Multimedia Directive agreed

A new European Directive which will regulate television across Europe has been agreed. After 18 months of negotiations and wrangling, the European Parliament and Council of Ministers yesterday agreed a text proposed by the European Commission.

The new proposal is called the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive and will replace the TV Without Frontiers Directive. It will permit product placement as long as warnings are screened and will extend TV regulation to audiovisual material on the internet or on on-demand networks.

Though there is some regulation of on-demand services, the regulatory burden is far lighter than it is on scheduled services.

"Today, we have made a decisive step towards a true internal market for audiovisual media services and to a more competitive European audiovisual content industry," said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media. "This important piece of modernising legislation brings Europe's audiovisual policies into the 21st century, providing a welcome shot in the arm to industry."

The new Directive has been the source of significant controversy because of its extension of regulation of content beyond traditional broadcast networks. Designed to cover new forms of television delivery, the move prompted fears that Europe was attempting to regulate podcasting and amateur internet content such as videos posted to YouTube.

The European Commission, which drafted the original proposal and a revised version, said that the regulations would only cover TV services and not all audiovisual content posted on the internet.

The original proposal was subjected to major alterations last December at its first reading in Parliament and the Commission produced a second version, a compromise text it hoped would be acceptable to Parliament and the Council of Minsters.

The compromise text was accepted by a crucial Parliamentary committee earlier this month. The Committee on Culture and Education accepted the new text, and the Commission has now announced that the proposal has been accepted by both Parliament and Council.

Reding said that the new Directive was essential. "It promises less regulation, better financing for European content and higher visibility to Europe's key values, cultural diversity and the protection of minors," she said.

The Commission said that it expects the Directive to come into force by the end of 2007. Member states will have two years in which to transpose it into national law, meaning that the new rules will apply across Europe by the end of 2009.