Towards a Modern Framework for Audiovisual Content

6 September 2005 – AER SUBMISSION ON REVISION OF TVWF TO THE ISSUES PAPERS OF THE COMMISSION

The following document contains a number of AER submissions, dating from September 2005.

ISSUES PAPER FOR THE LIVERPOOL AUDIOVISUAL CONFERENCE
ISSUE PAPER 1
MATERIAL AND TERRITORIAL COMPETENCE

AER COMMENTS ON THE ISSUE PAPER ON “SCOPE”

The Association of European Radios (AER) is a Europe-wide trade-body of private and commercial radio broadcasters in France, Germany, Italy, the UK, Greece, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Romania. As such, AER represents the interests of over 4.500 radio operators, of all shapes and sizes, broadcasting to millions of listeners across Europe every day. In addition to radios represented by AER, it is estimated that there are around 8.000 private and commercial radios broadcasting across the EU 25 the large majority of which are still in the process of dealing both with the combined effects of liberalization and European Enlargement.

Main remarks

• AER notes that Issue Paper 1 states that “the inclusion of radio services as ‘audiovisual content services’ falling under the scope of the new Directive is also an option that was discussed during the focus group meetings”.

• Private and commercial radio broadcasting in Europe today is a hugely diverse industry. Radio stations come in all shapes and sizes – large national operators, regional and/or networked radio stations and many solely local. The large majority are SMEs broadcasting locally or regionally to often well-established and faithful audiences. The national / regional licensing frameworks in place reflect this diversity and are well suited to the specificities of radio broadcasting and to the cultural, technical, social and demographic realities in each of the 25 EU Member States.

• While suggesting the possibility of inclusion into the future Directive, the Issues Papers presented by the Commission, however, do not offer evidence or arguments as to what the benefits and advantages of inclusion might be for users, listeners or this industry.

• AER therefore sees no need to extend the Directive to other services and opposes the inclusion of radio into the future EU regulatory framework for audiovisual services.

Issues at stake

1. Lack of impact assessment of inclusion of radio into the future directive

Before suggesting that radio could be included into a revised TVWF as part of an “integrated approach to information society and audiovisual media policies in the EU”, AER believes that the European Commission must still consider appropriately the medium-to-long term implications of inclusion on the industry. A number of studies and impact assessments were commissioned by DG INFSO at various stages of the TVWF consultation process but none of them – to our knowledge – have focused or even included radio in their terms of reference. AER however recalls that in 2002/2003, DG MARKT initiated a study on radio sponsorship which came to the conclusion that radio sponsorship in Europe did not face any cross-border difficulties which might necessitate action at EU level. At this stage, AER therefore sees no reason or added-value for radio to be included into the future Directive.

2. Lack of convincing justification of inclusion of radio into the future directive

a. New technological developments

Despite technological developments of radio services such as satellite radio (both digital and analogue) or DAB digital radio, the reality today is that radio continues to be principally a national, regional and local service and mainly an analogue medium. The introduction of radio on the Internet or its presence on mobile telephones has not substantially changed the nature of radio or the public’s listening habits. For example, the percentage of Internet radio listeners outside a Member State for which the transmissions were primarily intended continues to remain marginal in comparison to those listening to terrestrial transmissions in their intended market.

With regard to digital radio broadcasting, the Commission Communication on Digital Switchover of May 2005 states that “although market and technological developments are considered to be very promising it is still too early to envisage the switch off of analogue terrestrial radio broadcasting in the immediate future. However, many market players intend that digital radio will ultimately replace conventional analogue broadcasting”.

AER agrees with the Commission that the radio landscape will change fundamentally in the next 5 to 10 years but the effects of today’s and tomorrow’s digital developments in Europe’s radio landscape are anything but clear. The migration to digital for radio is highly complex. Providing the appropriate regulatory frameworks and incentives for these developments to happen is a matter for national authorities. Anticipating, in terms of European regulatory frameworks, the development of successful national or even trans-frontier digital radio business models is – in our opinion – premature.

b. Radio remains highly regulated at national level

As stated in Issue Paper 1, if included, a basic tier of obligations would apply to all audiovisual content services as a means to safeguard certain public policy objectives.

Since radio services are licensed services, content on radio is tightly regulated at national / regional / local level with regard to formats, advertising as well as “minimum obligations” relating to protection of minors and human dignity, separation and identification of commercial content, right of reply and basic identification / masthead requirements. We are not aware of any EU Member State where this is not the case. In case of inclusion in the future Directive, European regulation in these areas (as in other areas of EU competence) will need to be “policed” otherwise there is no point of having it at all. This will thus increase the costs of regulation and the time spent in reporting compliance.

