Conference report

28.05.2015 16:56
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The conference, co-funded by the European Commission, was organised jointly by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Latvia and the national regulatory authority for audiovisual media services, the National Electronic Media Council, within the framework of the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. It took as its reference points, the issues highlighted by the European Commission’s Green Paper “Preparing for a Fully Converged Audiovisual World: Growth, Creation and Values” and was intended to provide input from all the stakeholders to the current evaluation (REFIT) process of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD). The main ideas, issues raised and suggestions made during the conference sessions are noted below.

Plenary session I Part 1: Regulatory framework – the scope of the AVMS Directive

There are many ways to access audiovisual content. There have been a great number of developments since the AVMS Directive was adopted – globalization of players; technological convergence leading to new means of audiovisual content; new actors in the market; new business models, new advertising techniques, the connected world and multi-screen use; there is fast internet access, individual choice of what to watch and more content; the financial and public funding crises have played their roles; advertising revenue is moving to new players and there are various questions regarding taxation of the major new players. The question is not which providers but what services should be subject to the Directive.

Care must be taken regarding several aspects when reviewing the Directive: technological neutrality; small players; regulators (to ensure that they are able to apply the rules); internal market issues (self-regulation). Video on demand services is a growing field. Individualized streaming channels on demand do not necessarily always meet the criteria of mass media. Borders are melting and it is very difficult to make distinctions.

The two most important questions when talking about the scope of the Directive are: 1) Dominance and the presence of editorial responsibility and to whom should it be attributed? 2) Does it include only those service providers who are located within the EU or also those established outside but who want to be watched and consumed inside the EU?

Plenary session I – Part 2: The country of origin principle for audiovisual media services

Although the country of origin principle should be regarded as a core principle of the AVMSD, it is naive to believe that this principle works very well. Main problems – jurisdiction shopping (companies choose to establish themselves in the Member States with the most advantageous conditions); the lack of effective monitoring by the regulatory authorities and the slow process of cooperation between them (sometimes too late, particularly in emergency situations) because of the long procedures established by the AVMSD; non-EU audiovisual media services registered in one EU jurisdiction and targeting the audiences of other Member States with content that is deemed unacceptable by the receiving state and by the AVMSD such as incitement to hatred on the grounds of nationality.

The AVMS Directive has some deficiencies and it is necessary to develop it especially regarding the country of origin principle. It is necessary to define and develop specific exceptions to this principle to prevent the abuse of weaknesses of the AVMS Directive, especially by non-EU audiovisual media services. The problem is not the principle itself, but the exceptions not defined by the legislator; the exceptions should be defined in a more precise way.

Careful analysis should be done on the problem in the Baltic States to see if it can be solved by amending the AVMSD or in some other way. In the Baltic case there are political and cultural issues alongside the need to maintain pluralism. It was noted that it is possible to influence the democratic process in Member States if there is an intention to do so. In order to have more quality information in the Russian language audiovisual media, the quality of Member States’ broadcasters should be improved. In the mid and long term, quality journalism will bring more than propaganda.

It is essential to stand up for freedom of expression even it is controversial in some circumstances.

Working group I: Independence of regulators

Pressure on audiovisual media services regulators from both stakeholders and government has increased in the last years in the EU, but the situation in the new Member States is especially complicated. The accountability of regulators is also an essential aspect, to the parliament, which has to be implemented into practice on an appropriate way to ensure independence of regulators at the same time. Participants of working group agreed that European Commission plays and must play crucial role for the independence of regulators.

The definition of independence of regulators from the stakeholders and from the government must be included in a revised AVMS Directive and there definitely must also be reference to the need for regulators’ financial autonomy.

Working group II: Technical compatibility – one European standard?

Regulatory and standards interaction is yet to be finalized. The number of earlier examples shows too much involvement of regulators in technology issues – MHP, DRM, DVB-H, HbbTV et al. Interoperability sometimes can have and indeed does take priority over standardization, especially in small markets. One of the general challenges is posed by devices empowering HbbTV services and their usability across borders and service providers. A number of new informal consortia for interoperability and technical development have merged for example, FAME – the Forum for Advanced Media in Europe.

Working Group III: Access and findability

The question of findability of content of public interest requires a complex solution. This findability need to be ensured amidst the huge content offer available to TV viewers who use different platforms for finding this content.

Must-carry obligations are no longer adequate in this context. In addition, they only apply to cable services and not to IPTV and OTT, satellite and other distribution technologies.

There is a need to ensure technology and net neutrality to provide operators with equal rights and obligations.

Commercial TV has found various ways and technical solutions for making its content findable. Various applications have been devised to assist in finding specific content.

States themselves need to have the right to determine how to ensure findability, to elaborate rules for programme guides so that content of public importance appears at the beginning of the offer.

Plenary Session II – Part 1: Ensuring plurality and values in a converged media environment: Monitoring of national-level freedom and pluralism of the media

National monitoring at the EU level is needed to ensure media plurality, access (including the must-carry principle), findability and diversity of content. There is a need to develop monitoring that contributes to a more holistic approach at different levels of the common legal framework – the normative perspective. However, account also needs to be taken of the importance of effective media self-regulation (professional codes, company editorial guidelines) as opposed to monitoring and repressive methods. It is important to develop additional tools e.g. for social media verification, which has implications for the democratic role of the digital media, user rights and public information policy, and a cross-platform metric. There should be standard setting for media freedom across the EU.

Other suggestions included transparency of media ownership, innovative media accountability instruments for different media systems and a common mechanism (regulation) to prevent excessive concentration.

There should be plurality tests and tools for media users and journalists for the determination of media reliability (reputation and history of the media) in order to avoid mistakes when picking up news. There could be a European citizens’ initiative to promote media pluralism (surveys, petitions). EU wide independent academic research and analysis of the media field are important for media freedom and pluralism and should be supported more both by the Member States and the European Commission.

Plenary session II – Part 2: Convergence – is graduated regulation still appropriate?

The final session looked at the place of new technologies and audiovisual services in the market, the opportunities they provide and the weak points.

All recognised the lack of regulation in the non-linear segment, but there is no united opinion on the regulation required. Non-linear services are not substitutes for linear services; they exist alongside them and compete with them. This means that the regulation of both should be brought closer, but how? Being aware of the limitless technological possibilities of non-linear services and the potential for their development in the future, it is especially difficult to find the right answer. Several conclusions crystallised during the discussion. These should be worked on and used as the basis for further discussion: Content is king – basically, content should be regulated, not the technology (technological neutrality). Even if there is to be regulation of technologies / non-linear services, then in relation to the regulation of content, it must be introduced gradually. Non-linear regulation cannot be local, it has to be global.

Media literacy must be developed – this is very important especially for the protection of minors.

Self-regulation should be encouraged and the responsibilities of service providers to the consumer, clients, society, the state and European values should be set out more strongly.

We have to be aware and accept that not everything can be regulated and in order to avoid a chasm between linear and non-linear services, it is possible that the regulation of content may have to be softened. However, in doing so, we must not lose sight of the values the AVMS Directive and European society is based on.

Further information

Videos and presentations from the conference can be accessed here.

Download .pdf format here