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The House of Commons EU Scrutiny Committee Speaks

On 7 March 2017, the House of Commons EU Scrutiny Committee released its meeting summary from last week, in which it considers continued access to the Internal Market for UK broadcasters post-Brexit. As the Committee notes, Brexit “raises particularly stark issues in the broadcasting sector.” The Committee has requested the Government to respond to a number of questions by the end of this month.

The questions are raised as part of the Committee’s work on scrutinising the proposal for a revised Audio Visual Media Services Directive. Through the AVMS Directive, the EU has created a highly integrated Internal Market in broadcasting. In short, a broadcaster established in any one EU Member State can freely broadcast to the other 27 Member States. (In contrast, a broadcaster established outside of the EU cannot broadcast to the Internal Market.)

Under this regime, the UK has become the undisputed destination for broadcasters seeking access to the EU market. As recognised by the Government’s White Paper on Brexit, the UK is the biggest broadcasting hub in the EU. There are over 1,100 channels licensed by Ofcom in the UK and half of these channels broadcast from the UK to other countries.

In contrast to the level of integration within the EU broadcasting market, broadcasting is one of the least liberalised sectors in global trade, at the level of both World Trade Organization and also in free trade agreements. Many, if not most, countries insist that the particular nature and importance of culture means that it should not be treated like other commodities.

While the Council of Europe Convention on Transfrontier Television offers a certain level of access to the Internal Market, there are significant limitations. One, it only covers broadcasting, whereas the Directive additionally covers audio visual media services. Two, a number of EU Member States have not ratified the Convention and, as such, access to the markets for those Member States is not possible. Three, the Convention lacks an effective enforcement mechanism.

Given the questions surrounding broadcasting post-Brexit, the Committee will continue to scrutinise the proposal for a revised AVMS Directive and has asked the Government to provide further information, including on the impact of broadcasters and jobs post-Brexit under various scenarios.

The Committee’s full report, together with the questions raised, is available here.

If you have any questions, please get in touch with Ted, Sunniva or your usual Wiggin contact.