In the public interest

IRIS Plus 2015-1: The protection of minors in a converged media environment

Author: Francisco Javier Cabrera Blázquez, Maja Cappello, Sophie Valais (European Audiovisual Observatory) & Amélie Lépinard (Jurist)

Published: 11/06/2015

This publication concentrates on the protection of minors from harmful editorial content delivered over electronic communication networks.

This means that all types of audiovisual content will be considered, even if distributed by subjects that do not qualify as audiovisual media service providers, but as information society services delivered over unmanaged networks in the free Internet. This delimitation of scope implies that both traditional broadcasting and on-demand services will be covered and this at all levels of regulation: from the international level to the national, with a particular focus on the European regulatory framework, namely on Articles 12 and 27 of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (2010/13/EU), currently under evaluation by the European Commission (so-called REFIT exercise). On the other hand, the Internet does not remain unregulated, but falls under the lighter framework in terms of responsibility of the providers set by the E-Commerce Directive (2000/31/EC) in cases of provision of audiovisual content over their networks.

Since converged services are the result of strong technological development, the protection of minors should also involve a high degree of participation of the industry itself. Self- and co-regulatory instruments will therefore also be investigated, with a particular focus on the various technical solutions and tools, including labelling systems that are being developed across Europe. Especially for services not falling under the editorial responsibility of audiovisual media providers, the role of self-regulation appears to be particularly relevant and various examples of codes of conduct will be provided.

Another aspect to consider is that national perceptions of what is to be considered “harmful” vary from country to country and this is the reason why the European regulatory framework has refrained from introducing a harmonised definition, but rather relies on national interpretative criteria and protection standards. This also explains why there is little case-law at the European level, while most issues are dealt with by national courts.
Considering the variety of solutions provided – regarding what is harmful content and which minors are to be protected – and the different levels of protection ensured according to the type of service, it can be questioned whether there is a need of alignment. In this regard it is worth noting that the responses to the recent Green Paper of the EU Commission show a certain consensus on the fact that more could be done, whereas the level of disagreement is quite high on the means that would be necessary to achieve this result. This publication aims at helping to set the scene for a discussion among involved stakeholders and institutions.

This IRIS plus is the first issue of a new series, which will cover a selection of topics that are high on the European regulatory agenda. Starting with outlining the economic and technological backdrop (chapter 1), it looks into the international and European regulatory framework (Chapter 2) and the national implementation of these provisions (chapter 3) before finally making incursions into self- and co-regulation (chapter 4) case-law (chapter 5) and recent trends (chapter 6). The tables published in the IRIS bonus “Comparative tables on the protection of minors in audiovisual media services” will hopefully be a useful tool for our readers.

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