EU preps for relaxed b'cast advertising rules

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BRUSSELS -- The European Parliament in Brussels is set to confirm new broadcasting rules that will ease advertising and product placement on European television screens.

The Parliament on Tuesday is due to approve compromise plans agreed upon by EU governments and the European Commission, paving the way for a formal accord on the new broadcasting and media rules by the fall. Under the new rules, EU-member national television stations will, for the first time, be allowed to feature branded products -- common practice in the U.S. but banned in many EU countries.

The agreement is the penultimate step in the long process to overhaul European broadcasting law, which began four years ago.

The new law rewrites the EU's 1989 Television Without Frontiers Directive, aiming to bring it into line with new technologies like the Internet and mobile broadcasting. It will be rechristened the Audiovisual Media Services Directive to reflect the changes in the market.

Among the other rules are a change in the frequency of television advertising breaks in movies, news and children's programs, from once every 45 minutes to once every half-hour. But with the maximum length of advertising per hour remaining at 12 minutes, this will not necessarily mean more ads.

German Euro MP Ruth Hieronymi -- who co-drafted the report -- secured the Parliament's backing for product placement advertising, so long as they are banned from news, current affairs programs, documentaries and children's TV programs.

Speaking to the Parliament's Culture Committee on Monday, Hieronymi said the compromise negotiated by the three EU institutions steered between demands for full liberalization and concerns for consumer rights.

"New services must not be strangled at birth by regulation, but they cannot be ignored by the law," she said, adding that "the television of the future" was not a purely commercial product.

The last step in the process will take place May 24 in Brussels, when EU culture ministers vote on the plans. Because officials from the Parliament, the commission and EU governments have hammered out most of the biggest difficulties, the ministerial vote is expected to be a formality. After some linguistic and procedural fine-tuning -- the law has to be translated into the EU's 23 official languages -- it should be formally adopted in September.
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