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State Aid to Public Service Media

European Commission Decisional Practice Before and After the 2009 Broadcasting Communication

Karen Donders

State aid cases concerning the funding of public broadcasters in EU Member States have ever since the early 1990s provoked both political and academic attention. Based on three principles – (1) a well-defined public task, (2) the formal entrustment and independent control thereof and (3) proportionality of State aid – the European Commission has reached several decisions affecting the funding schemes of public broadcasters. These principles have been made explicit in the so-called 2001 Broadcasting Communication and were, in light of the rapidly evolving media sector, refined in 2009. This article analyses how decisional practice has affected the national regulation of public service media and whether decisional practice before and after 2009 is different. The findings indicate that the European Commission’s control has forced Member States to introduce basic principles of good governance into their aid schemes for public service broadcasting. However, the Commission seems to move towards a kind of ‘micro-management’ of public service media, in particular regarding new online and mobile services of public broadcasters. While this is explained by increased pressure from the commercial sector to limit public broadcasters’ presence online, recent decisions could raise questions on how far the European Commission can go to ensure fair competition without jeopardising Member States’ near-autonomous competence to define the public service remit of services of general economic interest, including public media services. Moreover, the effectiveness of very detailed appropriate measures relating to, for example, the amount of days Video-On-Demand services can be offered online, can be questioned as well.
Keywords: Broadcasting, Commission Decisions, Public Service Media, SGEI.

Karen Donders is Professor of Media Policy and European Media Markets at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels. She is a senior researcher with the research group iMinds-SMIT at the same university and a member of the university’s Competition Policy and Economics research cluster. Karen also acts as a consultant to several media companies. The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the official position of any of these companies.


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