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Is the public interest under threat? Public service broadcasting, market failure and new technologies: the view from the European Union

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This article examines the status of public service broadcasting in the European Union, focusing on the extent to which State aid rules prescribe its scope in particular in the new media environment. Although its substantive policy output is centred on economic and competition priorities, the European Union has been increasingly sensitive to public interest considerations. Moreover, it is argued that the European Commission has generally supported public service broadcasters in its decisions and, even if critical at times, has overall respected the balance between economic and sociocultural aims struck at the national level.

The revised Broadcasting Communication (2009) endorses market arguments, but at the same time it rejects some potentially restrictive approaches implied in earlier investigations and strengthens subsidiarity in the field of public service broadcasting. The Communication reaffirms that the member states are primarily responsible for promoting democratic and public interest objectives, but, and here lies the tension, the European Union has effectively a vetting power in ensuring that these objectives do not unduly distort competition. The precise impact of the Communication on the public interest now hangs on how member states will implement it.
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Keywords: 2009 European Broadcasting Communication; European Union; State aid; online media; public service broadcasting; thematic channels

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Westminster.

Publication date: 2010-12-01

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