Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Cultural protectionism?

In the mid-1990s, I did some research for a Labour MEP on European broadcasting regulations. This was a subject that I could never get anyone else remotely interested in, though it seemed very important to me.

Now, I have a blog and a handful of readers, so lets see if any of this surprises anyone.

I checked with Ofcom that nothing had changed since the last time I looked, and indeed it hasn't. Here is the summary that they sent me in an e-mail (finding anything worthwhile on their website was tellingly fruitless):

Article 4 of the EU Directive 89/552/EEC (usually known as the Television Without Frontiers Directive) requires that "where practicable" at least 50% of output (excluding news, sports events, games, advertising, teletext services and teleshopping) must be allocated to European works. "European works" are defined in Article 6 of the Directive. Basically they must be "mainly made" with authors and workers residing in one or more European state and made by producers established in those states. There are additional provisions for co-productions.

Section 278 of the Communications Act 2003 also requires that ITV1, Channel 4 and Five allocate appropriate proportions of their output, both in total and peak, to original productions. The actual amounts are set by Ofcom. The total amounts are as follows: ITV1 65%, Channel 4 60% and Five 55%. Equivalent requirements apply to the BBC television channels under the BBC's Agreement with the Secretary of State. The total amounts (which the BBC must agree with Ofcom) for BBC1 and BBC2 are 70%. "Original productions" are defined by statutory order and one of the requirements is that they must qualify as European works under the above Directive. Additional provisions are set out in the Order for co-productions.

Let me just translate that for you roughly. We, in the UK, apply European rules to ensure that the majority of all TV drama originates within the EU. And, in Britain, that effectively means... er... Britain.

Not only do we have this rule from the EU, it is one that we impose on ourselves more effectively, and with more gusto than any other EU country.

In terms of the real meat-and-spuds, we are easily Europe's most culturally protectionist country. Moreso than France.

And the only regret that I have in this front is that the rest of Europe aren't as zealous in this field as we are.

But my point is....

a) I bet you didn't know this?
b) I bet now that you do, you're a bit surprised?
c) I bet you realise just how significant this is in a world where audiovisual content is such a huge commodity?
d) I bet you also realise that the massive changes that are taking place in the way that such content is valued could have a significant effect on our economies and our lives? And that these changes - and technological developments - are going to make these rules very hard to defend?

So why, when I raise this - even here on Britain's brightest and most widely read blog - do I find it impossible to locate anyone else who thinks that this is either interesting or important?

Do let me know, won’t you?

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