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Directive to switch off hate TV in Europe

New rules for audio-visual content

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EU broadcasting regulators last week welcomed the commission’s proposals to update the Television Without Frontiers Directive of 1989, partly because they will help in the fight against the incitement of hatred.

Last updated in 1997, the directive was instrumental in ensuring that viewers and listeners in all member states were entitled to access broadcasts from any other member state. It also harmonised rules relating to broadcast advertising, the protection of minors and the right of reply.

But since the last review of the directive, new advertising techniques, such as split screen, interactive advertising and virtual advertising, have developed, and problems in applying the existing, old-fashioned rules to these new technologies have arisen.

The commission set out its plans to update the directive in December, focusing on the need to reduce the regulatory burden on Europe’s providers of TV and TV-like services and to allow them more flexibility in financing their productions.

It also hopes to replace disparate national rules on the protection of minors, incitement to racial hatred, and surreptitious advertising, with a basic, EU-wide minimum standard of protection for audio-visual on-demand services.

The hatred issue was highlighted in December 2004, when the French "Conseil d'Etat", the highest administrative Court in France, ordered the French-based Eutelsat Company to shut down broadcasts from a Lebanese TV station known as Al Manar, following accusations that its programmes were anti-Semitic and could incite hatred.

According to the commission, although legally registered as the Lebanese Media Group Company in 1997, Al Manar has belonged to Hezbollah culturally and politically from its inception. In December 2004, the US Department of State put the station on the Terrorist Exclusion List due to the channel's "incitement of terrorist activity".

Discussing the directive at a meeting last week, regulators from the 25 EU member states and Croatia, Turkey, Norway and Liechtenstein, noted the growing economic and societal importance of new on-demand audio-visual media services and of ensuring freedom of expression in such media, but also discussed the danger that they could become the next vehicle of hate.

The updated directive, they said, will prohibit incitement to racial or religious hatred - not only for broadcasts, but for all audio-visual media services, irrespective of the technology used to deliver and view them.

The regulators also supported plans to launch a new EU Intranet Cooperation Forum as an effective means to combat clear cases of incitement to hatred in broadcast and audiovisual media services. The forum would respect the freedoms enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the need for judicial scrutiny of such interventions by broadcast regulators, according to the commission.

"Cooperation between broadcasting regulators and the European Commission is extremely important for the future of the audiovisual landscape in Europe" Information Society and Media commissioner Viviane Reding said.

"The basis of our cooperation must be – first of all and most important – freedom of expression and freedom of the media, as cornerstones of our pluralist democratic society in Europe; cultural diversity; and the commitment to our common European societal values, which leads us to jointly fight against clear forms of incitement to racial or religious hatred in the media."

See: The Draft Directive (18 page/13MB PDF)

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OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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