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September 22, 2020 – 06:11 pm
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Television broadcasting activities: "Television without Frontiers" (TVWF) Directive

The "Television Without Frontiers" Directive (TVWF Directive) is the cornerstone of the European Union's audiovisual policy. It rests on two basic principles: the free movement of European television programmes within the internal market and the requirement for TV channels to reserve, whenever possible, more than half of their transmission time for European works ("broadcasting quotas"). The TVWF Directive also safeguards certain important public interest objectives, such as cultural diversity, the protection of minors and the right of reply. In December 2005 the Commission submitted a proposal to revise the TVWF Directive.


Council Directive 89/552/EEC of 3 October 1989 on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the pursuit of television broadcasting activities.



The Directive aims to ensure the free movement of broadcasting services within the internal market and at the same time to preserve certain public interest objectives, such as cultural diversity, the right of reply, consumer protection and the protection of minors. It is also intended to promote the distribution and production of European audiovisual programmes, for example by ensuring that they are given a majority position in television channels' programme schedules.

General principle

The Directive establishes the principle that Member States must ensure freedom of reception and that they may not restrict retransmission on their territory of television programmes from other Member States. They may, however, suspend retransmission of television programmes which infringe the Directive's provisions on the protection of minors.

Broadcasting and production quotas

In order to encourage the distribution and production of European television programmes, Member States must ensure where practicable that broadcasters reserve for European works a majority proportion of their transmission time, excluding the time allocated to news, sports events, games, advertising and teletext and teleshopping services (Article 4).

Broadcasters must also reserve at least 10% of their transmission time or 10% of their programming budget for European works from independent producers (Article 5).

The Commission is responsible for ensuring compliance with these two provisions. Member States are therefore required to provide it with a report every two years, including a statistical statement on fulfilment of the quotas referred to in Articles 4 and 5.

Under certain circumstances, Member States are authorised to lay down stricter rules where necessary for purposes of language policy.

Television advertising and sponsorship

The provisions on advertising relate to:

  • duration: 15% maximum of daily transmission time, 20% maximum within a given one-hour period;
  • procedures for interrupting programmes;
  • ethical considerations (in particular the protection of minors);
  • compliance with certain criteria concerning advertisements for alcoholic beverages.

Advertising of tobacco and prescription medicines is prohibited.

Sponsorship of television programmes is permitted, provided it complies with certain rules. The sponsorship must not affect the broadcaster's editorial independence. In addition, sponsored television programmes must not encourage the purchase of the sponsor's products or services. Lastly, news and current affairs programmes may not be sponsored.

Protection of minors

Programmes involving pornography or extreme violence are prohibited. This ban applies to all other programmes which are likely to harm minors, unless they are broadcast at a time when they will not normally be seen by minors or protective technical measures are in place.

Right of reply

Any person whose legitimate interests have been damaged by an assertion of incorrect facts in a television programme must have a right of reply. This right shall exist in relation to all broadcasters under the jurisdiction of a Member State.


In June 1997, the European Parliament and the Council adopted a new "Television Without Frontiers" Directive which aims to ensure greater legal certainty and to update the initial rules. The main elements of this revision relate to the following points:

  • principle of jurisdiction: the Member State responsible for television channels is determined by the location of the head office and the place where programming decisions are made;
  • events of major importance for society (such as sporting events): the revised Directive sets out conditions allowing events which are considered to be of major importance for society to be broadcast freely to the public. Each Member State may therefore draw up a list of events which have to be broadcast in unencoded form, even if exclusive rights have been purchased by pay-TV channels;
  • teleshopping: teleshopping is subject to most of the rules relating to television advertising. Windows for teleshopping programmes broadcast by a general channel must be of a minimum duration of 15 minutes and be clearly identifiable. The maximum number of windows per day is eight, and their total duration must not exceed three hours per day;
  • protection of minors: the revised Directive places greater emphasis on the protection of minors. It specifies, for example, that Member States must ensure that programmes which are likely to impair the development of minors and are broadcast in unencoded form are to be preceded by an acoustic warning or identified by a visual symbol.


Fourth report on the application of the TVWF Directive

The process of updating the rules on audiovisual content and services was effectively launched with the fourth Communication [COM(2002) 778 final] on the application of the TVWF Directive. The report analyses the main effects of the application of the Directive in 2001 and 2002. On the whole, the report's assessment of the application of the TVWF Directive is satisfactory.

The report is accompanied by a work programme setting out the specific themes in need of more thorough examination. These were the subject of an extensive public consultation in the Member States and the candidate countries in 2003.

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