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About regulatory authorities

posted on 09 November, 2011 12:23 , last updated on 27 May, 2021 10:19   (public)

A plurality of entities

In Europe, several types of authorities are in charge of supervising the implementation of broadcasting legislation. Broadcasting regulation usually encompasses the power to license broadcasters, to monitor whether broadcasters are fulfilling their legal obligations, and to impose sanctions if they fail to carry out those obligations. To these traditional functions those of organising and co-ordinating the broadcasting landscape can be added.

Broadcasting regulation may be exercised by governmental administrative authorities or by courts (e.g. for issues regarding the protection of fundamental rights). Moreover, in some countries such as Germany, public service broadcasting may be subject to a form of self-regulation. However, the most common organisation form in Europe is that of the independent regulatory authority which is characterised by the fact that it is not part of the actual structure of governmental administration, and that it has apparatus which does not serve any other body at its disposal. Generally, the rise of independent regulatory authorities has coincided with the decline of public service monopolies in the 80's.

Functions and powers of regulatory authorities

As mentioned above, the common point for European countries is that all of them have now conferred the regulation of broadcasting on independent regulatory authorities. However, great differences can be found in the scope of their remit, powers and structure.

In terms of remit

The vast majority of European countries have - at least - two separate regulatory bodies respectively in charge of the regulation of broadcasting and telecommunications. However, some countries, such as Italy with the AGCOM (Autorità per le garanzie nelle comunicazioni) and the UK with Ofcom have a single regulatory body whose remit encompasses both broadcasting and telecommunications. This is also the case in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Finland, Georgia, Hungary, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland.
While most of the regulatory bodies in Europe regulate both the public and private sector (e.g. the French Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel or the Dutch Commissariaat voor de Media), others such as the German Medienanstalten are only competent for the regulation of private broadcasting.

In terms of powers

Three basic categories of powers can be identified: the administration of the broadcasting sector (e.g. award of broadcasting licences), the supervisory (e.g. programme monitoring) and the rule-making functions (e.g. codes of practice). Here again, the diversity of the powers of regulatory authorities can be remarked upon. As an example, most authorities have the power to award licences but some may only make recommendations addressed to the Ministry. The power of drawing up binding rules which is common in Anglo-Saxon systems is also not shared by all regulatory authorities in Europe.

In terms of structure

A great diversity can also be observed in terms of the structure of regulatory bodies. In federal countries such as Germany or Belgium, broadcasting is in the remit of Federal States, thus creating a plurality of regional regulatory bodies.

In terms of staffing

As a matter of course, the number of staff employed in the respective regulatory authorities varies considerably according to the size of the country and of the national media landscape (from less than 10 for the smallest bodies to almost 900 for the biggest).


Brief bibliography on media regulation and regulatory bodies

  • Buckley, Steve; Duer Kreszentia; Mendel Toby and O'Siochru Sean.  Broadcasting, voice, and accountability - A public interest approach to policy, law, and regulation. Ann Arbor : The University of Michigan Press, 2008
  • Castendyk, Oliver;  Dommering Egbert J. and Scheuer Alexander. European media law. London : Kluwer Law International, 2008
  • De la Brosse, Arnaud: La régulation des médias dans l'espace francophone, bilan et perspectives, Organisation internationale de la francophonie, 2009:
  • Docquir, Pierre-François; Hanot, Muriel. Nouveaux écrans, nouvelle régulation? Larcier, 2013
  • Garzanity, Laurent. Telecommunications, broadcasting and the internet. EU competition law and regulation. London: Sweet and Maxwell, 2010 (3d edition)
  • Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research, Interdisciplinary Centre for Law & ICT (ICRI), Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Center for Media and Communication Studies (CMCS), Central European University, Cullen International Perspective Associates. Indicators for independence and efficient functioning of audiovisual media services regulatory bodies for the purpose of enforcing the rules in the AVMS Directive” (SMART 2009/0001)
  • Harcourt, Alison. The European Union and the regulation of media markets. Manchester University Press, 2007 (European Policy Research Unit series)
  • Hardy, Jonathan. Western media systems. Abingdon: Routledge, 2008 (Communication and Society)
  • Harrison, Jackie and Woods, Lorna.  EU broadcasting law and policy. Cambridge University Press, 2007 (Cambridge Studies in European Law and Policy)
  • Hitchens, Lesley, Broadcasting Pluralism and Diversity: A Comparative Study of Policy and Regulation. Oxford : Hart publishing, 2006
  • Jongen, François (ed.) ; Derieux, Emmanuel ; Furnémont, Jean-François ; Hanot, Muriel ; Joly, Emmanuel ; Libert, Anne ; Malaret Garcia, Elisenda ; Martens, Paul ; Mastroianni, Roberto ; Straetmans, Valérie ; Thirion, Nicolas ; Thiry, Geneviève. La directive services de médias audiovisuels. Le nouveau cadre juridique de l'audiovisuel européen. Louvain-la-Neuve : Anthemis, 2010
  • Jordana, Jacint (ed.) : The Politics of Regulation - Institutions and regulatory reforms for the age of governance.  Cheltenham : Edward Elgar Publishing, 2004 (The CRC series on competition, regulation and development)
  • Klimkievicz, Beata. Media freedom and pluralism - Media policy challenges in the enlarged Europe. Budapest : Central European University Press, 2010
  • Lievens, Eva.  Protecting children in the digital era. The use of alternative regulatory instruments. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff, 2010  (International Studies in Human Rights n°105)
  • Lunt, Peter; Livingstone, Sonia. Media Regulation. Governance and the Interests of Citzens and Consumers. Sage, December 2011
  • Mutu, Adriana. The Independence of National Media Regulators across Europe: A Comparative Perspective, Doctoral Thesis, 2015; abstract available here.
  • Salomon, Eve. Guidelines for broadcasting regulation. Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, 2008 available on the UNESCO website
  • Schulz, Wolfgang and Held, Thorsten. Regulated Self-Regulation as a Form of Modern Government : an analysis of case studies from media and telecommunications law. University of Luton Press, 2004
  • Schulz, Wolfgang; Valcke, Peggy and Irion, Kristina (ed.) The Independence of the Media and its Regulatory Agencies, shedding new light on formal and actual indpendence against the national context. European Communication Research and Education Association Series, intellect, 2013