EC Asks Views On State Aid And Public Service Online Media

Just as the UK embarks on its own review of public-service digital media, along comes another European Commission effort. Brussels yesterday started a public consultation (PDF) to assess whether it needs to reform 2001 regulations governing how broadcasters can or cannot be funded under EC regulations on state aid: “Key issues for discussion (in the consultation) are the public service remit in the new media environment and control of overcompensation,” it says.

You might have thought this stuff would have been tidied up when the EC updated its old media regulations with the Audio-Visual Media Services (AVMS) directive last year – regulations that for the first time recognised on-demand, non-linear media and which the UK government will reportedly nod it through this year.. But that was carried out by the information society and media commissioner; this latest move comes from the competition department, which says: “There are a number of new media or online services, the principal purpose of which is not provision of audiovisual media content and which therefore are not covered by the directive, but which may well form part of public service remit, such as web-based text services.” So clearly the AVMS measures failed to recognise the written word.

Ofcom is already in the middle of its own review of UK public service broadcasting (due to complete next year) – a process that will decide whether to establish a Public Service Publisher (PSP), an idea mooted in 2004 to create just such online material in response to a perceived gap in public service web provision (although we do have this thing called the BBC). Most recent thinking is, the PSP would be “a trusted online aggregator of existing content as well as commissioning new material (and) would potentially provide an alternative to the BBC’s online presence and could be based outside London”. The EC consultation ends in March and the commission will decide later this year whether to update its state aid regs, also in 2009. Let’s wait and see whether the national and continental efforts will dovetail or whether Ofcom will get another piece of European legislation to enact.