Declaration of the Committee of Ministers
on the independence and functions of regulatory authorities for the broadcasting sector
(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 26 March 2008
at the 1022nd meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe,
Considering that the aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress;
Bearing in mind Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5), guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authorities and regardless of frontiers;
Recalling the importance for democratic societies of the existence of a wide range of independent and autonomous means of communication, making it possible to reflect the diversity of ideas and opinions and the absence of any arbitrary controls or constraints on participants in the information process, on media content or on the transmission and dissemination of information, as set out in the Declaration on the freedom of expression and information (29 April 1982);
Recalling its Recommendation Rec(2000)23 to member states on the independence and functions of regulatory authorities for the broadcasting sector, and its Recommendation Rec(2003)9 to member states on measures to promote the democratic and social contribution of digital broadcasting, as well as its Declaration on the guarantee of the independence of public service broadcasting in the member states (27 September 2006);
Mindful of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the relevant decisions of the European Commission of Human Rights, in particular when the latter states that a licensing system not respecting the requirements of pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness, without which there is no democratic society, would infringe Article 10, paragraph 1, of the European Convention on Human Rights and that the rejection by a state of a licence application must not be manifestly arbitrary or discriminatory, and thereby contrary to the principles set out in the preamble to the Convention and the rights secured therein;
Recalling the commitment made by member states in the Political Declaration of the 7th European Ministerial Conference on Mass Media Policy (Kyiv, 10 and 11 March 2005) to undertake to ensure that the regulatory measures which they may take with regard to the media and new communication services will respect and promote the fundamental values of pluralism and diversity, respect for human rights and non-discriminatory access;
Recalling the objective of Recommendation Rec(2000)23 that, to guarantee the existence of a wide range of independent and autonomous media in the broadcasting sector, it is essential to provide for adequate and proportionate regulation of that sector, in order to guarantee the freedom of the media whilst at the same time ensuring a balance between that freedom and other legitimate rights and interests;
Underlining the important role played by the traditional and digital broadcasting media in modern, democratic societies in particular for informing the public, for the free formation of public opinion and the expression of ideas and for scrutinising the activities of public authorities as underlined in its Recommendation Rec(2003)9 as well as in its Declaration on the guarantee of the independence of public service broadcasting in the member states;
Noting the overview concerning the legislative framework of members states and its practical implementation, as well as legal and institutional solutions developed in particular countries regarding regulatory authorities in the broadcasting sector, and which is reproduced in the appendix hereto;
Welcoming, in this context, the situation in many Council of Europe member states where, in line with Recommendation Rec(2000)23, the independent and efficient regulation of the broadcasting sector in the public interest, as well as the independence, transparency and accountability of regulatory authorities for the broadcasting sector, is ensured by law and in practice;
Concerned, however, that the guidelines of Recommendation Rec(2000)23 and the main principles underlining it are not fully respected in law and/or in practice in other Council of Europe member states due to a situation in which the legal framework on broadcasting regulation is unclear, contradictory or in conflict with the principles of Recommendation Rec(2000)23, the political and financial independence of regulatory authorities and its members is not properly ensured, licences are allocated and monitoring decisions are made without due regard to national legislation or Council of Europe standards, and broadcasting regulatory decisions are not made available to the public or are not open to review;
Aware that a ‘culture of independence’, where members of regulatory authorities in the broadcasting sector affirm and exercise their independence and all members of society, public authorities and other relevant players including the media, respect the independence of the regulatory authorities, is essential to independent broadcasting regulation;
Aware that independent broadcasting regulatory authorities can only function in an environment of transparency, accountability, clear separation of powers and due respect for the legal framework in force;
Aware of the new challenges to the regulation of the broadcasting landscape resulting from concentration in the broadcasting sector and technological developments in broadcasting, in particular digital broadcasting;
I. Affirms that the ‘culture of independence’ should be preserved and, where they are in place, independent broadcasting regulatory authorities in member states need to be effective, transparent and accountable and therefore;
II. Declares its firm attachment to the objectives of the independent functioning of broadcasting regulatory authorities in member states;
III. Calls on member states to:
– implement, if they have not yet done so, Recommendation Rec(2000)23 on the independence and functions of regulatory authorities for the broadcasting sector, with particular reference to the guidelines appended thereto, and having regard to the opportunities and challenges brought about by political, economic and technological changes in Europe;
– provide the legal, political, financial, technical and other means necessary to ensure the independent functioning of broadcasting regulatory authorities, so as to remove risks of political or economic interference;
– disseminate widely the present declaration and, in particular, bring it to the attention of the relevant authorities, the media and of broadcasting regulatory authorities in particular, as well as to that of other interested professional and business players;
IV. Invites broadcasting regulatory authorities to:
– be conscious of their particular role in a democratic society and their importance in creating a diverse and pluralist broadcasting landscape;
– ensure the independent and transparent allocation of broadcasting licences and monitoring of broadcasters in the public interest;
– contribute to the entrenchment of a ‘culture of independence’ and, in this context, develop and respect guidelines that guarantee their own independence and that of their members;
– make a commitment to transparency, effectiveness and accountability;
V. Invites civil society and the media to contribute actively to the ‘culture of independence’, which is vital for the adequate regulation of broadcasting in the new technological environment, by monitoring closely the independence of these authorities, bringing to the attention of the public good examples of independent broadcasting regulation as well as infringements on regulators’ independence.
