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Television rules for all media

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Update Libertarians have got a bee in their bonnet over European Commission proposals to regulate commercial audio and video broadcasts over the internet and mobile phones.

EU commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding was forced to defend herself against accusations of censorship during a press conference in Brussels yesterday, where a meeting of European Union culture ministers had given broad agreement to the commission proposal, the Audio-Visual Media Services Without Frontiers Directive.

The proposals had "nothing to do with free speech", she said. The aim was to protect children and prevent the incitement of hatred, reported Reuters news agency.

Some content "goes too far", she said, and ministers had agreed that such broadcasts threaten to "destroy our society". The new rules were about protecting "basic societal values".

The Commission is sensitive to accusations that its proposed new media regulations will censor online content. They are only intended to apply to commercial content, for a start. They have been devised by taking the 1989 Television Without Frontiers Directive out of the drawer and sprucing it up a little.

The application of Audio-Visual Media Services Without Frontiers is limited to matters like the prevention of certain programmes being shown to children - a new media watershed, if you like.

Then there are some restrictions on advertising, such as making sure advertisements can be distinguished from content and banning product placement from news, childrens, documentary and current affairs programmes.

It will effectively prevent your kids from losing their innocence and your dear old mum from being conned by the people she admires.

In some of its clauses the proposed directive is laxer than before. The right to reply forced on old-school television broadcasters will not be applied to new media. If you don't like what an internet documentary movie maker says about you and your kin, you'll either have to lump it or make your own documentary to set the record straight.

And if they are applied in their current form they will governed by the country of origin principle, which was coincidentally first used with the 1989 television directive. The idea behind the whole scheme is to harmonise rules across the whole European Union so that programme makers don't lose themselves in a bureaucratic labyrinth every time they try and sell their wares to another member country.

Getting everyone to agree to the same set of rules over something as culturally sensitive as television, the country of origin principle allows each country to keep their old rules. But programme makers must adhere only to their national broadcast regulations. If they do that, then they can sell their programmes anywhere is in the Union, regardless of how their home rules differ to the broadcast regulations of the country to which they are exporting.

Censorship, under the old and proposed European regulations, is largely a national issue.®

See the proposed directive here.

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