Newspaper, Magazine Industries Protest UK VOD Regulation

Umbrella groups for the newspaper and magazine industries are speaking out in opposition to the UK’s new VOD co-regulator ATVOD.

Several individual newspaper and magazine publishers are already protesting being included under ATVOD’s oversight and having to pay for the privilege.

The Newspaper Society‘s director for policy, editorial and regulatory affairs, Santha Rasaiah, tells paidContent:UK…

“Electronic versions of newspapers and magazines are expressly excluded from the scope of the AVMS directive. Throughout negotiations on the directive and its implementation into UK law, assurances were repeatedly given, including during the course of Parliamentary debate, that publishers’ current online activities, including video clips, would not be caught by the new legislation and did not satisfy the definition of ‘TV-like’ programme services for regulation by ATVOD. These recent determinations by ATVOD are therefore surprising and of concern to the industry. It is important that press freedom is not curbed by unintended regulatory creep.”

The magazine business’ Professional Publishers Association, working with the Association of Online Publishers, complains in a submission to ATVOD’s consultation on increased 2011/12 fees, which some VOD operators must pay so ATVOD can finance its own operations…

“(Fees) could rise as high as… a cap of £25,000 per company. By comparison, the next highest fee charged in Europe that the PPA is aware of is €800 per company. The fee based on turnover proposed by ATVOD is fundamentally unfair as it is based on the whole of a company’s turnover, not just that turnover generated from video on demand (VOD) services (or even restricted to just revenue from website operations).”

The European Commission’s 2007 Audio-Visual Media Services directive (AVMS) extended TV regulation to some “TV-like” online VOD services, which “must not contain any incitement to hatred based on race, sex, religion or nationality”; “must provide appropriate protection for minors against harmful material” and “sponsored programmes and services must comply with applicable sponsorship requirements”. In the UK, ATVOD was named as the body to enforce these regulations along with Ofcom.

But, as well as charging operators to be regulated, ATVOD is also snagging publishers whose core competency was once text, not just broadcasters. It recently found against 22 operators, including The Telegraph, Sun Online, News Of The World and The Sunday Times, for not adhering to pay it and be regulated by it.

The involvement of publishers’ industry groups broadens concern about ATVOD from being just about individual companies. We have invited ATVOD to respond.

The Newspaper Society’s Rasaiah is right about wording in the original AVMS. Paragraph 28 states: “The scope of this Directive should not cover electronic versions of newspapers and magazines.” Whether “electronic versions” applies to newspaper websites, or their facsimile digital editions is debatable.

Lord Davies, the Labour peer who steered the AVMS in to UK law through the House Of Lords in 2010, told the House at the time: “The AVMS regulations 2009 require Ofcom to regulate on-demand programme services. The regulations define an on-demand programme service as having as its principal purpose the provision of programmes of form and content comparable to programmes normally included in television programme services. The principal purpose of newspaper websites is not to provide on-demand programme services, even where they currently provide some audiovisual content.”

He said newspaper publishers would only fall under AVMS auspice if they launched a distinct on-demand programme service – and, even then, only that individual service would be regulated.