Associação Portuguesa de Consumidores dos Media
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‘BUILDING CIRCLES OF TRUST’
EURALVA’s Report on its 2008 Annual Conference held jointly with ACMedia (Portugal) and iCmedia (Spain) at the IESE Business School, Madrid on 10th November 2008
1) As Europe’s information economy grows, ever more sophisticated electronic and telecommunication links - based on broadband, the Internet, next generation networks (NGNs) and the latest user-profiling technology - are being established between information providers and viewers, listeners and information-platform users generally. These new technologies offer citizen-consumers the benefit of vastly more sources and greater network choice. On the negative side, however, they risk reducing the trust of users in the credibility, quality and editorial impartiality of the information that is delivered.
2) Earlier modes of regulation - which worked when electromagnetic frequencies were scarce - are out-dated, and significant inadequacies are starting to appear in the new market-oriented regulatory framework. These threaten user trust. The dominant editorial values for commercial TV and other media players are those of the competitive marketplace. The democratic, social and cultural needs of society (as described in the Protocol to the European Union’s Amsterdam Treaty) are frequently ignored by commercial players, or left to state-subsidised public service broadcasters, many of whose commitments to the democratic, social and cultural needs of their citizens vary from poor to minimal.
3) So the current media landscape was seen as challenging and alarming by EURALVA members and associates from Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, and the UK, as well as from the host country Spain, represented by autonomous citizen groups from Barcelona, Granada, Madrid and Seville.
4) The historic tension between competition regulation and content regulation has been exacerbated by the breakdown of the traditional division in television services between content integral to a programme’s purpose and content inserted for commercial reasons. From December 2009, both product placement and prop placement within programmes will be allowed on Europe’s television screens; and even though product placement is banned in what are specifically classified as children’s television programmes, this prohibition will not extend to all the TV programmes which children actually watch.
5) The Conference therefore expressed concern that the Audiovisual Media Services Directive allowed European governments to authorise television broadcasters (including those funded by State aid) to broadcast several categories of programmes financed by product placement; and even, in the case of purchased programmes, to waive the general expectation that television viewers would be clearly and specifically informed about the existence of product placement in a programme they were watching. If implemented, both developments would further undermine the trust of Europe’s citizens in the editorial values of those programmes.
6) The Conference welcomed the requirement in the EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive for both TV advertisement and TV programmes to eliminate unfair commercial practices, although it regretted that some member States had introduced co-regulatory arrangements which separated the regulatory responsibilities for eliminating unfair commercial practices in advertisements from those for broadcast programmes, while at the same time failing to introduce specific regulatory provisions which would ensure that consumers who suffered from unfair commercial practices would be able to obtain redress from the advertisers themselves.
7) The Conference welcomed the trust-generating initiatives taken by governments in Member States with a strong tradition of public service broadcasting, (e.g. in Denmark, Germany, and the UK), to establish domestic regulatory arrangements which are designed to maintain and improve the confidence placed by their citizens in their domestic public service broadcaster. The Conference hoped that similar regulatory arrangements could be developed in all EU Member States, and that the EU principle of subsidiarity (i.e. giving administrative discretion to individual Member States) should not undermine the requirement in the Amsterdam Treaty for all State-aided public service broadcasters to serve the democratic, social and cultural needs of Europe’s citizens.
8) The Conference welcomed the EU Commission’s initiative in providing Europe’s citizens with more information, on broadcast platforms, about the activities of the European Institutions, through financial subsidies to Euronews, EURANET and the latest EUTVNET initiative. Although it welcomed the editorial freedom guaranteed to participating broadcasters in reporting European matters, the Conference considered that the Commission’s failure to require broadcasters to inform audiences about the provenance of funding for these programmes could eventually engender reduced trust by audiences in the value of programmes produced.
9) There was a vigorous and diverse private sector presence at the Conference – covering television (Antena 3 and Vertice 360◦), telecommunications (Telefonica Internacional) and new media companies (Google Spain and Mobile Dreams Factory). This produced some sharp differences of opinion about the relative performance of commercial and public service players, especially in the Spanish context – a debate to which an RTVE management presence would have added a useful balance.
10) Conference welcomed the steps articulated by telecommunications companies and providers of non-broadcast electronic information services to eliminate harmful images and information from their systems. Because, however, instances of inadequate, biased and even harmful information did persist, there was a Conference consensus around a necessary drive for improved media education designed to achieve a high level of media literacy which would maximize the community value of new services and the trust which citizen-users placed in them.
11) This featured as one of three Conference Conclusions, along with recommendations that
q The European Union should only allow State funding for those broadcasters whose remits and performance meet their societies’ democratic, social and cultural needs and
q There should be regular, systematic and effective monitoring of citizens’ trust in the credibility and relevance of all electronic media platforms.
Prof. Vincent Porter
President of EURALVA