The European Convention on Transfrontier Television

The European Convention on Transfrontier Television is the first international treaty creating a legal framework for the free circulation of transfrontier television programs in Europe, through minimum common rules, in fields such as programming, advertising, sponsorship and the protection of certain individual rights.

It entrusts the transmitting States with the task of ensuring that television program services transmitted comply with its provisions. In return, freedom of reception of program services is guaranteed as well as the retransmission of the programme services which comply with the minimum rules of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television.

The Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is an international organisation whose stated aim is to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. Founded in 1949, it has forty-seven Member States, covers approximately eight hundred and twenty million people and operates with an annual budget of approximately five hundred million euros.

The organisation is distinct from the 28-nation European Union (EU), although it is sometimes confused with it, partly because the EU has adopted the original European Flag which was created by the Council of Europe in 1955, as well as the European Anthem. No country has ever joined the EU without first belonging to the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe is an official United Nations Observer.

Unlike the EU, the Council of Europe cannot make binding laws, but it does have the power to enforce select international agreements reached by European states on various topics. The best known body of the Council of Europe is the European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Council’s two statutory bodies are the Committee of Ministers, comprising the foreign ministers of each member state, and the Parliamentary Assembly, composed of members of the national parliaments of each member state. The Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent institution within the Council of Europe, mandated to promote awareness of and respect for human rights in the member states. The Secretary General heads the secretariat of the organisation. Other major CoE bodies include the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines and the European Audiovisual Observatory.

The headquarters of the Council of Europe are in Strasbourg, France. English and French are its two official languages. The Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress also use German, Italian, and Russian for some of their work.

The European Convention on Transfrontier Television

The European Convention on Transfrontier Television applies to all transfrontier programs regardless of the technical means of transmission used (satellite, cable, terrestrial transmitters, etc.). Its main provisions cover: freedom of expression, reception, and retransmission; right of reply (transfrontier character of this right and other comparable recourse); pornography, violence, incitement to racial hatred, etc. (it forbids such acts), and youth protection; the screening of European works, for a majority of screen time, where practicable; the screening of cinema films (normally not until two years after first showing, one year in the case of films co-produced by the broadcaster); advertising standards (e.g. prohibition on the advertising of tobacco and medicines and medical treatments available only on prescription, restrictions on the advertising of certain products such as alcoholic beverages); advertising time (normally not more than fifteen percent of daily transmission time and not more than twenty percent of any one hour period); advertising breaks (for example, twice during a ninety minute feature film, none during a news or current affairs programme lasting less than thirty minutes); and program sponsorship rules.

A Standing Committee composed of representatives of each Party is responsible for monitoring the application of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television. Proceedings of conciliation and arbitration are also provided for.

The Preamble of the Convention states “Reaffirming their commitment to the principles of the free flow of information and ideas and the independence of broadcasters, which constitute an indispensable basis for their broadcasting policy”, “Affirming the importance of broadcasting for the development of culture and the free formation of opinions in conditions safeguarding pluralism and equality of opportunity among all democratic groups and political parties”, “Convinced that the continued development of information and communication technology should serve to further the right, regardless of frontiers, to express, to seek, to receive and to impart information and ideas whatever their source”, and “Being desirous to present an increasing range of choice of programme services for the public, thereby enhancing Europe’s heritage and developing its audiovisual creation, and being determined to achieve this cultural objective through efforts to increase the production and circulation of high-quality programmes, thereby responding to the public’s expectations in the political, educational and cultural fields”.

Article 1 of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television on Object and purpose enounces that “This Convention is concerned with programme services embodied in transmissions. The purpose is to facilitate, among the Parties, the transfrontier transmission and the retransmission of television programme services”. Article 3 on Field of application adds that “This Convention shall apply to any programme service transmitted or retransmitted by entities or by technical means within the jurisdiction of a Party, whether by cable, terrestrial transmitter or satellite, and which can be received, directly or indirectly, in one or more other Parties”.

Article 4 of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television on Freedom of reception and retransmission states that “The Parties shall ensure freedom of expression and information in accordance with Article 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and they shall guarantee freedom of reception and shall not restrict the retransmission on their territories of programme services which comply with the terms of this Convention”.

Article 6 on Provision of information declares that “1. The responsibilities of the broadcaster shall be clearly and adequately specified in the authorisation issued by, or contract concluded with, the competent authority of each Party, or by any other legal measure. 2. Information about the broadcaster shall be made available, upon request, by the competent authority of transmitting Party. Such information shall include, as a minimum, the name or denomination, seat and status of the broadcaster, the name of the legal representative, the composition of the capital, the nature, purpose and mode of financing of the programme service the broadcaster is providing or intends providing”.

The European Convention on Transfrontier Television lays down a number of rules for the free and unhindered circulation of television programs across the countries concerned. The Convention was the first legal instrument to define at the wider European level a number of common principles for the transfrontier circulation of television programs. The objectives and principles and the field of application of the Convention and the Directive are nearly the same.