E. "Broadcasting and the EEC Treaty." European Law Review (Andover, England), 1986.

Silj, Alessandro, with Manuel Alvarado. East of Dallas: The European Challenge to American Television. London: British Film Institute, 1988.

Wallace, Rebecca, and David Goldberg. "Television Broadcasting: The Community's Response." Common Market Law Review (London), 1989.