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European Parliament approves law to replace TV Without Frontiers Directive

A new European law governing television and some internet video content has been approved by the European Parliament. The Audio Visual Media Services Directive must be approved by the Ministers and again by Parliament before coming into force.03 Jan 2007

The regulations will replace the Television Without Frontiers (TVWF) Directive and will extend government regulation to some internet video. The Parliament has significantly amended the proposed Directive, and has tightened up some of its definitions.

Changes to the Directive made at European Parliament committee stage have been adopted and the Parliament voted in favour of the amended Directive in December.

The Audio Visual Media Services (AVMS) Directive has been proposed as a way of updating the law to take account of a changing broadcasting landscape in which multimedia distribution is playing an increasingly important part.

The TVWF Directive only applied to television broadcasts, which meant that even material offered online by broadcasters for viewing as if it were television escaped regulation. The European Commission has consulted since 2003 on an update to that Directive.

The Commission's proposal was heavily amended by the European Parliament in November when it proposed a series of changes. It has restricted the Directive to apply only to commercial TV-like services and not to user-generated content such as videos placed on YouTube.

The Parliament also defined the scope of the Directive to ensure that it covered not just editorial content but also advertising. It made it clear that the rules would apply to services delivered to a schedule, such as a traditional TV station, but also services delivered on-demand, such as internet downloads.

Under the terms of the Directive linear services will be more closely regulated than on-demand services.

The Directive had been controversial because there were fears that the Commission was attempting to extend its powers to traditionally less regulated aspects of the internet. Online gaming companies feared they would be caught in the new rules, as did publishers of blogs and other non-commercial publishers, such as video sites.

The amended Directive explicitly states, though, that it will not apply to online gambling, gaming or games of chance or blogs. User-generated videos and private websites with no economic or mass media element are also excluded.

"The Parliament did not wholly endorse the Commission's suggested definition of audiovisual media services, opting instead to modify the concepts of 'linear services' and 'on demand services' in the draft legislation," said a European Parliament statement. "The former refers to traditional television broadcasting 'transmitted ... according to a fixed programming schedule', while the latter comprises services such as web TV or video-on-demand – where the user requests the transmission of a given programme 'on an individual basis'."

This was the first reading of the Directive in Parliament. The Council of Ministers will now decide whether or not to back the compromise agreed with Parliament in November. If they do, the Directive will be sent back to Parliament for a second reading later this year, at which point countries will be given two years to implement the Directive as national law.