BECTU submission to European Union Communications Review 1999
14 December 1999
BECTU has a close interest in some of the issues raised in the [Communications] Review and made an earlier submission in response to the Green Paper on Convergence. Our comments on the Review are brief and specific, and follow from the viewpoint expressed in our Green Paper submission:
- As indicated in our previous submission, we 'support the need for a distinctive regulatory model for broadcasting and for such a model to have a remit encompassing not just programme content but also the structural aspects of broadcasting including media ownership and requirements for independent production, original production and European production.'
- We can therefore agree in principle with a number of points in the Review eg
- 'These rules (on a regulatory framework) would of course be without prejudice to regulatory obligations..which apply to broadcasting services or other information society services' (p.vi).
- 'Services provided over networks eg broadcasting services (are) regulated by other measures...eg broadcasting regulation' (p.vii).
- 'The need for separation of transport and content regulation' (p5).
- 'The licencing of broadcasters, insofar as those licensing provisions regulate the content of transmissions, is not the subject of this Communication and is not covered by the new regulatory framework for communication services and infrastructure' (p22).
- Our principle concern, however, is to clarify exactly what 'broadcasting' or 'content regulation' is deemed to encompass. As indicated above, we take this to include programme origination and media ownership issues as well as the direct regulation of content (ie programme quality and range etc). We believe these broader areas of broadcasting-specific regulation have been acknowledged by the European Commission itself - eg through the Amsterdam Protocol on Public Service Broadcasting and previous initiatives on Pluralism and Media Concentration. We continue to believe, as set out in our submission on Convergence, that 'the issues of market power, vertical integration and concentration of ownership are elements which cannot be ignored if we wish to retain a broadcast media that is democratic and pluralistic' and, therefore, that broadcasting regulation should encompass 'concentration of ownership, media cross-ownership and all issues arising from any EU initiatives on pluralism and concentration'.
- The Review is not as clear and explicit as we would wish on these points. Specifically, there is no explicit statement that media ownership issues are to be included within the scope of broadcasting regulation. We strongly believe, as indicated above, that they should be, on the grounds of the 'democratic, social and cultural' criteria which the Amsterdam Protocol itself acknowledged as applying to broadcasting. We can see no justification in the Review for departing from this position and for treating media ownership as purely a matter for economic criteria and competition law. In economic terminology, broadcasting is a 'merit good', which brings to bear non-economic cultural criteria as well. This should be reflected in any proposed regulatory structure.
- In conclusion, we can welcome the proposed separation of transport and content regulation but only if 'content' is defined to include programme origination and, most importantly, media ownership issues. The Review contains no justification for divorcing media ownership regulation from content regulation and we therefore assume that no such separation is intended. If this assumption is wrong, we would strongly oppose the removal of ownership from content regulation, not least because we believe the Review has not even addressed the underlying issues (ie the non-economic, cultural concerns about media concentration), let alone justified such a conclusion.
- We look forward to the further progress of the Review and hopefully to clarification on the points raised above.