Appendix to the Declaration by the Committee of Ministers on the independence and functions of regulatory authorities for the broadcasting sector
At its 3rd meeting, in June 2006, the Steering Committee on Media and New Information Services (CDMC) discussed the implementation of non-binding instruments in its area of competence, in particular that of Recommendation Rec(2000)23 on the independence and functions of regulatory authorities for the broadcasting sector. It asked the Secretariat to collect information with a view to assessing the situation as regards the independence and functions of regulatory authorities in the broadcasting sector in member states.
In October 2006, the Bureau of the CDMC examined a first draft document prepared by the Secretariat and decided that this draft should be reviewed with a view “to develop in greater detail the possible deficiencies in the legislative framework of member states and its practical implementation, without however naming specific countries. The second part, which includes information on the situation in the member states, should be a factual overview of legal and institutional solutions developed in particular countries regarding regulatory authorities in the broadcasting sector, using as a template the main requirements of the recommendation, providing information on whether the safeguards of the regulatory authorities’ independence and functioning laid down in the recommendation are observed in practice in the particular country”.
This document contains an overview on the implementation of Recommendation Rec(2000)23 and, more particularly, information on the independence of regulatory authorities in the Council of Europe member states. The document examines the legal framework and practice on broadcasting regulatory authorities and broadcasting regulation in member states and the degree of compliance with regard to the guidelines set out in Recommendation Rec(2000)23.
This overview was prepared on the basis of information provided by member states on their legal frameworks. It also takes account of information gathered from other sources which include reports by the Parliamentary Assembly, the OSCE Special Representative on Freedom of the Media, a report by the Open Society Institute on broadcasting in Europe,1 information provided by the European Platform of Regulatory Authorities (EPRA),2 as well as information from international and national non-governmental organisations.
Overview of the legislative framework of members states and its practical implementation as well as legal and institutional solutions developed in particular countries regarding regulatory authorities in the broadcasting sector
I. LEGISLATIVE FRAMEWORK
1. According to Recommendation Rec(2000)23 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the independence and functions of regulatory authorities for the broadcasting sector (hereafter ‘the recommendation’), an appropriate legal framework is essential for the setting up and proper functioning of a broadcasting regulator. Laws and regulations should indicate clearly how and by whom members are nominated, the ways of making them accountable, how the regulatory authority is financed and what its competencies are in order to ensure the financial and political independence of the authority and its members (cf. Appendix to the recommendation, Section I, paragraphs 1 and 2).
2. All Council of Europe member states have at least some basic legal provisions on broadcasting regulation. However, not all broadcasting regulators are established by law as independent authorities, neither are all required by law to act independently.
3. Almost all member states have clear legal provisions on the financing and competencies of the regulator and the nomination of its members. A number of laws, however, do not address all relevant matters. For those states where the broadcasting sector is not regulated by an independent body but by government bodies or bodies directly under the authority of a ministry or minister, rules on independent financing or the independent nomination of members can be considered redundant. In other cases, there is no apparent reason why the law does not provide the details required by the recommendation.
4. In general, the majority of Council of Europe member states’ laws on broadcasting regulation seem to provide an adequate protection for the independence of regulatory authorities. However, it would appear that, in a number of member states, the legal framework does not protect the independence of regulatory authorities as required by the recommendation. In particular, the rules on the appointment of members to the regulatory authority often do not provide members adequate protection against political pressure (see below for further details).
It has also been reported that, in a number of member states, public authorities have failed to respect the legal framework or have taken advantage of legal loopholes to interfere with the independence of the regulatory authority (see below for further details).
