EU to go easy on Internet restrictions

New information services will not be subject to strict advertising rules or to requirements that a majority of content come from the European Union, following a decision this week.

New information services will not be subject to strict advertising rules or to requirements that a majority of content come from the European Union, the EU's Council of Ministers has decided this week.

European ministers of culture and audiovisual policy rejected amendments to a seven-year-old directive put forward by the European Parliament that would have introduced curbs on Internet services. They instead followed the European Commission's lead and restricted the directive's coverage to the television broadcasting sector.

The directive set out common rules on advertising content and timing in addition to imposing a requirement that a majority of content come from European Union countries "where practicable" since its adoption in 1989. In exchange for respecting these rules, broadcasters have access to all 15 member states in the EU after receiving a single national authorisation. Formerly, broadcasters needed permission from each member state in order to transmit into its territory.

The amended directive "constitutes from now on the legal framework for the free circulation of television broadcasts throughout the community on the event of the digital television revolution," Culture Commissioner Marcelino Oreja said in a statement following the council's vote.

The text now goes back to the European Parliament for a second opinion, after which it returns to the council for final approval.

Prior to the council vote, senior diplomatic sources had expressed concern that if the council did not act quickly, the television services risked getting caught up in ongoing discussions on what to do about regulating the new services.

"If the council discussions go on much longer, we will be moving on to a year since the commission first presented amendments to the directive. In the realm of high-tech services, one year is a long time, and if no action is taken, the commission could withdraw the directive and replace it with a text covering all information services," a diplomat, who asked not to be identified, told IDG last week.

"We need fast approval of these amended versions to clarify various provisions of the directive notably regarding tele-shopping," he says.

The commission acknowledges that the new services may require specific rules, notably regarding the protection of minors from pornography on the Internet, and by midyear is scheduled to produce a Green Paper exploring what rules may be necessary.

"There is an urgent need to do nothing" for fear that any new rules will serve only to undermine the development of these new services, the diplomat says.

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