26th EPRA meeting convenes in Sofia

posted on 05 October, 2007   (public)

Sofia, the city which grows but never gets old, was the backdrop for the 26th meeting of the European Platform of Broadcasting Regulatory Authorities (EPRA)

The meeting convened at the kind invitation of the Bulgarian Council for Electronic Media (CEM) from 3 to 5 October 2007. The meeting opened with the welcome address of Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev and brought together some 140 participants from 40 countries. Forty-six regulatory authorities were represented and joined by the permanent observers from the Council of Europe (Media and Information Society Division), the European Audiovisual Observatory and the European Commission (DG Information Society and Media).

Future regulatory challenges resulting from the pending in-depth reforms of the EU regulatory framework for broadcasting and telecommunications were at the centre of the debates. The first session, which opened with a keynote address from Wolfgang Schulz (Hans-Bredow Institut, Hamburg), dealt with the regulatory challenges raised by the soon to be adopted Audiovisual Media Services Directive. Changes relating to the extended scope of the text were highlighted as one of the major challenges that regulators will have to face in applying the new provisions. The practical applicability of the cumulative criteria to determine what is an "audiovisual media service", the assessment of the "principal purpose" of distributing audiovisual content, the meaning of "editorial responsibility" and "effective control" were generally considered to be crucial questions. The new emphasis placed by the text on the notion of "uplink" as one of the ancillary criteria determining jurisdiction over broadcasters was also considered likely to raise some application problems and require enhanced co-operation between regulators.  It was felt that there was a strong need for members to liaise between each other during the two-year transition period that will follow the publication of the Directive in the Official Journal before transposition at national level.

Keynote speaker Nicola Frank from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) opened the second plenary session by analysing the potential impact of the review of the telecom regulatory package on broadcasting and notably exploring the timely issues of spectrum trading and digital dividend. No consensus could be found between members on these sensitive issues, even though the range of views expressed more nuances than the usual dichotomy between a market-led approach and the recognition that broadcasting as a cultural and public interest good should be given priority in the re-distribution of capacity. All members agreed, however, that regulators should follow these developments closely and urge Member States to adopt a clear position concerning these issues.

The above-mentioned challenges were concretely illustrated during the three simultaneous working groups, which convened in the afternoon of the first day.

  • While the first group looked at the new European provisions concerning product placement and how some Member States are planning to transpose them at the national level,
  • working group 2 explored the state of play and current problems concerning digital broadcasting with an emphasis on the digital switch-over process and the framework for licensing and development of different forms of digital broadcasting over different platforms.
  • The third group examined how new technology developments, such as digital recording systems and the use of voice recognition software could make monitoring more efficient and less labour intensive in the general context of proliferation of channels and the development of new types of content.

In the course of the meeting, the assembly of members officially endorsed the membership and offered a warm welcome to two newcomers in the regulators network: The Medienrat of the German-speaking Community of Belgium and The Council for Television and Radio of the Republic of Azerbaijan, thus bringing the overall number of EPRA members to 51. 

EPRA Chair Dunja Mijatovic announced on this occasion that the Executive Board was unfortunately about to lose one of its distinguished members, EPRA Vice-Chair Tim Suter, Partner Content and Standards at the British Ofcom who will leave his authority at the end of the year. A by-election will be held at the next 27th EPRA meeting, which will take place on 14-16 May in Riga, at the invitation of the National Broadcasting Council of Latvia.