5. In a number of member states, laws have been described as too vague or contradictory, making it difficult for regulatory authorities to reach consistent and objective decisions. In some cases, contradictory and seemingly arbitrary decisions by the broadcasting regulator have been explained by the fact that frequent changes to the broadcasting legislation give rise to uncertainty about the legal and regulatory framework in force at a particular point in time.
6. The quantity and detail of the regulations vary considerably between member states. However, there does not seem to be a clear link between the amount of detail in a country’s legislation on broadcasting regulation and the regulatory authority’s independence. In fact, some of the regulatory authorities that are governed by a very limited set of rules are considered in practice to operate relatively independently. Some importance has been attributed to a ‘culture of independence’ where law makers, government and other players, under the scrutiny of society at large, respect the regulatory authorities’ independence without being explicitly required to do so by law.
II. APPOINTMENT, COMPOSITION AND FUNCTIONING
7. According to the recommendation (cf. the Appendix thereto, Section II, paragraph 3), the rules governing regulatory authorities in the broadcasting sector should secure their independence and protect them against any interference, in particular by political and economic interests.
8. The majority of the broadcasting regulatory authorities in Council of Europe member states are established by law as autonomous bodies. However, certain of them are government bodies or bodies directly under the authority of a ministry or minister. These regulators often depend on the administrative support of the ministry to which they are attached and seldom manage their own budget independently. In some such cases, the authorities concerned are said to succeed in working independently, usually due to a long-standing practice of independence or comprehensive regulatory frameworks which provide clear guidelines on the regulatory authorities’ competences. Almost all of the authorities which are not formally established as autonomous agencies but which are reported to work independently in practice seem to be found in longstanding democracies with relatively low levels of corruption, where the transparency of public bodies in general is ensured and where independent media and a vibrant civil society keep the regulatory authority’s work under close scrutiny.
9. To guarantee the independence of members of regulatory authorities from political and economic pressure, the recommendation calls on member states to ensure that regulatory bodies have incompatibility rules, preserving their members from being under the influence of political powers or prohibiting them from holding interests in enterprises of other organisations in the media or related sectors (cf. Appendix to the Recommendation, Section II, paragraph 4).
10. Most Council of Europe member states have rules that prohibit members of regulatory authorities from holding political office; the number of states that also ban them from having commercial interests in the media sector is lower. Indeed, in certain cases, the incompatibility rules for members of regulatory authorities go beyond the guidelines appended to the recommendation and members of regulatory authorities are not permitted to work in the media business or engage in politics for several years after the expiry of their mandate. To prevent members from signing over their commercial interests in a media business to a family member, the law in some member states also requires that close relatives of members give up commercial interests in the media. This requirement extends on occasion to relatives holding political office.
However, in other member states, the framework seeking to guarantee the independence of members of regulatory authorities is far less satisfactory and, in many cases, incompatibilities do not extend to potentially conflicting relations with or interests in media businesses or politics.
11. In certain Council of Europe member states, the members of regulatory authorities have the power to decide over a member’s possible conflict of interest, or a member can choose not to make use of his or her voting rights, should personal interests be at stake in a regulatory decision. Another practice is for the other members to decide to exclude a member in case of proven conflict of interest.
12. To guarantee the integrity of the members of regulatory authorities, the recommendation calls for rules designed to ensure that members of regulatory authorities are appointed in a democratic and transparent manner (cf. Appendix to the recommendation, Section II, paragraph 5).
13. In most Council of Europe member states, the members of regulatory authorities are appointed by the parliament or by the head of state at the proposal of parliament. In some member states, in order to ensure that the membership of the regulatory authority reflects the country’s social and political diversity, part or all of the members are nominated by non-governmental groups which are considered to be representative of society. Further, in a few member states, the law provides objective selection criteria for the appointment of members.
By contrast, in a number of countries, members are appointed by sole decision of one state authority, e.g. the head of state or a state department, often without clearly specified selection criteria. The appointment of members of regulatory authorities by the head of state and/or parliament has sometimes been criticised advancing that, in such cases, membership would represent or reproduce political power structures.
14. Concerns have often been raised that the nominating or appointing bodies could exert pressure on the members after their appointment. In fact, in some member states, the members of regulatory authorities are frequently accused of acting on behalf of the state body that designated them or political formation behind the designating or appointing authority.
15. To avoid that dismissal be used as a means of political pressure, the recommendation calls for precise rules on the possibility to dismiss members. Accordingly, dismissal should only be possible in case of non-respect of the rules of incompatibility, duly noted incapacity to exercise a member’s functions and conviction (by a court of law) for a serious criminal offence. An appeal before the competent courts should be possible against any dismissal (see Appendix to the recommendation, Section II, paragraphs 6 and 7).
