UK media services - Preserving standards


The Government has called for the video-on-demand industry to work together to help form a co-regulatory body that will maintain standards of content. The Government also intends to maintain the current rules preventing product placement in programmes made for British television. The plans put forward today are part of the UK's obligation to implement the EU Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive, and follow a three month consultation.

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Andy Burnham said:
"My priority has always been to make sure we maintain levels of trust between audiences and broadcasters, and protect the standards of broadcasting for which Britain is known worldwide.

"I have listened carefully to the arguments on both sides around product placement, and concluded that it should not be permitted in programmes made for this country. There is a lack of evidence of economic benefits, along with very serious concerns about blurring the boundaries between advertising and editorial.

"Britain is known around the world for the high quality of its broadcasting output. We need to continue to preserve editorial integrity as technology advances.

"I am well aware that a number of commercial broadcasters are facing difficult economic times and I will continue to work with the industry to explore ways we can support them, but my preference is to consider all other avenues before allowing product placement."

Under the Directive the UK and other member states have until December this year to implement the compulsory elements which are expected to lead to new legislation.

The three areas in which work now has to go forward are:
  • Introducing a system for regulating video-on-demand services in the UK;
  • Controls over the content of non-EU satellite channels which are uplinked from a ground station in the UK; and
  • Product placement in television and video-on-demand services.

For the first time common standards are being brought in for video-on-demand services across the EU. A co-regulatory body led and funded by the industry will take on responsibility for regulating programme content on video-on-demand services in the UK. Under the new rules, all UK providers of VOD services will need to notify the co-regulator that they are providing a service and Ofcom will be given 'backstop' powers to deal with serious or repeated breaches of standards.

Satellite television channels from outside the EU which are uplinked from the UK will be required to have a broadcasting licence issued by Ofcom. Providers of uplink services will be required to stop uplinking a channel if they are informed by Ofcom the channel does not have a licence, or that it is in breach of its licence conditions.

Product placement is currently banned on any UK made programmes. Under the AVMS Directive all EU member states must prohibit product placement but can decide to allow certain exemptions. Today the Government has announced that the current position will remain unchanged. Product placement will continue to be banned in programmes made by and for UK television broadcasters. It will continue to be allowed in video-on-demand programmes, and in films and television programmes acquired from outside the UK, subject to the limitations and safeguards imposed by the Directive.

The Government has said it will review the position on television product placement in 2011/12, taking into account the conclusions reached by Ofcom on the quantity and the distribution of television advertising, changes in viewing habits and any new evidence about the impact and potential benefits of product placement.

The Government will continue to work with all those involved to establish the new arrangements.

The AVMS Directive came into force in December 2007. The UK and all other Member States have until December 2009 to implement it in their domestic law. It revises and updates the existing Television Without Frontiers (TVWF) Directive which was adopted in 1989 and amended in 1997.

The Directive also allows TV broadcasters to use short extracts of other broadcasters' exclusive coverage of sports and other major events to use in news reports. The Government is considering this separately from other AVMS issues and there will be an announcement on this later.

Video-on-demand services only come within the scope of the AVMS Directive if they are mass media services whose principal purpose is to provide TV programmes to the public on demand.

The AVMS Directive has changed EU law about satellite TV channels from outside Europe which can be received in the EU. The Directive makes the Member State where the uplink is located (the ground station which relays the signal up to the satellite) responsible for ensuring that a channel of this sort does not transmit unacceptable material.

The Government plans to implement the AVMS Directive using an Order under section 2.2 of the European Communities Act 1972. This allows amendments to UK law to be made through secondary legislation.