IRIS Plus 2009-4: The Public Service Remit and the New Media

Author: Meike Ridinger, LL.M. (Eur.), Institute for European Media Law (EMR), Saarbrücken/Brussels

Published: 01/06/2009

On 28 and 29 May 2009, the Council of Europe organised together with their Icelandic hosts the first Conference of Ministers responsible for Media and New Communication Services. The conference theme was "A New Notion of Media?". Anyone who, like the conference participants, sets off on a Faustian search for the "core" of the media will inevitably also reflect upon the function of the public service remit in the new media. Here, the particular question that arises is what role public service broadcasters should – or, more precisely, are allowed to – assume in the media world that is going to be reorganised. As expected, the ministers once again reaffirmed in their resolution their "support for technology-neutral public service media, including public service broadcasting,which enjoy genuine editorial independence and institutional autonomy".

Paragraph 7 of the action plan adopted together with the resolution contains a call for the further development of the notion of the public service value of the Internet. It expressly mentions the possibility of state intervention to redress market failure and specifically draws attention to cases "where market forces are unable to satisfy all legitimate needs or aspirations, both in terms of infrastructure and the range and quality of available content and services". Paragraph 7 of the action plan thus brings us to an issue of EC law that is a regular subject of decision by the Commission and the Court. Looking back, the question has up to now been what requirements the notion of a public service broadcaster has to meet with regard to its involvement in the new media in order to satisfy the competition and state aid provisions of EC law.

Topical as ever, this question fits into the general effort to strike a balance between the interests of public and private broadcasters in the changed media landscape. This IRIS plus accordingly discusses the involvement of public service broadcasting in the new media. The author examines to what extent and under what conditions the public service remit covers such an involvement and where the limits to legitimate state funding currently lie. She therefore goes in some detail into EC law and mentions numerous examples of national provisions in various countries.

It seems certain that the public service remit will have to be adapted to the context of the new media and that this adaptation will have to take place by taking into account the interests of the private and public media service providers. Whatever the outcome of this balancing act, at the end of this discussion we will be declaring "The King is dead. Long live the King!"