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The independence of media regulatory authorities in Europe

European Audiovisual Observatory releases new report about the new AVMSD and its effects on media regulation in Europe
Strasbourg, France 09/10/2019
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The independence of media regulatory authorities in Europe

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Europe’s main piece of media legislation – the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) – was recently revised and a new version entered into force last autumn. This new AVMSD introduces an obligation for EU member states to designate one or more independent national regulatory authorities to oversee the broadcasting and audiovisual media sector in Europe. These must be legally distinct from the government and functionally independent from their respective governments and from any other public or private body. The European Audiovisual Observatory has an ever vigilant eye on European media legislation and has just released, with the scientific coordination of its partner institution – the Institute for Information Law (IViR) of the University of Amsterdam, an in-depth analysis of what the new AVMSD will mean for European regulators: The independence of media regulatory authorities in Europe

The authors open this report by outlining the concept of independent media regulation. This introduction also emphasizes the role of independent control of the audiovisual media sector in the healthy functioning of a democratic society.

Chapter two highlights the foundations for independent media regulation laid by the Council of Europe : from the European Convention on Transfrontier Television (ECTT - 1989) to the standard-setting work that has been done through the adoption of various texts by the Council over the last two decades: the Recommendation on the independence and functions of regulatory authorities (2000); the Declaration on the independence and functions of regulatory authorities (2008); and the Recommendation on media pluralism and transparency of media ownership (2018).

Chapter three turns to EU legislation pertaining to the independence of regulatory entities and looks at how this has evolved over the years. The authors point out that the 2010 version of the AVMSD did not oblige member states to guarantee the independence of regulatory authorities and bodies. This situation evolved with the 2018 version in which a revised Article 30 Article introduces a detailed provision requiring member states to designate one or more independent regulatory authorities, while at the same time specifying some of the requirements and substantive safeguards to guarantee their independence. The 2010 statement became a binding obligation in 2018 partly as a result of the INDIREG study (“Indicators for independence and efficient functioning of audiovisual media services regulatory bodies”) carried out in 2011 at the request of the European Commission. The clear aim of this study was to measure the independence of regulatory authorities across Europe.

Chapter four drills down into this INDIREG study and details the five indicators it uses to measure the independence of regulatory authorities: the status and powers of the authority; its financial autonomy; the autonomy of decision-makers; the adequate provision of professionally qualified human resources; and, lastly, the accountability and transparency of the authority. The authors analyse the impact of the INDIREG study and link up its methodology with the final revised Article 30 in the new 2018 AVMSD.

The deadline for implementation of the current AVMSD by all EU member states is 19 September 2020. In light of this date, this in-depth report zooms in on a sample of nine different EU countries and looks at the state of independence of their regulatory bodies. Chapters 5 to 13 look at the independence requirements set out by Article 30, the standards promoted by the Council of Europe, as well as at criteria such as the functional and legal independence of the entity, its powers, the appointment procedures within the organisation and the possible appeal mechanisms. The resulting analysis shows the level of disparity among the nine selected countries.

Finally, Chapter fourteen provides a comparative analysis of the standards promoted by the Council of Europe in its standard-setting instruments and Article 30 of the new AVMSD. It then compares the main conclusions on the state of independence of the media regulators in the nine above-mentioned European countries, according to the relevant criteria. The authors round up the report by offering individual summaries of the level of independence for each of the nine countries analysed.

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