Broadcasting Law: A Comparative Study

Broadcasting Law: A Comparative Study

Broadcasting Law: A Comparative Study

Broadcasting Law: A Comparative Study


Broadcasting Law is the first comparative study of radio and television, discussing law in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States. It also contains a chapter on European Community legislation in this area. Timely in view of the continuing debate about the renewal of the BBC Charter, the future of the independent sector following the establishment of new franchises, and the growing activity among broadcasters eager to take advantage of the technological innovations now affecting broadcasting. The work explores a common European approach to broadcasting regulation which contrasts sharply with the free market position in the United States.


My aim in writing this book has been to explore the regulation of broadcasting in five countries: Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States. Generally it takes as its starting-point the law in the United Kingdom and then looks at the comparable rules in the other legal systems. There are occasional references to the law elsewhere, but no other national system is discussed in detail. Comparative law books should not attempt to be legal encyclopaedias. However, the book does conclude with a chapter on international and European law.

One theme is that there are significant differences in the regulation of broadcasting in European countries on the one hand and in the United States of America on the other. Although the principles of law in the former states are far from uniform, they have more in common with each other than they do with those on the other side of the Atlantic. Historical and cultural factors largely explain the divergence. But the interpretation of constitutional principles also contributes to these differences. the United States courts regard freedom of speech almost entirely as a liberty against the state, while constitutional courts in Europe treat it as a value which may sometimes compel government to act. in the broadcasting context that view justifies the regulation, for example, of programme standards and of advertising in the interests of viewers and listeners. Government must act to promote broadcasting freedom, not merely refrain from interfering with it.

Constitutional considerations have, of course, played no part in the development of British broadcasting law. the fact that in many respects it is similar to that in, say, France or Germany may show the relative unimportance of constitutions and Bills of Rights. But that would be a complacent and erroneous inference. Increasingly, broadcasters in the United Kingdom, particularly but not exclusively the bbc, are vulnerable to political pressure. They cannot rely on the law, as the German public broadcasting corporations have done, to protect their independence. Also the government alone may decide the scope of anti-trust and merger laws, which are necessary if plurality of opinion is to be protected; British courts cannot correct unprincipled measures, as constitutional courts can in other European jurisdictions. Put briefly, broadcasting freedom in Britain only exists under weak conventions, which can easily be disregarded by confident (or arrogant) governments.

This book makes no attempt to deal with every aspect of law con-

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