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Europe tightens broadcasting rules

Public service operators forced to show their hand

European pubcasters are unhappy with a rule that means new or significantly modified services must be evaluated in advance against criteria set in Brussels.

The rule is part of revised regulations on state-subsidized public service broadcasting finalized Thursday by the European Commission. Each year European pubcasters pull in €22 billion ($31 billion) in public coin.

The evaluation is intended to ensure that new services comply with the broadcaster’s overall public service mission, and that any impact on the market is balanced by public gain.

European Broadcasting Union topper Jean-Paul Philippot argued that it would have been better to leave the choice of mechanism to national governments, which can respond to local social and cultural needs.

“There is a real risk that the unique, dynamic function of public service media will be endangered by unduly restrictive regulation,” he said, calling on governments and the commission to implement the rule flexibly.

The regulations, updating a law from 2001, are intended to allow governments to subsidize cutting-edge pubcasting without treading on the toes of commercial operators.

“Public broadcasters will be able to take advantage of the development of digital technology and Internet-based services to offer high-quality services on all platforms, without unduly distorting competition at the expense of other media operators,” said competition commissioner Neelie Kroes.

The Assn. of Commercial Television in Europe and others in the private sector are happy with the outcome. The advance evaluation of new services is a milestone, said Angela Mills Wade of the European Publishers Council, since these launches “can play havoc with our online and mobile services.”

“It will help to clarify issues beforehand and might lead to fewer actions being taken to Brussels,” added Tobias Schmid, veep of the German Assn. of Commercial Broadcasters and Audiovisual Services.

The regulations also offer pubcasters clearer rules on pay services, new controls on cross-subsidy and greater financial flexibility when it comes to retaining funds.

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