What does Europe consider to be public interest content and how do we make sure it's accessible and findable?
This brand new legal analysis explores the place for public interest content and looks at how European media law can safeguard its accessibility.
What do we consider to be audiovisual content made available in the public interest? And how does European media legislation ensure that this content can be found and accessed in today's media tsunami of information, films and programmes across all platforms? And in particular in a commercial context where the fight for airtime, bandwidth and spectrum can "squeeze out" public interest concerns?
This new report, prepared by our partner organisation IViR, explores the current situation with regards to media legislation in place.
Chapter one looks at the difficulties of providing a precise definition of the term "public interest content" in view of the tremendous variations between different categories of the general public. A challenge also lies in the fact that "public interest is not simply what interests the public".
Chapter two concentrates on the Council of Europe's initiatives to protect and promote public interest content across the various platforms. The European Court of Human Rights has handled cases related to the freedom of expression and the public's right to be informed since the 1970s. The Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers has also provided practical guidance on how to ensure the availability, accessibility and findability of public interest content across the various media and platforms.
Chapter three unpacks European Union law relative to this field. The authors analyse the various major legal instruments in place: the European Electronic Communications Code, the AVMSD, the Digital Services Act and the proposed European Media Freedom Act. All of these cornerstones of European media legislation contain provisions relating to the importance of availability of public interest content. Regarding the two most recent additions to the legislative panoply, the DSA and the proposed EMFA, the author notes that there has been a legislative shift switching the focus to online content delivery, to the autonomy of users in accessing content, as well as a reframing of accessibility as a remedy to disinformation. Indeed the EMFA regards public interest content as being a possible "antidote" to disinformation, foreign manipulation and interference.
Chapter four looks at how the various media markets deal with obligations to make available public interest content in light of the very clear economic interests at stake. The authors explain the "economics of prominence", central to the provision of public interest content. In today's media landscape, the scarce resource is actually eyeball time, given the vast supply of content available to viewers. As a result, a real "market for prominence" has emerged (including delivery techniques or position in programming guides, prominence of apps in app stores etc. which help to ensure that content is seen).
Chapters five and six zoom in on very specific audiences that merit special attention and protection: national minorities and children. This report explores international and national regulation which aims at ensuring pluralistic media content and also promotes media literacy within these specific audience groups. Regarding national minorities, the authors conclude that access to public interest content can serve concrete societal goals such as promoting inter-group dialogue and understanding, inclusive participation in public debate and conflict prevention.
Chapter seven deals with the specificity of local and regional information outlets. The report underlines the particular values of such information channels carrying public interest content as they "play a role on a host of fronts, ranging from providing reliable information (in times of crisis or otherwise) to bringing events or important democratic issues close to regional or local people."
Chapter eight focuses on public service media. The report analyses how European law and policy link public service media with public interest content, and the role of public service media in ensuring access to, and findability, of public interest content. The work of the Council of Europe and the European Union are particularly highlighted.
In conclusion this report rounds up this extremely thoughtful analysis of public interest content with the following comment: "Different groups in society, or different sectors of the public, may have different needs when it comes to finding, accessing and using public interest content. Regulation and policy at the European and national levels need to ensure that public interest content is not only general in nature, serving the needs of the public in a broad sense. Public interest content must also be sufficiently differentiated to serve the needs of the constituent groups of the broader public."