EU nears vote on TV rules


BRUSSELS -- New EU rules on television advertising and product placement could be adopted before Christmas now that the Audiovisual Media Services Directive has been approved by Euro-MPs in Strasbourg, France.

The green light, given Tuesday by the European Parliament's Culture Committee, means the law now needs only to be put to the Parliament as a whole for a vote, which is expected by Nov. 29. That will be the last regulatory hurdle for the law, which aims to overhaul the EU's rules on broadcasting and update them to account for such developments as the Internet and mobile TV.

Under the new rules, TV stations will be allowed to feature branded products -- common practice in the U.S., but banned in many EU countries.

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

Hieronymi said the compromise negotiated with EU ministers and the European Commission offers the best balance between regulation and full liberalization.

"Audiovisual Media Services will be cultural and economic goods also in the future due to this directive," she said. "Media pluralism and cultural diversity are safeguarded as well as the opportunity to develop new business models."

EU culture ministers voted on the plans in May, but officials have spent the past six months working on linguistic and procedural fine-tuning since the law must be translated into the EU's 23 official languages.

The reforms will affect a range of broadcasting issues, from ad break scheduling to cross-border transmissions, from junk food ad bans to quotas for foreign programs. The rules say that, even when product placement is allowed, it needs to be clearly identified at the start and end of the program.

Among the other rules are an increase in the frequency of ad breaks allowed in telefilms, news and children's programs, from once every 45 minutes to once every half-hour.