News :: The European Audiovisual Policy and Reform of the Broadcasting Sector in the Western Balkans
(24/06/2005) On 16 and 17 June, the European Commission, in cooperation with the Council of Europe organised a seminar on this topic in Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina). The seminar focused on two concrete challenges faced by the broadcasting sector in the Western Balkan countries: the transformation of state television companies into genuine public service broadcasters and the development of local content in the context of the European objective to promote cultural diversity in the audiovisual media.
Public service broadcasting is a vital element of democracy in Europe. The transformation of state television into public service broadcasters is a priority in the field of media mentioned in all European partnerships with the Western Balkan countries. Moreover the future possibility for the Western Balkan countries to participate in the Community programmes, among which the proposed MEDIA 2007, subject to a prior examination of the compatibility of the national legislation with the European Community audiovisual acquis, opens new possibilities and increases the need for awareness on the cultural dimension of the European audiovisual policy.
The overall purpose of the seminar in Sarajevo was to provide a forum for the exchange of experiences among regulatory authorities, representatives of the governments of the Western Balkan countries and the European Commission and the Council of Europe, together with the diffusion of best practices and the identification of local needs in the ongoing administrative and legislative reform process and its implementation.
The seminar allowed the exchange of information and experiences among the authorities of the Western Balkan countries, and contributed to underline the importance of public service broadcasters, to disseminate good practices and to identify concrete ways of accelerating the pace of the necessary reforms in the field.
The signature of the protocol for cooperation among public service broadcasters of the region upon initiative of the broadcasting council of the host country, at the occasion of the seminar, illustrates the regional dynamic of the reform process and offers a concrete tool to pursue the exchange of experiences and best practices.
In 2003 the European Commission in collaboration with the Council of Europe launched an initiative to raise the level of information on European audiovisual standards in the region and to support policy reform. A first seminar took place in March 2004 in Belgrade and was conceived as an exchange of information on European standards and the state-of-play of media policy in each of the Western Balkan countries. A follow-up seminar took place in Skopje in November 2004 and focused on the role of the broadcasting regulatory authorities within an effective and stable regulatory system.
Building on the results of these two seminars, the European Commission pursued the dialogue with the relevant stakeholders in the region with a new seminar. The seminar focused on two concrete challenges faced by the broadcasting sector in the Western Balkan countries: the transformation of state television companies into genuine public service broadcasters and the development of local content in the context of the European objective to promote cultural diversity in the audiovisual media.
Fundamental principles governing the democratic functioning of the media are essential elements of the Copenhagen criteria and the Stabilisation and Association Process conditionality. The Stabilisation and Association process and the Stabilisation and Association Agreements between the Western Balkan countries and the European Union when signed, are the means of the Western Balkans countries to begin preparing themselves for the demands of the perspective on accession to the EU. In the Stabilisation and Association process European standards regarding media are systematically addressed in parallel with the progressive alignment process with the EC audiovisual acquis.
The exchange of experiences among the different authorities allowed the reinforcement of the “networking effect” among the different players in the region.
Audiovisual Policy and Reform of the Broadcasting Sector in the Western Balkans
The Western Balkan countries have already made substantial efforts to meet European standards on media and the process of reform is ongoing. Further progress is needed to transform state broadcasters into genuine public service broadcasters and to ensure free access to information, freedom and independence of the media, full independence of Regulatory Bodies and the transparent and fair allocation and regulation of emission frequencies. Political interference in the media, sometimes through financial and fiscal pressure, still persists in most of the countries, and protection against undue defamation is not satisfactory.
More efforts are required to ensure the media’s financial viability over the long term, particularly as far as the transparency of financial sources and the rules of media ownership and concentration are concerned. A level playing field for public and private broadcasters is needed to ensure the co-existence of viable public and private sectors. Efforts should also be directed at consolidating professional structures, raising professional and ethical standards – thereby promoting self-regulation – and ensuring the appropriate involvement of relevant professional and other bodies in the functioning of the media.
The European Commission and other relevant European organisations are reinforcing their co-operation with the public authorities and professional sectors in the countries, in order to increase awareness of best practices in the media and to identify ways to accelerate the pace of the necessary reforms.