16. Whereas in a majority of member states regulations exist on the dismissal of members, they are not always limited to the list of justifications for dismissal provided for by the recommendation. In a number of member states, the law stipulates that members of regulatory authorities can be dismissed if convicted of an offence, but it is not always specified that this has to be a serious offence as opposed to a minor or administrative offence.
17. In some member states, to avoid dismissal procedures being used as a means of exerting pressure on members, members of regulatory authorities cannot be dismissed at all. This practice has apparently given rise to concern in at least one member state, where members could not be held accountable and dismissed for licensing decisions that were allegedly in violation of national law.
III. FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE
18. Another key factor for ensuring the independence of regulatory authorities is their funding arrangements, which, according to the recommendation, should be specified in law in accordance with a clearly defined plan, and with reference to the estimated cost of the regulatory authorities’ activities, so as to allow them to carry out their functions fully and independently (cf. Appendix to the recommendation, Section III, paragraphs 9 to 11).
19. The majority of Council of Europe member states have legal provisions defining the source of funding of the regulatory body. By contrast, in at least a quarter of member states, the legal framework does not appear to be clear on this subject.
20. It is common practice amongst many regulatory authorities in Council of Europe member states to receive their funding directly through fees in order to be independent from public authorities’ decision making. Nonetheless, the laws of a large number of member states specify that the regulatory authority is to be financed by the state budget. In some member states, the law mentions clearly that public authorities must not use their financial decision-making power to interfere with the independence of the regulatory authority; however in most countries where the regulatory authority is financed by the state budget no such precautions are laid down in the law.
21. In some member states, the law stipulates that the regulatory authority proposes its annual budget plan which then has to be automatically approved by a specific state body (or the approval of such a body being a formality). However, in at least a third of all Council of Europe member states, no clear rules exist to ensure that the approval for the regulatory authority’s funding is not up to the discretion of such other state bodies.
22. It would appear that, despite the law envisaging an independent funding plan for the regulatory authority, in certain Council of Europe member states those authorities claim to feel under threat of or have experienced pressure from governments which go back on agreed funding plans and/or use funding decisions as leverage in political power struggles.
Reportedly, in more than one case, broadcasting regulatory authorities which, according to the law should be financed independently, in practice received their revenue from the state because of a weak broadcasting market or because the licence fee collecting system was ineffective. In at least two member states, the regulatory authority did not publicly disclose the source of their revenue after the licence fee system had collapsed.
23. In addition, many regulators also complain that they are not given the means (in particular human resources) to adequately perform their duties (see below for further details).
IV. POWERS AND COMPETENCE
24. According to the recommendation, the legislator should entrust the regulatory authority with the power to adopt regulations and guidelines concerning broadcasting activities as well as internal rules (cf. Appendix to the recommendation, Section IV, paragraph 12).
25. In a significant number of Council of Europe member states, the law clearly stipulates that regulatory authorities have the power to adopt regulations and guidelines concerning broadcasting activities and have the power to adopt internal rules. However, in at least a quarter of the member states, the legal framework does not foresee such rights. In at least two member states, these powers are in fact expressly vested upon another body or authority.
26. An essential task of the broadcasting regulatory authority should be the granting of licences. The basic conditions and criteria governing the granting and renewal of broadcasting licences should be clearly defined in the law. The regulations governing the broadcasting licensing procedure should be clear and precise and should be applied in an open, transparent and impartial manner and decisions should be made public. Calls for tenders should also be made public, should define a number of conditions to be met by the applicants and specify the content of the licence application (cf. Appendix to the recommendation, Section IV, paragraph 13 to 17).
27. The above-mentioned requirements are fully met in some Council of Europe member states and partially in many of them. In particular, the majority of regulatory authorities in Council of Europe member states are given the competence to award broadcasting licences. However, in at least one fifth of all member states, a body other than a broadcasting regulator awards broadcasting licences. Further, the legislation of not less than nine member states fail to define clearly the basic conditions and criteria for the granting and renewal of broadcasting licences.
28. In almost half of all Council of Europe member states, tender procedures are insufficiently detailed. It would appear that, in at least 18 member states, there are no legal provisions requiring that the licence tendering process be public. In a comparable number of member states, the law does not specify on the selection criteria to be met by applicants for licences. Again, in almost one in two member states, the legal framework is either silent or provides insufficient detail on the content of licence applications.
