Answer given by Mrs Reding on behalf of the Commission
As the Honorable Member indicates, after in-depth discussions, Parliament and Council agreed to include in Directive 2007/65/EC(1) (the ‘Directive’) an obligation for Member States to promote accessibility to all audiovisual media services for people hard of hearing and the visually impaired.
Article 3c of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive reads:
‘Member States shall encourage media service providers under their jurisdiction to ensure that their services are gradually made accessible to people with a visual or hearing disability.’
As instruments that could be used for this purpose, Recital 64 of the directive mentions, inter alia, sign language, subtitling, audiodescription and easily understandable menu navigation. These requirements apply to public and commercial audiovisual media service providers alike. Moreover, the definition of a ‘media service provider’ covers both ‘broadcasters’ as the Commission has traditionally understood the term and providers of on-demand services. Member States have to transpose this obligation by the end of 2009.
It is incumbent, in the first instance, on Member States to decide on precisely how to implement the new provision. The Commission, however, supports Member States in their implementation of the Directive. In a series of meetings of the Contact Committee referred to in Article 26a of the directive, Member States are invited to share best practices and, where appropriate ‘meet benchmarks’. The agenda of the Committee meeting on 16 April 2008 included a specific item on the implementation of Article 3c. In this meeting the Commission reiterated its view that the reporting obligation placed on Member States by virtue of Article 24 of the directive covers this provision. The Commission will continue to monitor closely its effective implementation.
It should also be mentioned that the issue of integrating people with disabilities into the information society should be distinguished from the promotion of foreign language skills. Subtitling for providing access for hearing impaired persons to follow a programme naturally would be in the language of the programme (French for a French programme, German for a German programme) and it is often referred to as captioning. Captioning is not intended primarily to promote foreign languages, although it can help viewers to understand programmes in foreign languages. The issue of subtitling foreign language films for improving foreign language skills and cultural diversity has a different public policy objective. Such subtitling is, inter alia, promoted by the EU's MEDIA programme(2) to help European films to be circulated outside their national borders. To include an obligation to subtitle foreign language film in the remit of public service broadcasters is a matter within the competence of the national authorities.
The Commission also draws the attention to the fact that most Member States and the European Community signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 30 March 2007. Article 30 provides, inter alia, that States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy access to television programmes in accessible formats.
Directive 2007/65/EC of Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2007 amending Council Directive 89/552/EEC on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the pursuit of television broadcasting activities, OJ L 332, 18.12.2007.