In the current situation, this will bring added-value neither to the listeners nor to the industry and, in AER’s view, is unnecessary.

c. Territorial competence

It has been suggested that the “territorial competence” aspect of the directive would provide “legal certainty” and “protection” to radio broadcasters and therefore justifies inclusion of radio.

AER strongly supports the “Country of Origin” principle as being the only – and increasingly crucial – viable principle for broadcasting services in the Internal Market and encourages the European Commission to enforce it in all EU legislation affecting broadcasting. However, we are not aware of any disadvantages this lack of “protection” or “legal certainty” has had for radio broadcasters in Europe (whether publicly or commercially funded), for their listeners or their advertisers.

This argument does not – in our view – currently justify inclusion of the radio industry into the scope of the Directive.

AER COMMENTS ON THE ISSUE PAPER ON “RIGHTS TO INFORMATION AND SHORT EXTRACTS”

Although we believe that the future TVWF Directive is NOT the appropriate instrument to deal with these matters for radio, the issue of rights to information and short extracts is a matter of great concern to many private and commercial radio broadcasters and we welcome the opportunity to express our views on this subject.

• Radio is listened to by over 460 million European citizens for over three hours every day and is considered a reliable source of information. A primary mission for radio stations, both public and private, is to inform citizens at no cost.

• For this reason, AER members are worried about recent developments on sport rights negotiations in some European countries that seem to prevent the access of radio journalists to major events including sports events.

• In the TV sector it is possible to define a market for the acquisition of such rights. However, this is not transposable to radio because of its special nature. It is indeed important to recognise the fundamental differences between live TV broadcasts (based on the transmission of images) and radio programmes with similar content (based on the commentary by the journalist covering the event).

• Other important elements are the free-to-air nature of the coverage provided by radio stations, both public and private, its complementarity to other sources of information and the right of the public to information. Radio stations play a crucial role in ensuring that all citizens receive information on major events – including sports events – even if it is also being broadcast on TV or on line (whether they enjoy exclusive rights or not). In other words, without the commentary of the journalist, there is no radio programme and thus no radio information to the public.

• The right of the public to information recognised by Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) provides that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas…”. This right could be jeopardized should the following rights be restricted: the right of radio journalists to have free access to venues where major events take place; the right to be free to comment on them; the right to use short reports to provide information to listeners without unnecessary restrictions.

• Free access to the premises of a major event for journalistic reasons is essential. This however should not prevent the event organiser from asking radio stations to pay a fair amount for enjoying specific services such as, for example, technical facilities in a stadium.

AER believes that provisions regarding the need for broadcasters to carry coverage of events of major importance should be left to Member States. However, in AER’s view, the Commission should remain alert to the specific and important role that radio plays in terms of offering free access to information to millions of listeners across the EU in the framework of the current developments on sports rights in particular and access to major events in general.

AER COMMENTS ON THE ISSUE PAPER ON MEDIA PLURALISM

A certain number of studies and reports have been published in the recent past on the issue of pluralism and media concentration and all – even the most critical – confirm the following points:

• Radio continues being the most trusted medium in the EU Member States as many Eurobarometer surveys point out.

• The same surveys show that Radio is also increasing audiences across Europe.

• In spite of liberalization, radio is still the mass medium with the least foreign or private ownership.

• The largest audience market shares are still obtained by state broadcasters.

• There is overall little transnational concentration in radio which means that there is little or no risk of distorting competition to the detriment of small national broadcasters.

In short, overall, the private and commercial radio sector in the EU is extremely diverse and there are a greater number of operators in the radio sector with a wider distribution of market share than applies in any other media.

Given European commercial radio’s diverse ownership and general lack of corporate strength, we believe however that it is essential that Governments and competition authorities (national and European) ensure fair competition in this increasingly complex market. Although we recognise that this industry (as others) is prone to concentration, we do welcome some levels of consolidation as larger companies attract investments and profitable companies attract offers of take-over, merger or joint venture. Need for investment is particularly crucial at a time where radio is painfully struggling to succeed in its migration to digital. In such a competitive business environment, AER fully supports the measures taken by the Member States to ensure that media pluralism is guaranteed, and has always been content that the full rigors of competition policy should be applied and adequately enforced at both national and European level.

AER therefore sees no need for regulation at EU-level on media pluralism.

ENDS 06/09/2005

NOTES: Brussels-based AER (the Association of European Radios) represents the interests of 14 national private and commercial radio associations in 11 EU Member States, Switzerland and Romania. The combined membership is of over 4,500 private/commercial radio stations broadcasting to millions of daily listeners across Europe. The AER web site provides further information on AER. www.aereurope.org.