Appendix 5: The role of the European Commission

TV organizations throughout Europe, Scandinavia, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (for example), have become completely centralized, in that the public plays no role whatsoever in deciding what appears on their screens.

Equally serious is the fact that many of the principal educational institutions in these regions have also become centralized in their relationship to the public, in that their media training programs have become little more than clones of Hollywood. Quite apart from the implications regarding democracy, this situation severely threatens what little creative and cultural diversity remains within the MAVM in these areas. A key role in this dangerous situation has now been assumed by the EUROPEAN COMMISSION in Brussels, which, along with its internal media departments, has become a huge, sprawling audiovisual octopus, with rapidly growing tentacles.

TV channels throughout Europe - from the largest state organizations to the smallest satellite and cable companies - might all be highly competitive, but in one key sense they stand united: i.e., in their relationship to the audience - which is manifest in their universal use of the Monoform, in their joint refusal to adopt a more interactive role with the community, and in their increasingly aggressive forms of manipulation and audience entrapment.

The European Commission has quickly become a negative driving force in this dismal scene. A 2001 document from the office of the E.C. Directorate General, Education and Culture, describes the aims of one of the Commission's media programmes thus:

"Television, cinema and new media are playing an increasingly important role in the lives of Europeans: in 2001 there are in excess of 500 television channels - more than three times the number in existence in 1990 - and there are more than 500 films produced every year in Europe. Through these different media we inform, educate and entertain ourselves." (my italics here and elsewhere) The document continues:

"The audiovisual sector is a significant one for Europe, expanding rapidly with the development of digital technology and the advent of new distribution channels: video and DVD, bouquets of digital television channels, Internet, and so on. It is a cultural industry par excellence that reflects our heritage and our values. And yet, for cinema alone, European films only account for 6% of total admissions in European theatres. In the face of powerful American competition, the European industry must face up to the two-fold challenge of producing content which respects European cultural and linguistic diversity whilst having a strong position in the international marketplace..."

The European Commission document goes on to describe the role of its media programmes, its aim to support the development of the European audiovisual industry, its work in co-financing training initiatives for MAVM professionals, and the development of production projects on film, TV, and the so-called 'new media' (digital video, the Internet, etc.). It continues:

"The future of the European [MAVM] industry depends on the calibre of its professionals. Producers, screenwriters, and distributors must be well-trained and therefore capable of anticipating commercial developments in the international market and also capable of exploiting the possibilities offered by new digital technologies..."

Even a brief, partial reading of this statement brings to mind numerous examples of where and how the mass audiovisual media are doing not what the EC introduction claims - but quite the reverse!

The terminology itself is very revealing: for example, if we look at the highly editorialized and manipulative TV news broadcasts which are endemic to the European and Scandinavian media scene, we see that it is questionable whether we in fact "inform" and "educate" ourselves. A growing number of people are beginning to understand - or at least suspect - that TV, and its truncated use of history (past and present), has effectively limited rather than enlarged our world view, fragmented our perception of ourselves and other communities, and led to a numbed vision vis-à-vis how we might deal with history in the future.

The claim that the European audiovisual industry is "a cultural industry par excellence that reflects our heritage and our values" is an astonishing myth. Setting aside the irony in the use of culture and industry in the same context, how can the deeply repressive and fear-ridden media environment which I describe in this statement be referred to as being "par excellence"?

Further, setting aside the intense focus of European TV on white middle-class values, how can an environment which refuses to allow the public democratic access to any of its highly centralized decision-making apparatus, let alone participate in its programme-making, be seriously described as an industry "that reflects our heritage and our values"?



prev                    © Peter Watkins 2006                    next