EC takes Belgium to court over must carry

By Robert Briel
October 8, 2009 12.07 UK

The European Commission today decided to take Belgium to the European Court of Justice for “must-carry” rules, imposed on broadcasters in the bilingual region of Brussels-Capital, after it failed to address a final warning issued by the Commission in November 2008.

In the Commission’s view, the rules, which require cable and other network operators to carry radio and TV channels in the Brussels region, are not proportionate.

Under the EU Universal Service Directive, network operators are obliged to broadcast specific broadcast channels.

In May 2008, the Commission said that despite a revision to the Electronic Communications Act in 2007, the capital’s rules still lack transparency and clarity, leaving network operators and broadcasters uncertain of their responsibilities. After that, a final warning was issued in November 2008, as it has no transparent procedure for designating “must-carry” channels. The Commission also raised the issue of the designation of entire broadcasting companies, and not individual channels, as must-carry. This makes it difficult for broadcasters and network operators to know their rights and obligations.

The Commission today closed a case concerning “must-carry” rules in Germany. This infringement proceeding was based on a complaint about rules obliging cable operators in Germany to broadcast certain public TV channels. A preliminary ECJ ruling of December 22, 2008 clarified that EU provisions do not preclude such “must-carry” rules provided that those obligations do not give rise to unreasonable economic consequences.