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United Kingdom/ 5.3 Sector specific legislation  

5.3.7 Mass media

The Communications Act 2004 established the Office of Communications (Ofcom) as the independent media regulatory body, replacing five existing regulators - the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the Independent Television Commission, Oftel, the Radio Authority and the Radiocommunications Agency. Ofcom is sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and answers to the UK Parliament. Its task is to ensure that commercial television and radio, telecommunications networks and wireless and satellite services operate, compete and develop in the greater public interest. Ofcom also has a number of powers in relation to BBC television and radio and advises the Secretary of State on proposed newspaper mergers.

Independent production quotas have been statutorily imposed in relation to the UK's terrestrial and public service broadcasters. The Broadcasting Act 1990 requires the BBC, the ITV companies, Channel 4 and Channel 5 to devote at least 25% of their qualifying programming time to broadcasting a range and diversity of independent productions. European and independent production obligations provide continuous investment in the European audiovisual industry, while encouraging innovation and creativity.

The EC Broadcasting Directive Television Without Frontiers (TVWF) has been the main legislative instrument at EU level concerning audiovisual services. Article 4 implemented by the UK through the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996, requires Member States to ensure that broadcasters within their jurisdiction reserve a majority proportion of their qualifying transmission time for European works. Additionally, under Article 5, at least 10% of their transmission time was to be earmarked for European independent works, including an "adequate" proportion for recent independent European works.

The Audiovisual Media Services Directive 2007 (AVMS) updates the former TVWF Directive, in particular by extending its scope to include video on demand (VOD) services. AVMS is a single market Directive, designed to facilitate the free movement of scheduled television and video-on-demand services across Member States. Each Member State is required to impose certain minimum standards concerning advertising (including sponsorship and teleshopping), quotas of European and independent TV programming, protection of minors and public order, rights of reply to TV broadcasts, and access to TV broadcasts of major sports and other events. AVMS is "platform-neutral" and covers TV broadcasting and video-on-demand services irrespective of their means of delivery - terrestrial, satellite, cable TV, Internet, mobile phone or other.

EU Member States were required to implement the requirements of the AVMS Directive by December 2009. The Directive is being implemented in the UK by a co-regulatory system composed of an industry body and Ofcom with legislation passed by way of the European Communities Act 1972. The government is working with Ofcom on restructuring and amending the roles and codes of practice of existing bodies and, in particular, is working closely with UK suppliers of VOD services to form the co-regulatory body which can regulate the programme content in this area.

Although the AVMS Directive appears to extend regulation to a lot of audiovisual material which was not previously regulated under the TVWF Directive, particularly on the internet, Ofcom's intention is only to regulate audiovisual material on the internet that look like traditional broadcast television, as opposed to material which is incidental to, for example, a game or site selling holidays.

Chapter published: 15-04-2011

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