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Media policies in the EU

25 August 2006
by eub2 -- last modified 25 August 2006

The audiovisual sector provides one million jobs in the European Union. It involves big commercial interests and issues of cultural diversity, public service and social responsibility. Each national EU government runs its own audiovisual policy, while the Union sets rules and guidelines where common interests, like open EU borders and fair competition, are concerned.


Television without frontiers

The EU's landmark piece of audiovisual legislation is the 'Television Without Frontiers (TWF)' directive which sets the conditions for the transmission of television broadcasts within the European single market. The directive dates from 1989 and was updated in 1997. It has been under review and in December 2005, the European Commission proposed significant amendments to take account, inter alia, of the impact of multi-channel digital broadcasting and the introduction of new electronic media.  

As it stands, the directive requires member states to coordinate their national legislation in order to ensure that:

  • there are no obstacles to the free movement of television programmes within the single market;
  • television channels, where practicable, reserve at least half their broadcasting time for films and programmes made in Europe;
  • safeguards are in place to protect certain important public interest objectives such as cultural diversity;
  • governments take action to ensure that a broad public has access to major events, which therefore cannot be restricted to pay-TV channels only. This provision refers mainly to international sporting events such as the Olympic Games or World Cup football;
  • governments take measures to protect minors against violent or pornographic programmes by scheduling them late at night and/or by limiting access through a technical device built into the TV control handset;
  • parties unfairly criticised in a television broadcast have the right of reply;
  • · the maximum volume of advertising that channels can carry during a given period (measured in minutes per hour or per day) are fully respected.

The proposed changes, which have been submitted to the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers for approval, retain the basic principles in the directive but seek to:

  • Extend its cover to include new media services, such as video-on-demand, or services provided over the internet or mobile phones;
  • Allow more flexibility in the timing of advertising spots on tv;
  • Allow indirect advertising through product placement – where broadcasters can charge for featuring a branded product in a programme. This is allowed in the United States, but is so far illegal in Europe.

The adoption process before the new version of the directive becomes law can take many months and can involve numerous subsequent amendments.

Public service broadcasting

The commitment to promote public service broadcasting was reinforced by a protocol attached to the Treaty of Amsterdam, which took effect in 1999. This confirms the importance governments attach to public broadcasting because of its role in underpinning the democratic, social and cultural needs of each society and in safeguarding plurality in the face of the trend towards media concentration.

Under the protocol, each member state is free to define the structure of its public broadcasting service (PBS) and organise its tasks in a way that serves the general interest. It can also support the PBS financially, providing the funding is used to pursue the public service goal and does not impede normal commercial operations or distort competition among broadcasters.

The cultural exception

The requirement in the TWF directive for a minimum quota of European programmes reflects concerns that American productions will take the lion’s share of the European market. It is worth noting, for instance, that although EU countries make more films than the US, 75% of the income of European cinemas comes from American films.

To protect its own cultural diversity and promote local productions, the EU sought and secured at the World Trade Organisation what became known as the ‘cultural exception’. This allows Union member states not to open up their markets for cultural items like films as they do for other goods imported from outside. 

Media Plus

But it does not do much good to reserve quotas for European films and programmes if there are not enough local productions to fill them. This is where the Media programme comes in. It is the second cornerstone of EU audiovisual policy. Its purpose is to provide financial support to expand Europe’s output of quality films and TV programmes and to make the local industry more competitive internationally.

The EU supports the production of quality films.

Media programmes started in 1990. The current one, which began in 2001, runs until the end of 2006 and is divided into two sub-programmes:  Media Plus and Media Training.

Media Plus, with a budget of EUR 453.6 million, supports the production, promotion and distribution of European audiovisual works, whether fiction (cinema and television), creative documentaries, animation or multimedia. It also encourages the use of digital technologies in the creation and distribution of audiovisual works. Media Plus spends 60% of its funds on the international distribution of European films and programmes, including support for the Europa Cinemas network which has 570 cinemas in more than 60 countries. It also promotes European works via the many festivals and exhibitions it funds.

Media Training has a budget of EUR 59.4 million and focuses on advanced training in areas like economic, financial and commercial management, screenplay writing, and multimedia technologies. In July 2004, the European Commission proposed continuing these sub-programmes under the title Media 2007, to run from 2007-2013, with a budget of just over one billion euro.

Funding for the expansion of the audiovisual sector is also available from the European Investment Bank (EIB), the EU’s long-term financing source. Under its Innovation 2010 Audiovisual initiative, the EIB provides long-term loan capital to big companies and shorter loans or venture capital to small firms involved in creating audiovisual content in the form of fiction, animation, documentaries and multimedia output.


The pace of technological innovation has led to the convergence of broadcasting and telecommunications. This is why in 2003, the Union brought broadcasting and telecommunications services under one single regulatory regime, known as the new regulatory framework (NRF). The rationale for the NRF is to create equal conditions for all players in the converged environment where cable television operators offer their customers internet access and even telephone services over their cables, and where fixed or mobile telecoms operators can offer online video and broadcasting services.

EU Media / Audiovisual web links

European Commission Audiovisual Policy
Europe and Culture (Cinema and audiovisual media)
Audiovisual service
Television: Europe By Satellite
EU Media / Audiovisual Grants and Loans
EU Legislation in Force: Information, education and culture
EU Legislation in Force: Information technology, telecommunications and data processing
Recent case-law of the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance : EU Media / Audiovisual
Further information on EU Media / Audiovisual on Europa

Source: European Commission
Last updated: March 2006

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