Autumn 1989. The Television Without Frontiers Directive has just been adopted. Two American observers can be heard commenting in the halls of the Commission building: "This time, Europe is really going to move forward". A promising comment to welcome the enshrinement of a visionary principle: the application of the country-of-origin principle in the audiovisual sector.

European television viewers could now benefit from TV broadcasters' freedom of action and the free movement of programmes. The legal certainty deriving from the application of a single legal system, that of the country where the operator is established, would offer European broadcasters the stability of a well-defined foundation as well as the possibility of deploying their activity on a European scale with far greater freedom.

Nearly 20 years on, the huge technological progress and the multiplication of formats have made it necessary to broaden the scope of the directive, in order to include new audiovisual media services. In addition, closer economic and industrial ties between different media forms, such as signal transfers and programme publishing, require clarification because the entire TV economy will be turned upside down.

Looking at the issue from this perspective means that particular attention needs to pay to measures likely to impact on the financial interests of programme editors. Income from TV advertising is prey to regulatory temptations, often justified (protecting minors, combating obesity, etc), but sometimes awkward. The same goes for product placement: the attempt to create a legal framework must take account of the reality in which it exists. While this technique has opened doors for the funding of films, it also represents important risks for television: indeed, if given too big an opening, product placement could be tantamount to transferring wealth from the broadcaster to the producer, whereas the former assumes full editorial responsibility.

This would also further undermine broadcasters' direct resources, without real reason.

The debate over the promotion of independent production harbours the same possibility for abuse. All EU member states agree on the need to maintain or even develop such support. How to do so remains problematical. Few today would challenge the statement that...

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