Lords oppose new media Directive

The UK's thriving new media industry is under threat from proposed European Commission rules designed to protect the business of television broadcasters against new competition, according to a House of Lords committee.

The Lords European Union Committee this week produced a report outlining why the Commission's Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS) should be resisted. The proposed successor to the Television Without Frontiers (TVWF) Directive, AVMS will extend television regulation to some internet video services.

Intended as a way to keep EU law up to date with new and emerging media platforms, the new Directive has proved controversial as bloggers, podcasters and hobbyists have worried about being caught up in regulation designed for major broadcast operations.

The Directive as currently framed makes clear that it applies only to commercial TV-like services, but critics still worry that vagueness about what that actually means could lead to regulation of content that should not be governed by the Directive.

"We believe that this attempt was seriously misguided and any future efforts to do the same would be in grave error," said Lord Freeman, chairman of the Committee. "Such an attempt risks damaging the new media industry, which is a vibrant and important sector of the UK's economy."

The report warned that, if passed, the Directive would force production companies outside of the EU to escape the regulation, and that the UK would be one of the main victims of that flight.

The Directive was heavily amended by the European Parliament in November and adopted in its amended form in December. The Council of Ministers must now back that amended version and send it back to Parliament for a final vote. If approved, the Directive must be implemented in national law in each country within two years.

Germany, which currently holds the EU Presidency, says that it wants the AVMS Directive to be finalised by June of this year.

Many concerns were laid to rest in November when the European Parliament changed the proposal so that it explicitly excluded amateur, or user-generated, content, such as videos posted to YouTube or rival video sites.

The Lords committee, though, said that it should not be the job of the EU to protect the business interests of existing broadcasters, which it said was the Directive's effect.

"We firmly reject the idea that regulators should act to preserve the market dominance of established players from new entrants," said the report. It said the Committee was "unconvinced of the need for any quantitative restrictions on advertising in a market which is now clearly open to competition".

"We are concerned that the identification of some of media services as 'television-like', may lead some to conclude that eventually 'like services' should be regulated in a 'like-manner', i.e. a perfectly 'level playing field'," it said. "If these services are to be included at all we agree that they must be regulated differently, but the wording and definitions in the latest versions of the text may encourage the idea that they can and should be regulated in the same way as television. We would consider such a move now or in the future to be a grave error."