Europe Television without Frontiers Directive implications for Satellite TV on the Costa Blanca Spain

Many people, and installers, are under the impression that European Union law means that you can watch your own countries television in any country. This is not the case. Hopefully this page will help clear up some of the misconceptions.

The History of Television without Frontiers Directive

The single European market – one of the biggest achievements of European integration – applies to television broadcasts as much as anything else. Just as any of us is free to buy chocolate, wine or a new car in any EU country, we can also watch TV channels from all over Europe. To function optimally, this single European TV market needs a minimum set of common rules covering aspects like television advertising, production of programmes and protection of minors. Since 1989 this has been provided by the Television without Frontiers Directive (TVWF). TVWF aims to create the conditions necessary for the free movement of television broadcasts within the EU (including most forms of transmission to the public of television programmes). It achieves this by preventing Member States from restricting reception and redistribution of broadcasts from other EU countries.

It is this last statement that people think allow them to receive their own country television throughout Europe.

In theory it does indeed. However, the nature of televisions broadcast contracts and copyright agreements may mean that broadcasters have to restrict their broadcasts to selected countries. The EU recognises that these contract are essential to how television operates through the EU, and recognise that this will restrict the full and free coverage of all Member countries broadcasts across the whole of Europe.

The statement also says that a country cannot restrict broadcasts from other counties. Well the main UK television channels are broadcast for free (free to air), and are available all over Europe for free. The statement says that, for example, Spain cannot block these transmissions. Similarly, if you live in the North East of France (Calais), you may even be able to receive the UK Freeview system transmitted from the UK mainland. The statement says that France cannot block these transmission.

The statement also states that Member countries cannot stop redistribution of broadcasts from other European countries. This, you may think, means that rebroadcasters can legally transmit channels from other countries. However, the directive does state that this only applied should the require permission (i.e. payment and copyright agreements) be made between the rebroadcasters and the the channels they are transmitting (referenced in the EUs and Internationals copyright directives.)

However, reception of television channels throughout the EU are juts a small part of AVS / TVwF. The directive also aims to standardise viewing and broadcasting across member states. These range form a common set of guidelines for the broadcasting of taste, racism, violent and protection of children in broadcasts. It also tries to provide guidance towards the amount of advertising and product placement on channels.

The implementation of Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS), the successor to TVwF, has produce guidelines for the emergence of new technologies, including online television on demand and internet streaming of television channels. Again, these streaming of television channels will be covered by the contractual arrangements between the programme makers and broadcasters. It will not mean that all UK TV channels can be legally streamed throughout the whole of Europe. Many of the guidelines of AVMS have to be implemented by December 2009.

1989 – Television without Frontiers TVWF passed

The technological revolution in the early 1980s – and the rapidly growing deficit with the US in audiovisual trade – were what first provided the incentive for European regulation. Rapid developments in TV and radio broadcasting technology – especially satellite broadcasting – resulted in commercial TV and radio stations sprouting up all over Western Europe. Since broadcast signals don’t stop at national borders, and the laws governing the audiovisual sector differed from one country to another, the EU came up with some minimum standards applicable in all member countries.

However, Television without Frontiers Directive was more a document of “guidelines” for EU member states to follow, rather than actual law

1997 – Television Without Frontiers updated

The directive was updated in 1997 to take account of further developments in the audiovisual sector. It now governs the EU-wide coordination of national legislation in the following areas: General provisions; Jurisdiction; Access of the public to major (sports) events; Promoting the production and distribution of European works; Television advertising, teleshopping and sponsorship; Protection of minors; Right of reply.

2007 – Television Without Frontiers Directive becomes Audiovisual Media Services Directive
The new Audiovisual Media Services Directive which also covers on-demand services must be applied by EU governments by 19 December 2009 at the latest.
Although the EU has asked for EU Member states for this Directive to be
implemented by 19 December 2009, many countries have not yet fully adopted it into law. In fact in Spain (as as September 2010), the AVMS Directive was still in draft!

However, this has not stopped telecoms companies claiming that under EU Law, and specifically AVMS, that their provision of UK TV via their ADSL Internet services is legal.