Some time ago the European Commission boasted about a report saying that tree quarters of the television time is taken by European films and broadcasts.
"I am glad the viewers are interested in European productions. This indicates that the European diversity promoted by the audio-visual policy of the European Union is a shared value among the majority of the European citizens." said Jacques Barrot, then vice chairman of the European Commission and commissioner on the information society and media, expressing his admirations.
Of course viewers will watch European movies and broadcasts - it is compulsory, isn't it! It is the same thing to boast in the years before 1989 that Bulgarians watch only Bulgarian National Television because they like it very much.
According to the European legislation, 50% of all the broadcasts on air, regardless whether the channels are private or public, should be produced in the EU.
During yesterday's plenary session this regulation was introduced in Bulgaria. Besides some good amendments on second reading, the members of parliament passed the amendment in the Radio and Television Law obliging half of the air time to be filled with European productions. On top of that 12% of this quota should be appointed to independent producers. It could have been worse - the majority overthrew the proposition half of these 50% European productions to be Bulgarian - the intention was to stimulate the Bulgarian film industry and defend the national identity.
Government intervention in television business is a very popular European practice. Besides maintaining huge public televisions, the legislation in the large European countries has an abundance of regulations over the production of private media stimulating TV broadcasts on the official language. The principle of subquotas requiring a minimal percentage of time for emissions on national language part of the main European quota is extremely popular. In Spain - 50%, France and Denmark - 40%, Greece - 25%.
It is good to remind the supporters of these ideas that in the contemporary world of globalization and free trade, promoting protectionist policy is a non-sequitur. Generally speaking, the policy of stimulating and prioritizing local production brings serious consequences:
- It limits foreign investment flow;
- The lack of foreign competition creates possibilities for developing monopoly and oligopoly.
- The policy limits consumer choice;
- The lack of foreign competition discourages the local market participants to optimize their expenditures and to improve their quality.
Whether national or European, protectionism suppresses the free market and the competition principle. The media sector does not make an exception.
If the European television productions are better than the others and the viewers prefer them, then why is that regulation needed?! According to experts Bulgarian TV channels have been covering 20% of this norm and the only television emitting the required amount of European and national production is BNT, whose programme is determined by everything else but the viewers' interest. Such a regulation will cause the American films, traditionally preferred by the audience, to be replaced by European ones because someone decided they were better. The elderly would have to watch Greek, French and Italian series at the expense of their favourite Latin-American and Turkish series. Not because they are of better quality but because they are European...
With the amendments of the law passed the Bulgarian television business will be as greatly regulated as it has never been in the short time of its existence. While making their programme the private televisions will have to take into account how many European, how many Bulgarian, how many foreign and independent productions they will be broadcasting. This will severely confine their right of independent media policy choice. The consequences are clear:
- Descending foreign investments especially from those countries outside EU who have always been interested in the media market in Eastern Europe.
- Lower quality of the proposed production because of the lower competition and the introduced limitations.
It is hard to see how these amendments will contribute to the improvement of the TV business if this is what they aim at. Higher level is ensured by a proper level of competitive business environment attractive to the foreign investors and not with the introduction of quotas. The motive that France and Greece do the same thing is by itself insufficient. On the contrary, it is an incentive to think whether it is a fundamentally wrong practice.
* An intern at IME