European Commission seeks to restrict public services broadcasters’ online and digital services

April 2005

Television, Internet, Radio

The European Commission is to look at the role played by public service broadcasters in the provision of digital and online services. In particular the EC Competition Directorate, headed by Commissioner Neelie Kroes, will look at whether state funding of online and digital services is unlawful state aid. The commercial sector has complained that the online services provided by German public service broadcasters ARD and ZDF and by the BBC in the United Kingdom results in unfair competition to the commercial sector as it is funded by public money or governments. In an effort to head of confrontation ARD and ZDF are to limit their online services to programme related services. The licence fee funded BBC provide its 24 hour news channel News 24 (against commercial providers such as CNN and Sky) childrens’ channels CBBC and CBeeebies (against commercial providers such as Nickleodeon) and a wide range of highly successful web pages at The BBC also provides a free to air ‘youth’ and comedy channel, BBC3, and the arts and culture channel BBC4. Whilst the principle of licence fee funded broadcasting is not under threat, recent state funding of web and digital services could be. Action against the German state broadcasters could result in an interesting challenge between the German Constitutional Court which guarantees ZDF and ARD the right to extensive web services and the European Court of Justice which would be used by the EU to (presumably) ratify the Competition Directorate’s decision(s).
Source: The Guardian 28/02/05

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