An Irish MEP has expressed concern about leaked European Commission plans to remove the UK from the list of countries recognized as providing “European” television and streaming content.
The proposal, first reported by Politico Europe, would put Irish broadcasters like RTÉ and Virgin Media in a tight spot, as British programmes form a major part of their output.
Fianna Fáíl MEP Billy Kelleher said the Commission was considering removing UK from the list of countries that are providing European content because of the Audio Visual Media Services Directive.
"A certain amount of content has to be made in Europe effectively," he told RTÉ radio. "Obviously since Brexit, as you know, people view the UK differently, but from the perspective of the European Commission in reviewing what constitutes European work, they are considering removing the UK and that would have a profound impact on RTÉ and many other providers of content in Ireland as well."
Most people were unaware that broadcasters have to adhere to certain rules on where content is produced, he said. If the Commission decides to define work produced in the UK as not being European then that could have a major impact on RTÉ and other providers who would have to change scheduling, Mr Kelleher said.
"It is a very serious issue and I think it's just something that we have to monitor very, very quickly. On the face of it looks like being petty from the point of view of the Commission coming forward with its proposal to tighten what qualifies as European.
"Just because the UK has left the European Union doesn't mean that they haven't and don't produce European content. English is the most spoken second language across Europe. You know, it's something that we have to be very conscious of and from an Irish perspective, and the Netherlands and Denmark and others, Sweden and many countries that you know, see a lot of their content through English. This could have profound implications."
The RTÉ director general Dee Forbes had contacted Mr Kelleher to raise the issue. "The Commission is looking at how they can tighten the grip as such in terms of the interpretation of what is European content.
"I would be concerned that this is a political motivation as much as anything else, because other countries are really pushing their own visual audio, visual media content as well.
"We really need the Irish Government and others to lobby hard just to tell the Commission that this is definitely a bridge too far for an impact report on the viability of what RTÉ can put on, but it will impact on what Irish people can view.”
"From our perspective and an Irish government perspective, we have to be very clear with the Commission that this is just completely unacceptable. There is strong historical and cultural links between Ireland and the UK in terms of what we view and the content we view, and that's also the same with the Netherlands, with Denmark and others where you have English as a second language. A lot of those people, you know, would look at media television as well and streaming. So it would be very damaging.
"It's early days, but from the point of view of the leaked paper coming out of the Commission, we certainly have to be on our guard. We now need the Government to act as well."
Mr Kelleher said he would be raising the issue in the European Parliament to ensure that European content was examined in "a very broad basis."
"All countries in my view across Europe are European content and certainly a country like the UK has been a dominant player in media and streaming services for years, then all of a sudden we would rule them out. It looks to be vindictive and petty at the very least, but very damaging to our TV and Irish viewers and to viewers that look at English as a traditional medium across Europe."