Audiovisual Areogapitica

British newspapers are (unsurprisingly) full of discussion of the European treaty (not a constitution, don’t forget)*, but today’s law section in the Times contains an article on an ongoing interesting issue of European law and British opinions, and one that I have a lot of interest in, being the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) directive.

Graham Smith (a London lawyer) is a very prominent figure in British IT law (the fourth edition of his opus on Internet Law and Regulation is just out); his piece in the Times summarises the debate over the AVMS directive, highlighting how ‘TV-like’ content is dealt with. Read the article here

The key paragraph is this:

Broadcast content regulation is an anomalous relic of the old days of spectrum scarcity. If convergence is thought to demand platform neutrality in content regulation, it does not automatically follow that it should be achieved by extending the remit of Ofcom. On the contrary, it can be achieved by rolling back broadcast regulation and subjecting the freed-up content only to the general law. If that is not palatable, the answer is not to extend broadcast regulation into areas in which it has no business. It is to refrain from seeking full platform neutrality in content regulation.

Which, while being a relatively orthodox statement of the anti-regulation argument, is interesting for how he deals with the neutrality question. (I should also note that Smith is careful to point out that those services not regulated by ‘broadcast content regulation’ remain subject to what he calls ‘the general law’ (on things like hate speech, etc), rather than getting trapped in the ‘regulation vs no regulation’ fallacy. However, he does try and position opposition to broadcast regulation in general as in the tradition of Milton, which I don’t buy, and neither should you – there’s more to it than that).

For an interesting counterpoint, see the argument (linked from this article!) by Smith’s colleague at Bird and Bird, Richard Eccles, that new European laws on Internet telephony/VoIP are necessary.

* always reminds me of the classic Zig and Zag video, “Nothing To Do With Toast”.

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