Syed is one of London’s Tory MEPs. His website is here.
Being an MEP involves crossing a time zone every week of my life, but I sometimes wonder if I actually cross time warps to different planets.
I have recently been spending many hours in Brussels and Strasbourg acting as Shadow Rapporteur for the Television Without Frontiers Directive on the Internal Market Committee of the European Parliament. This has taught me that European law makers not only have a completely different mind set but also a completely different television set.
To the mind of the European law makers & regulators, it is dangerous for viewers if they watch too many programmes that were not made in Europe. It is even more dangerous if film and programme makers seek alternative revenue streams by allowing product placement. It is OK if the programme comes from America, because you expect that sort of thing from them but not if it’s made in Europe! And as for advertising to children, that exposes them far too dangerously to adult activities like shopping.
The European regulator is not comfortable with the multichannel world. Too much choice puts too much power in the hands of the viewer, and how would the viewer know what they really want to watch? So, when it dawned on the ultimate European media regulator, Commissioner for Information, Society and Media Viviane Reding, that the web and on-demand TV services was giving viewers even more choices, she realised it was time to take firm action. A new TV Without Frontiers Directive would have to be introduced to bring internet broadcasters under the same regulatory burdens as traditional television.
Having failed to understand the impact of YouTube on the viewing habits of young people, many MEPs were only alerted to the fact that it even existed when Google bought it for a cool £1.6 billion. They are now even more determined extend the scope of the directive to regulate any services that might previously have slipped through the regulatory net.
While I and several of my free market colleagues on the Internal Market & others committees have done our best to represent the broadcasting and new media industry’s concerns about the scope and nature of the TVWF Directive, I am resting my main hopes for the future of British broadcasting and new media services on their ability to grab the opportunities afforded by the internet. Under the new Directive, internet broadcasters must beware of engaging in ‘economic activity’ and ‘editorial choices’ if they are to avoid regulation. A tall order if you are trying to earn a living but the market will find a way, I am sure.
As a sports fan, I can say hand on heart that the best thing that ever happened to sports broadcasting in the UK was Rupert Murdoch exploiting a loophole in the law to start Sky TV. Like him in the last century, the internet broadcasters of the twenty first century will just have to look for loopholes in the law. He went into space. In an internet age, you just need to offer services from outside the continent and then sit back and watch the European regulator try to jam your webcasts or commercial blogs, confident in the knowledge that, ultimately, the only effective regulators in this game are going to be the viewers themselves.
It is a sad situation when you have to conclude that rather than politicians allowing new services the space to flourish, instead media services companies will have to stay two steps ahead of European regulations. Our creative industries will have to just keep on running. If only we could use TiVo technology to fast forward past European regulations!