Press release

MEPs set new rules on TV commercials and product placement

Information - 13-12-2006 - 14:08
Plenary sessions
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The European Parliament backed a proposed overhaul of the advertising rules for TV channels in Europe, including a new approach to product placement. In widening the scope of the so-called Television without Frontiers Directive to all Audiovisual Media Services, MEPs also voted to include new means of broadcasting. Parliament agreed to allow breaks for commercials in movies and some other TV programmes every 30 minutes.

Product placement should be soon legal all across Europe but subject to common EU wide limits.
By adopting the first reading co-decision report, Parliament also endorsed mechanisms to allow all Member States to adopt stricter, but duly justified rules and to enable them to fight abuses by audiovisual media service providers based in other EU countries. Several amendments on ethical and fairness issues as well as on definitions were adopted too.
The new legislation aims to update the 1997 TWF directive, now to be dubbed the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, to bring it into line with new developments in audiovisual technology and advertising.  The Commission's proposal is intended to create a level playing field for public and private broadcasters and independent producers.  It also aims to widen the scope of the rules to include new media. 
Strict limits on product placement
In one of the most controversial areas of the directive, Parliament backed a new amendment brokered by Ruth Hieronymi (EPP-ED, DE) which would see product placement allowed in a limited range of programmes, and then only under strict rules.
Product placement would be banned in "news and current affairs programmes, children's programmes, documentaries and programmes of advice".  "Product integration and thematic placement shall be prohibited in principle."
Member States could still permit it "in cinematographic works, films and series made for television and sports broadcasts", as well as in cases of "production props where no payment is made but certain goods or services are merely provided for free of charge with a view to their inclusion in a programme."
Even where they are allowed, however, the content and the scheduling programmes that feature product placement should, say MEPs, never affect "the responsibility and editorial independence" of the broadcaster; nor should they "directly encourage the purchase or rental of goods or services" or give "undue prominence to the product in question".
Lastly, viewers should be appropriately notified of the existence of product placement in such programmes, "at the start and the end of the programme and by a signal at least every 20 minutes during the programme".
In cases of production props the viewer should be informed of the use of any such aid "by appropriate means".
MEPs agreed with the Commission that product placement for tobacco products or cigarettes (or producers whose principal activity is the manufacture or sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products) should be completely banned. (
This ban would also apply to "specific medicinal products or medical treatments available only on prescription in the Member State within whose jurisdiction the media service provider falls".
New rules on advertising
The Parliament voted to limit advertising breaks in "the transmission of films made for television (excluding series, serials, light entertainment programmes and documentaries), cinematographic works, children’s programmes and news programmes" to "once for each scheduled period of 30 minutes" - and not, as the Commission had proposed, every 35 minutes, or the Culture Committee with 45 minutes. On this amendment, 324 MEPs voted in favour and 323 against.
Television advertising and teleshopping will have be "readily recognisable and distinguishable from editorial content".  Television advertising and teleshopping will also have to be kept "quite distinct from other parts of the programme service by optical and/or acoustic and/or spatial means".
And the proportion of short forms of advertising such as advertising spots and teleshopping spots within a given clock hour must not exceed 20%.
MEPs also ask the Member States and the Commission to "encourage audiovisual service provider to develop a code of conduct regarding children's programming containing or being interrupted by advertising, sponsorship or any marketing of unhealthy and inappropriate foods and drinks such as those high in fat, sugar and salt and of alcoholic beverages".
Derogations from the country of origin principle
Derogations from the so called country of origin principle allow all Member States to adopt more detailed or stricter rules, provided that they are "justified for reasons of public policy, including the protection of minors or public security or public health or the protection of cultural diversity". Once a Member State considers that a broadcaster under the jurisdiction of another Member State takes advantage of the Directive "in abusive or fraudulent manner in order to circumvent such rules", it may contact the Member State having jurisdiction with a view to achieving a mutually satisfactory solution to any problems posed.
In an attempt to prevent any further abuse or fraudulent conduct, MEPs also clarified a set of criteria when a Member State may adopt appropriate measures against the media service provider based in another EU country. Such measures have to be "objectively necessary, applied in a non-discriminatory manner, be suitable for attaining the objectives which they pursue and may not go beyond what is necessary to attain them".
The European Commission would have to be asked whether the measures are compatible with Community law. If it says no, "the Member State in question shall refrain from taking the proposed measures".
Ethical and fairness issues
Under the Commission's proposal, Member States would have to ensure that commercials aired by providers under their jurisdiction do not include or incite prejudice or discrimination. The Parliament proposes additional conditions, saying commercials should not offend on the basis of gender, disability, age or sexual orientation, nor "violate human dignity."
Member States will have to ensure that programmes broadcast by media service providers under their jurisdiction do not contain "anything which might seriously impair the physical, psychological and moral development of minors, particularly programmes showing pornography or senseless violence".
Member States must ensure that audio-visual media services are gradually made accessible to people with a visual or hearing disability, and must submit a bi-annual report to the Commission on the progress they have made.
Member States must also establish a right of reply or equivalent remedies for "any natural or legal person, regardless of nationality, whose legitimate interests, in particular but not limited to reputation and good name, have been affected by an assertion of facts in a transmission".
Definitions and next steps
The Parliament did not wholly endorse the Commission's suggested definition of audiovisual media services, opting instead to modify the concepts of "linear services" and "on demand services" in the draft legislation. The former refers to traditional television broadcasting "transmitted... according to a fixed programming schedule", while the latter comprises services such as web TV or video-on-demand -- where the user requests the transmission of a given programme "on an individual basis".
After the Parliament's first reading, it is now the Council's turn. Once its Common Position is adopted early next year - probably based on a preliminary compromise agreed on 13 November 2006 by the Ministers and taking into account EP's amendments -, the draft legislation will return to Parliament for a second reading. Once finally adopted by both the EP and the Council, Member States will have two years to transpose the new directive into national law.
REF.: 20061207IPR01149