Media warn against revamping EU b'cast rules

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BRUSSELS -- An alliance of nearly 60 major media companies and associations issued a warning Tuesday that current plans to revamp European Union broadcast rules would allow governments to block broadcasts from other EU countries.

The media groups said the wording of the draft EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive undermines the long-established principle that programming be regulated in the European country in which it originates, rather than the place in which it is heard or viewed.

They said that the EU's so-called country of origin principle was the cornerstone of successful European media, giving service providers the legal certainty that they do not have to comply with 25 different national laws, but only the legislation of the country were they are established.

"Safeguarding the principles of mutual recognition and country of origin is the most effective way of ensuring that consumers are provided with the widest choice of innovative media services by a thriving European media, information, technology and entertainment industries," the group said in a joint statement directed at EU governments and the European Parliament.

Many countries, including France, want to change the country of origin principle, claiming that media companies could get around one country's regulations by basing themselves in an EU member state where home rules are more lax.

But the media alliance rejected this argument. "Without this principle of mutual recognition of standards harmonized at EU level (and) based on home country control, media service providers will be subject to content control on the very broad grounds of unpredictable and widely varying 'general public interest' from outside their place of establishment," the statement said.

Current EU broadcasting law allows exemptions to the country of origin clauses where there is "manifest," "serious" or "grave" risk to minors or a possible incitement to hatred is concerned. However, amendments currently being considered by EU governments and Euro MPs would require home country regulators to request broadcasters to comply with any "more detailed or stricter rules of general public interest" adopted by another government, that go beyond those agreed to at EU level.

The statement was signed by companies including Bertelsmann, BT, RTL Group, ProSiebenSat.1, BSkyB and a number of industry groups including the Association of Commercial Television in Europe, Cable Europe, the Association of Television and Radio Sales Houses and the European Digital Media Assn.
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