Experts attack plan for internet regulation

Media heavyweights and leading technology groups have launched a concerted attack on the European Union’s plan to regulate the internet, in a bid to update broadcasting rules almost two decades old.

Mark Thompson, director-general of the BBC, has voiced skepticism over the Union’s policy to extend regulation to “non-linear” services, which would include on-demand content and Web-based news services.

Speaking at an EU conference in Liverpool, the BBC’s no. 2 insisted that a process of self-regulation would be a better option for the Web’s new media forces, rather than expanding broadcast rules dating back to 1989.

His comments have been echoed by the Broadband Stakeholder Group, a hi-tech trade body, which is appealing to the EU Commission for a withdrawal of its policy to adopt a draft Audio Visual Content Directive by the end of this year.

They accused the Union of trying to regulate the internet “via the back door” in its attempt to review the Television Without Frontiers directive drawn up in the 1980s.

“The broadcasting world is entering a period of rapid change and the regulatory framework will need to be amended, but this blanket regulatory approach is absolutely not the way to do it,” said Philip Graf, BSG chairman.

“"These proposals would lead to a massive extension of EU regulation to cover all audio-visual content services, and in some cases would catch online services, such as newspapers, that are beyond the EU's competence.”

Graf added weight to Mr Thompson’s appeal, citing self-regulation as a course that would resolve many of the concerns that the Union is attempting to regulate against.

James Murdoch, chief executive of BSkyB, has joined the defense of the digital platform, calling loudly for the EU’s latest policy to be blitzed in “a bonfire of controls,” the Guardian reports.

Mr Murdoch said attempts to distinguish between broadcast and new media, and on-demand services and traditional TV channels, were “doomed to failure.”

Hi-tech industry lobbyists including the BSG and trade association, Intellect, said that a poll of advertisers, publishers, technology, telecoms, broadcast and ISP and new media industries agreed that the proposals were “premature,” in light of the “nascent” state of the market.

They added that over 80 per cent of survey participants felt the Audio Visual Content Directive would set a precedent for wider regulation of the internet. Just over three-quarters insisted that regulation would inhibit growth in a market that needs time to evolve.

Antony Walker, Intellect director, said: “New audio-visual content services, made possible through innovation in digital technology and the internet, should be given time to evolve and develop rather than being shackled by premature and unnecessary regulation intervention by the EU,” said Antony Walker, Intellect director.

“The costs of the proposed Directive would by far outweigh the benefits. Many, if not most, new audio visual services will fall in between the Commission's artificial definitions of ‘linear’ and ‘non-linear services’ – leading to confusion and regulatory uncertainty for many companies and organisations looking to invest in this growth market.”

So far, both the appeals of technology and media experts have not been honoured, with the European Commission retain its pledge to deliver a draft directive to the European Parliament by the end of 2005.



 

23rd September 2005

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