Commission forced to withdraw proposals for public broadcasting

14 January 2009

Commission forced to withdraw proposals for public broadcasting

SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer has for months been bombarding EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes with critical questions over the way in which her recently announced proposals for the future of public broadcasting would hinder its functioning. Even the CDA, the majority centre-right party of the Dutch government, called Kroes's plans 'unacceptable' during last Monday's debate on the issue at the European Parliament's plenary session in Strasbourg, and cross-party hostility has forced the Commission to back down. This represents a political success for the SP.


Commissioner Kroes was unfortunately unable to attend the Strasbourg debate as a result of a minor car accident. She was replaced by colleague Androulla Vassiliou, who in answering questions placed by Dutch Christian Democrat Cornelis Visser was forced to recognise that diversity in the media is of great importance and that relations within the world of the media must be "fair".

Is broadcasting just another market sector?

The European Commission is determined to judge the performance of public broadcasting corporations according to commercial criteria. The very involvement of the Directorate General for Competition in placing restrictions on public broadcasting, and the lack of involvement of the Directorate General for Education and Culture, demonstrates that the European Commission sees the cultural aspects of public broadcasting as less important than the pursuit of profit on a model suitable to commercial concerns.

Brussels is turning history on its head, seeing public broadcasting as straightforward competition for commercial television and radio services. "The free market liberal Kroes also sees public broadcasting simply as part of the market," says Erik Meijer. "She is seizing the opportunity of the arrival of the digital age to prevent public broadcasting corporations from offering, for example, pay-to-view services. Surely it's for the governments of the member states to make their own decisions on this.".

Meddling Eurocrats

In October, the SP accused Commissioner Kroes of working to undermine public broadcasting. "Henceforth Brussels wants to determine just what are the tasks of public radio stations such as our own Netherlands 1, 2 and 3," we said. And the SP was not alone in believing this. "Nineteen European governments have objections to the European Commission's detailed interference. These governments want to determine for themselves the responsibilities of their public broadcasting systems," said Meijer. "I want Kroes to sop making rules which limit the freedom of public broadcasters," he adds now.

Room for profit

"The future of public broadcasting will be put in danger if its room for manoeuvre is limited to offer more room for profit for commercial broadcasters. Even worse would be if that happened against the will of this parliament and if the strongly expressed objections of nineteen of the twenty-seven member state governments were simply dismissed. In recent years I have asked the Commission on a number of occasions to abandon this disastrous course. This seems to me the only possible solution, given the broadly felt disquiet which has arisen in relation to it."

Negative input

The European Commission's next step will be to conduct an enquiry. The danger of undermining public broadcasting has still not gone away, because this enquiry will be directed only at public broadcasting's "negative" influence. From her choice of words it also appears that Kroes is annoyed. She doesn't speak about the social utility of public broadcasting, but about the "damage" which broadcasting services wholly or partly financed by the state may do to commerce. Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, Neelie Kroes's replacement on Monday, went so far as to use the term "collateral damage", more familiar from warfare.

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