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Europe takes aim at BBC licence fee

Calls for 'less and better targeted aid'

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The European Commission has opened a period of consultation on its proposals to change the rules governing state aid handed to broadcasters.

Public broadcasters across Europe - including the beeb - get €22bn in government funding - in third place behind agriculture and transport.

The EC is keen to tweak the rules to allow national broadcasters to better cope with new media, to define their public service remit and improve national supervision of their activities. But opponents of the proposals say they would hamstring public service broadcasters exploiting new media technologies.

Neelie Kroes, Competition Commissioner, said she wanted "the broadcasting sector to meet the challenges of the new media environment, allowing a high quality and modern public service, while at the same time maintaining a fair level playing field between the different actors".

Individual states have "wide discretion" to define what exactly is public service broadcasting while still maintaining fair competition.

Draft proposals would also allow broadcasters to build up larger cash reserves so they can deal with fast changes in costs.

The European Broadcasting Union, made up of national broadcasters, is opposed to the draft proposals.

Jean Reveillon, director general of the EBU, said: "If this extremely detailed version of the Broadcasting Communication were adopted, it could seriously reduce the scope for Member States to grant public service broadcasters a significant role in the information society."

The EBU is concerned that forcing broadcasters to prove a "Public Value Test" for new services would hamper their ability to compete.

The EU strategy was unveiled as BBC plans for more local, online, video news services got a kicking from regional newspaper executives in Parliament. Carolyn McCall, boss of Guardian Media Group, and Sly Bailey, boss of Trinity Mirror, told the Commons Select Committee for culture, media and sport, they were concerned that BBC expansion plans would bite into income for local and regional titles.

The Commission is conducting a separate investigation into government money given to Channel4.

Anyone with a comment to make has until 15 January to get their letters in. Press release, and links to whole document, here. ®

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