|Author (Person)||Chapman, Peter|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.7, No.29, 19.7.01, p25|
THE European Commission is pushing member states to set up independent TV regulators to ensure their public service broadcasters continue to deserve the special treatment they get compared with their private sector rivals.
The proposal is a key part of draft paper on state aid, obtained by European Voice, which tells governments how to justify their support for the broadcasters - for example through direct subsidies or licence fees.
Competition chief Mario Monti's team says it is not enough for state-funded TV channels to be "formally entrusted with the provision of a well-defined public service" - criteria which will be demanded by Brussels officials.
They also want member states to set up a 'control mechanism' to make sure chosen broadcasters deliver the goods. "It is necessary that an appropriate authority or an appointed body controls its application," the Commission paper says. "The role of such a body would seem to be effective only as long as it is independent from the entrusted undertaking."
Nicola Frank, EU adviser for the European Broadcasting Union - the lobby which represents public service channels - said the regulator plan would lead to changes in most member states. She added that many broadcasters would welcome the chance to move further away from their political masters in national government. "All countries have control mechanisms - for example they have to report to their parliaments," Frank said. "But an independent body as such does not exist in many member states."
She said the system already in place in the EU's biggest country, Germany, could serve as a model for other member states.
Monti's paper is the latest attempt by the Commission to grapple with one of the thorniest state-aid issues. His officials said it will be debated in a special one-day hearing on 10 September with public and private broadcasters invited to attend separate morning and afternoon sessions.
Experts such as the EBU's Frank say he steers clear of falling into the same trap as his predecessor Karel van Miert, who was forced by governments to tear-up an earlier paper on the issue.
Van Miert drew flak from public channels for proposing to stop them from using government money to pay for certain types of programmes - for example expensive sports events or movies.
But Frank said Monti's insistence on examining state-aid on a case-by-case basis would still lead to legal uncertainty in the sector.
Ross Biggam, director-general of the Association of Commercial Television, said the proposals would make it easier for the Commission to complete a spate of probes into alleged breaches of state-aid rules.
The Commission is currently investigating long-running allegations that state-funded channels in France, Spain, Portugal and Italy are abusing their special treatment to compete unfairly against private sector channels.
Typical 'abuses' include undercutting commercial channels in the advertising market.
The European Commission is pushing Member States to set up independent TV regulators to ensure their public service broadcasters continue to deserve the special treatment they get compared with their private sector rivals.
|Subject Categories||Business and Industry, Internal Markets|