29. Even though licensing decisions are often criticised, the majority of regulatory authorities seem to award licenses in a manner which is consistent with the recommendation. Nevertheless, in a number of Council of Europe member states, the broadcasting licensing procedure allegedly lacks transparency, is arbitrary or politically biased. It is claimed that, in many cases, this is due to a lack of regulations and licence selection criteria, and frequent revisions of the law apparently add to the confusion.
30. In addition, some broadcasting authorities have not been able to enforce the law when allocating licenses, because regulations were not clear as to the distribution of competences in the licensing process or because broadcasting regulators were not given the authority and/or financial means to establish or to implement an effective licensing system.
31. Another essential function of regulatory authorities should be the monitoring of broadcasters’ compliance with their commitments and obligations. Regulatory authorities should have the power to consider complaints and there should be no a priori monitoring. Regulatory authorities should have the power to impose sanctions in cases of violations. The sanctions have to be defined by law and should start with a warning (cf. Appendix to the recommendation, Section IV, paragraphs 18 to 23).
32. The laws in almost all Council of Europe member states envisage an independent body to monitor broadcasters’ compliance with the law and with licence conditions. This task is usually entrusted to the regulatory body that awards licenses although, in some countries, the law creates a separate independent authority for that purpose. There are, however, some member states where organs that are under the direct authority of or answerable to governmental authorities are vested with monitoring duties.
33. Hardly any of the legislations in member stipulate clearly that monitoring should be conducted only after broadcasting, although practice is broadly in compliance with this requirement.
34. In most member states, regulatory authorities are empowered to impose sanctions as prescribed by law. However, in at least seven member states, there are either no provisions on the body that would enforce sanctions or this function is carried out directly by government bodies or authorities.
Many member states give details on the sanctions that can be handed down in cases of violations of the laws or licence requirements. However, the lower end of the scale is not always a warning. Further, in a small number of member states, the law contains no details on possible sanctions.
It might be added that, only in about one quarter of Council of Europe member states, the law explicitly allows monitoring bodies to consider third party complaints concerning broadcasters’ activities.
35. Almost all regulatory authorities in Council of Europe member states are by law required to monitor the respect of licence conditions. Many regulators have performed their monitoring duties successfully for many years, interpreting and developing licence requirements, on occasion in cooperation with broadcasters, in order to best protect the rules defined in national legislation. A significant number of bodies, however, allegedly monitor insufficiently or not at all because they do not have the necessary financial or human resources to do so.
36. On a number of occasions, regulators have been accused of applying sanctions arbitrarily or inconsistently. Further, in a few countries, complaints have been made that the sanctions were too harsh or too lax, motivated by archaic moral ideas or that they were politically motivated. This has apparently been due to vague licence conditions or broadcasting requirements with regulators being uncertain about how to interpret those conditions. It has also been argued that some regulatory authorities do not have the political support or are not given the means to enforce sanctions.
37. In its final part (cf. Appendix to the recommendation, Section V, paragraphs 25 to 27), the recommendation states that regulatory authorities should be accountable to the public for their activities, for example by means of publishing annual reports. The recommendation also underlines that regulatory authorities should make their decisions public and should only be supervised in respect of the lawfulness of their activities and the correctness and transparency of their financial activities.
38. In many member states, regulatory authorities are accountable to state bodies or authorities, for example the parliament, the head of state or the auditing authorities. By contrast, broadcasting regulatory authorities are accountable by law to the public in only a few cases. That said, in at least eight Council of Europe member states, the law clearly requires regulatory authorities to make their decisions public, while many other legal frameworks are silent on these issues.
In at least eight of the member states where the law prescribes that regulatory authorities are accountable to a state body or to the public, the legal framework does not specify clearly that the regulatory authorities can only be supervised in respect of the lawfulness of their activities and the correctness and transparency of their financial activities. Moreover, in a number of member states, regulatory authorities cannot be held accountable by law to anyone.
39. In approximately half of the Council of Europe member states, the law prescribes that decisions of the broadcasting regulator are open to review (usually by a court of justice). However, in other member states, decisions cannot be challenged before the courts.
40. The majority of regulatory bodies in Council of Europe member states publish their decisions in annual reports. In some countries where regulatory bodies are accountable by law to parliament and/or the head of state, it has been alleged that annual reports were rejected and regulatory authorities dissolved not on objective grounds but for political reasons.
Note 1 Open Society Institute, EU Monitoring and Advocacy Programme (2005) “Television Across Europe: Regulation, Policy and Independence”.
Note 2 In particular a background paper on “The Independence of Regulatory Authorities” prepared by the EPRA Secretariat for the 25th EPRA meeting, Prague, 16-18 May 2007, doc EPRA/2007/02.