According to the PROTOCOL No 29 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union “ON THE SYSTEM OF PUBLIC BROADCASTING IN THE MEMBER STATES”, in view of the fact that the system of public broadcasting in the Member States is directly related to the democratic, social and cultural needs of each society and to the need to preserve media pluralism, the Member States agreed to annex to the Treaty on the European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union the following interpretative provisions that in this way became binding: “The provisions of the Treaties shall be without prejudice to the competence of Member States to provide for the funding of public service broadcasting and in so far as such funding is granted to broadcasting organisations for the fulfillment of the public service remit as conferred, defined and organised by each Member State, and in so far as such funding does not affect trading conditions and competition in the Union to an extent which would be contrary to the common interest, while the realisation of the remit of that public service shall be taken into account”.

Whereas the reason for the adoption of this Protocol acknowledging the competence of the Member States to support “public service broadcasting” is in principle obvious and legitimate, its implementation, which is subject to the simultaneous respect of the fundamental competition principles, remains problematic and often had to be guided by Solomon solutions given by the ECJ. After many years of an open market in which private broadcasters dominate over the public ones, the question still remains as to whether this distinction make any sense nowadays. It would be as if the Protocol and the public interest it reflects concerns only a minority view, and thus, not attaining its objective as if private broadcasting is completely indifferent to the democratic, social and cultural needs of each society, in addition to the need to preserve media pluralism. Certainly, it is far from the above stated notion. Nevertheless, the convergence of new technologies and the digitisation have offered endless opportunities to newcomers. More so, the new era of “spectrum” has ushered in, a phenomenon which has an impact that cannot at this point be entirely assessed and measured ranging from the impact of online advertising to privacy issues, interactivity or just information; in one word the “image” and its (ab)use. Irrespective of the antithesis between the sought goal of democracy and the Protocol’s discrimination against private channels – besides the risk to water down “democracy” when financing it- if the underlying objective, after all, is quality of content, the latter can better be achieved via free and open competition. From all points of view, public and private broadcasters offer the same services; what may differ is quality and quality is the only guarantee of the stated objectives. Distinguishing between public and private broadcasting does not safeguard these goals, and in view of the technological and market developments, it is not justified anymore. Broadcasting cannot be but a public service mission whoever the carrier of it may be. Content wise, all have to pursue a high quality of service.

Simultaneously, there is a need of State control, the need of the caring hand of the State to support and monitor this cultural value of quality that is indispensable as the counterweight to a technology that should always remain on the service of content. This State vigilance is particularly required each time there is a transition to a new technological means, exactly as now in the case of spectrum. At least until the first experiences are acquired, the active role of the public authorities is a valuable element, namely in transitional periods, as it is during the changeover from analog to digital and the use of spectrum frequencies. Otherwise, it risks becoming the passage of a civilised world into an unknown jungle technologically advanced but culturally lost.

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