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The European Council has passed a law which extends the laws governing television broadcasters to companies providing video content online regardless of how it is transmitted.

The Audiovisual Media Services Without Frontiers Directive broadens broadcast rules introduced in 1997 to encompass content on the internet, mobile phones and other devices, video on demand, and peer-to-peer networks. But it does not cover non-commercial content.

The directive has relaxed rules for advertisers, but still insists that product placements are signposted. It includes provisions for disabled access, protection for minors, and rights for people to access "extracts" of important events without having to pay for them. It prohibits programmes that incite religious or racial hatred.

Like the 1997 directive, the new rules apply the country of origin principle to avoid trying to shoe-horn 27 different countries' cultural sensibilities into a single set of rules. So a media publisher will still be held to the broadcast and censorship rules of its own country. It can then sell its content anywhere in the EU without having to tweak the content each time.

Announcing the directive today, EC Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding, said: "It is the duty of legislators to adapt the 'rules of the game' to such profound market and technological developments [as the internet], ensuring the preservation of fundamental values in a media which deeply influences our lives."

The directive would make the industry more competitive, she said. It was expected to come into force by the end of the year, and member states had until 2009 to ratify it into national law. ®

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