This month Policy World interviews Celene Craig, Deputy CEO, Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and the Chairperson of the European Platform of Regulatory Authorities (EPRA).
Q: You are both Deputy CEO of a national broadcasting regulator (the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) and the Chairperson of the European Platform of Regulatory Authorities (EPRA). Is it still relevant to have separate communications regulators for content and telecommunications issues, or do you think convergence has made the separation untenable?
A: I believe it is still relevant to have separate regulators for broadcasting/media content and telecommunications, (although clearly, many converged regulators continue to function very effectively!). The principal reason for my view is that I believe each area of regulation serves very useful but very different purposes. The principal strategic argument for converged regulation is typically one linked to developments in technology, the blurring of lines in the nature of content delivered via traditional and online means, and the changing behaviours in the way audiences receive and use media content. However, I believe that to answer the question it is necessary to examine the different purposes of content versus telecommunications regulation. At its core, content regulation is about protecting freedom of expression by firstly ensuring plurality in viewpoint, outlet and source of news and information that informs and supports democratic debate. It is also achieved through the provision of a diverse range of culturally-relevant content for citizens that reflects and promotes European and national identity. By contrast, telecommunications regulation is largely focussed on orderly economic development and appropriate competition leveraged through developments in telecommunications and related technologies, and through changes in spectrum usage. In my view, the continued case for separate regulation is supported by the fact that when the discussion on convergence first began in the late 1990s, there was an expectation that technological developments would result in the gradual deregulation of content, as the future of content was via the internet and would be incapable of being regulated. This hasn’t proved to be the case – we continue to see the strength of traditional television viewing and we witness the ability of players in this field to adapt to and reflect the needs and behaviours of their audiences, using technological developments as well as new forms of content to enhance the viewing experiences for audiences. In this way, they build upon and strengthen their brands and the trust that audiences place in the content they offer. Such developments are more likely to secure and enhance the future of media content rather than diminish its impact. Against that backdrop, I believe there is a continuing rationale for content regulation.
Q: EPRA, with the European Audiovisual Observatory, held a workshop in December 2015 that looked at how data protection issues impact audio visual media service providers, and the subsequent effect on the work of communications regulatory authorities. does this not illustrate further the need for regulatory authorities to come together in one cross-sectoral regulator? Can ways of working together effectively be found?
A: The EPRA-Observatory Workshop event was a very valuable exercise in increasing the understanding of content regulators with regard to the cross-cutting issues in the data protection field that arise from developments in interconnectivity between media services and users, especially with regard to their impact on freedom of expression, media pluralism and editorial responsibility. It reinforced the value of co-operation between both sets of regulators. However, there are large parts of each area of regulation which are unrelated and where it remains relevant to maintain and enhance expertise within authorities that are dedicated to a specific regulatory purpose.
Q: We are all awaiting the outcome of the public consultation on the European Commission’s Audio Visual Media Services Directive (AVMSD). What do you think the greatest challenges are that affect the content sector just now?
A: At the European level, possibly the biggest challenge for the content sector is how to ensure a sustainable ecosystem for media content against a backdrop of significant and on-going change in the consumption and distribution of content. Traditional players are trying to find appropriate responses to the evolving media environment while, at the same time, continuing to serve core, linear audiences. Allied to this is the impact that the fragmentation of audiences has had on traditional revenue streams and the ability to fund quality, culturally-relevant and innovative content that audiences expect. For public service media providers, key concerns relate, not only to funding, but also to access to platforms and the prominence and findability of public service content online.
Q: The EPRA work programme talks of ‘hot’ topics which are the ones that crop up, and ‘evergreen’ topics. which is the most difficult of the evergreen topics that you must consider and what are the obstacles to being able to cross it off your list of topics to discuss?
A: A good example of one of the evergreen topics that has been a focus for EPRA over the years is the regulation of audio-visual commercial communications. It’s something of a perennial subject because of new products and services which emerge and issues which arise that need to be addressed – e.g. the advertising of high-fat -salt and -sugar (HFSS) foods that have been linked to obesity in children. In the last 10-15 years, new and innovative forms of commercial communications have been facilitated by technological developments and these require appropriate regulatory consideration and response if audiences are to be afforded adequate protections. For this reason, I’m not sure that it’s ever possible to entirely “cross out” a regulatory topic!
Q: Your panel at the IIC included the European Commission, broadcasters and content creators, but also rights holders and a ‘disruptor’ in the form of an online retailer. what, if any, value do you see in that diversity of participants? How would you describe your experience at the IIC Telecommunications and Media Forum?
A: I considered the experience to be a very valuable one, as it is always helpful to hear a range of perspectives on a subject matter – an approach which EPRA very much values and reflects in the approach to its deliberations. When looking towards the future of content regulation and the review of European legislation in the audio-visual area, it is valuable to see the wider context in which the European Commission will ultimately make its decisions, in particular with regard to the Digital Single Market Strategy and legislative reforms in related areas such as copyright, data protection etc. The make-up of the panel was certainly representative of the range of interests that are informing and contributing to the debate in this regard.
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