IPSO Blog: Could potential changes to EU’s Audio Visual Media Services Directive impact future regulation?

Policy and Public Affairs Officer Sophie Malleson on why a complicated media landscape presents challenges for video sharing platforms and future regulation.

As consumers, we’re reading, watching, downloading, streaming and purchasing media very differently to previous generations – and that media is increasingly crossing geographical borders.

Fewer of us are watching TV together at home in the evenings. Instead we are consuming content on demand – what we want, when we want, on the device we want. Traditional TV broadcasting now competes with Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services. Social media platforms like Facebook and Google are behaving like news publishers (though they argue they’re not!), and many people are self-publishing content and sharing it on YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram and others.

Newspaper websites have for years been enhancing stories with digital assets like video. Increasingly, they aren’t necessarily there simply to add flavour to a news story, but stand alone as editorial content. Newspaper websites could, in theory, start to resemble video-sharing platforms or video-on-demand services, and look less like the printed press sold in the newsagents at some point in the future. Many already have separate pages that aggregate all of their video content.

In this increasingly complex media landscape, how should regulation should adapt? 

IPSO regulates the majority of the UK’s press – newspapers, magazines (and their websites) plus a number of online-only publications. When a newspaper or magazine gets something wrong, people can come to us. Likewise, if people want to complain about broadcasters or the BBC they can contact Ofcom, and for advertising, the Advertising Standards Authority.

Although there are some quirks in this framework (for example, regulating advertising in the press falls under the ASA’s remit), there are reasonably defined boundaries on who regulates what.

This is useful from a consumer’s perspective, because generally it’s clear who to contact if there’s an issue or problem, although this is not the case for social media, which currently operates outside a regulatory framework.

So where does video online sit in all of this? Regulation of TV and video-on-demand is shaped by a directive originating from the EU, called the Audio Visual Media Services Directive (or the AVMS Directive for short).

This Directive insists on certain standards and criteria for regulation of TV and video-on-demand. But it explicitly makes clear that the websites associated with newspapers are outside of its scope.

This means that national regulators of TV and video-on-demand in EU member states (Ofcom in the UK) aren’t currently obliged by the EU Directive to worry about overseeing the content of newspaper websites. That’s for IPSO to take care of.

However, this could change, because the AVMS Directive is being updated to take into account the changes to the media industry like those highlighted at the beginning of this blog. Potentially, any changes to rules around how EU member states’ regulators should look to regulate video-sharing platforms, and indeed, what constitutes such a platform, could have wider implications for regulators and for those we regulate.

This is of course doubly complex when it comes to the UK, with Brexit on the horizon, and no firm plans for if and how EU laws and regulations might apply to us.

Certainly where newspapers and magazines (and their websites!) are concerned, we’ll continue to provide robust and effective regulation – although arguably we’ll need to be adaptive and responsive to any potential changes in what is clearly a rapidly changing and increasingly complex media landscape.