Supporting the Cultural and Creative Sector

Neelie Kroes — Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda

Culture Committee, European Parliament

Brussels, 28-11-2012 — / —  I am delighted to be with you again at the Culture Committee to update you on our work.

It is clear that Europe is facing difficult times: unemployment, recession, loss of competitiveness. The creative industries and cultural content have a very strong role to play. Culture helps our society: supporting inclusion, education, and democratic freedom itself. But it also supports our economy: creative industries represent 5 million jobs and 2.6% of EU GDP.

Today I want to talk about three broad areas where my portfolio will be of interest to this committee. And also to seek your views on three particular questions. First, how embracing the internet can help the creative sector to flourish. Second, how we are supporting media freedom and pluralism in and outside the EU. And third, how we need strong digital infrastructure and frameworks for all of this to happen.

First, so many aspects of our lives are increasingly going online: entertainment, culture and creativity are no different. Let’s remember the opportunities and challenges of the digital revolution for the cultural sector.

For example, Europeana has shown great potential in allowing wide access to digital cultural content. But we need more efforts to increase accessible content.

Film heritage is another area where much needs to be done. Our 3rd application report, due shortly, will show that 85% of European film heritage is out-of-commerce, and hence not accessible. While 98.5% is not digitised; still locked in its metal cans when it could be online and available to all.

For books, too. In June this year we got together major players form the ebook value chain to discuss opportunities and obstacles in the sector. Those present endorsed the principle that there should be no barriers to acquiring ebooks across territorial borders, platforms and devices; that would indeed be a breakthrough for ebooks, and for our Single Market.

Or look at the audiovisual sector. Thank you to Mr Borys for your report on the AVMS Directive. That framework allows audiovisual services to freely circulate, while protecting important policy objectives like protecting children. But audiovisual media are going online too, and converging. Devices that link the internet with broadcasting are spreading rapidly: from connected TV sets to tablets to smartphones. We have to address the possible economic and technological implications; perhaps also the legal ones. And indeed we are currently planning a Green Paper on Connected TV for the beginning of next year. I very much welcome your input and Mrs Kammerevert’s report.

More generally, the internet is changing the whole media sector. We won’t stop that change from happening; it’s inevitable. But, if we don’t get it right, we will fall behind our global partners, to the loss of our citizens, our democracy, and the European media sector itself. So we need to seize those opportunities, and rise to that challenge. That was the message of the report delivered to me by the Media Futures Forum, headed by Christian van Thillo. The Forum makes a number of recommendations for how we can capture this advantage. For example, by aligning online and offline VAT rates. Or an EU-wide system for micro-payments, so it’s easier to pay for online content, even if it’s just a euro. And I know that Mr van Thillo is willing in principle to talk to decision-makers, including this committee, about his recommendations.

So my question here is: how do we build the right framework that helps this sector in the digital age? How, for example, do we justify that you’d pay less tax to buy a print newspaper than you would to buy a digital download of a newspaper? Same content, different format, different VAT rate.

Or take copyright. On the one hand I know many on this committee are worried about large-scale commercial infringements of copyright. I share those concerns: I want a system that really works for creators. But merely taking tougher and tougher enforcement action is not sustainable; we all saw that in the case of ACTA.

So my question is: how can we make it easier to access legal online content, make the copyright system fit for the digital age, and really help artists make the most out of online opportunities?

My second priority within this sector is to defend media freedom and pluralism. Inside the EU and out. These are issues I raised in very strong terms on my recent visit to Azerbaijan: including directly with the President. Freedom of speech is a precious human right: but also freedom after speech, not being persecuted for daring to speak out. And I thank those members of this committee who took part and helped on that visit.

And by the way, this question of media freedom is not detached from the rest of my portfolio, from the Digital Agenda. On the contrary: it’s clear the internet is a new frontier of freedom; a new platform for pluralism. People like the blogger Malala Yousafzai remind us of this – how a young girl armed only with an internet connection could stand up to the Taliban, and spread her message to the world.

Of course, media freedom and pluralism are also issues within the EU, too. We see high profile cases in Hungary and Bulgaria: but in fact this is an issue live in many different Member States. Look at the debate around the Leveson enquiry in the UK, over the recent arrest of a journalist in Greece, or on public service broadcasting in Portugal.

How do we respond? Well, we have some tools to use: in the case of Hungary, we used powers under the AVMS Directive. And we can exert political pressure, as I did recently in Bulgaria.

I did not hesitate to do that then: I won’t hesitate to do it in future, if needed. But is political pressure without legal enforcement enough? EU competencies are limited here, indeed much more limited than many are aware of.

Overall, how to support media freedom and pluralism is an important question, concerning a cornerstone of democratic, European values. In January, Vaire Vike Freiberga will present the findings of her High-Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism. And I hope that will be a big step forward towards a wider debate.

So I repeat to you my question from earlier this year. Does more need to be done in this area? If so, by whom? And using what tools? I am grateful for this committee’s input so far; I want a principled debate early next year with all of you, the Member States and stakeholders to decide a way forward before the end of my mandate.

The third point today I’d like to make is about the digital agenda more generally.

One way to support the creative industries is to look at each subsector — film, books, TV and so on — separately. But for me, that’s not enough. In many ways the best way to help the creative sector is to provide digital infrastructure: the networks and frameworks that support a digital society. Provide that infrastructure, and amazing innovation will follow. For this sector just as in others.

Imagine, for example, if your favourite films, books and music were stored somewhere in a locker in the cloud. Accessible to you, legally, instantly and on-demand, over a fast network, wherever you are and on whatever device. Imagine what an advantage that would be for our creative industries; and for our citizens.

The Media Futures Forum was very clear that pervasive, high-speed broadband is essential to support the media sector. I agree: and, I might add, for every other sector too.

And I’d go further. Because, alongside the broadband networks, we also need the right frameworks. Frameworks to build trust – like removing barriers to cloud computing, giving our Single Market a new, online home. And a framework to build a better internet for kids, so that children can have a safe and fun time online. And indeed after this meeting I will attend the Education Youth Culture and Sport Council where we will discuss that very issue.

Plus, a framework where it’s easier to legally access online content – making use of all the benefits of our Single Market. Our proposed directive to reform licensing rules is a good first step. And we also need to address other pressing issues, like making it easier to access audiovisual works online, including across borders. And making our copyright framework more modern and less fragmented.

A little over two years in, we will soon publish our review of the Digital Agenda for Europe. I am happy to report that, in that time, Europe has made great progress. For example, both regular internet use among disadvantaged groups and online purchases have gone up. By 2011, the great majority of EU homes, 95.7%, had standard, fixed-line broadband available; and even more had access to wireless broadband. While 50% of EU homes had access to high-speed, next generation coverage. Increasingly Europeans are seeing the advantages of faster connections, and taking up these subscriptions.

Our review of the digital agenda will refocus on some key areas needed to stimulate our digital economy. Namely: high speed broadband, cloud computing, internet security, entrepreneurship and skills, online content and services and research and innovation.

The Connecting Europe Facility we have proposed goes a long way to achieving these objectives. First, stimulating and leveraging significant private finance, to get 45 million households connected to fast broadband. And to ensure high-quality digital public services, across the EU’s internal borders; including cultural services like Europeana.

I know that this Parliament, and this committee, support this proposal for the CEF. You recognise that there is a digital imperative: you recognise that the EU needs to respond. And I am very grateful for that support.

So my third and final question today is: for the remaining decision makers, how can we work together to show them that this is an economically essential investment?

Because we will best support the cultural and creative industry, and every other industry, if we build a connected, competitive continent.

Thank you


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