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PR(04)12: EFTA Surveillance Authority adopts new Guidelines for State aid to Public Service Broadcasting


The EFTA Surveillance Authority has today adopted new State Aid Guidelines on the application of the State aid rules to public service broadcasting. The new Guidelines clarify the principles applied by the Authority when it assesses State aid cases in this sector and provide guidance to public authorities and operators.

The introduction of a new chapter to the Authority’s State Aid Guidelines follows a similar Communication by the European Commission at the end of 2001. The Authority’s adoption of the Guidelines has awaited the so-called Altmark judgment of the European Court of Justice of 24 July 2003, relevant also to public service broadcasting, which clarifies under which conditions compensation payments for the discharge of a public service obligation are not considered to be State Aid.  

The newly adopted Guidelines focus on the application of Article 59 (2) of the EEA Agreement which states that measures classified as State aid might still be justified because of the need to perform a service of general economic interest. In this context, the Guidelines take the following approach.

The EFTA States are free to define the public service remit for broadcasting covering a broad programme spectrum. The Authority will not question the nature or the quality of a specific product, but the definition of the public service cannot extend to activities which cannot be reasonably considered to meet the democratic, social and cultural needs of each society. The Authority has a duty to control that the definition does not contain any manifest errors in that respect. The Authority would ask that the following three conditions be respected.

Firstly, the definition of public services in broadcasting must be clear and precise and should leave no doubt as to whether a specific activity by an operator is intended to be included into the public service remit or not. Secondly, the entrustment of the public service mission to one or more operators must be done by means of an official act. Thirdly, the public funding for that service must be limited to that necessary for the fulfillment of the public service mission (proportionality). In that respect the Authority will ascertain that the public funding does not result in any overcompensation. Finally, the Authority recalls that public service broadcasters, insofar as they receive State aid and also participate in non-public service activities, are subject to the so-called Transparency Directive, which imposes a separation of account for these activities. The Guidelines stipulate further criteria to this end.

For further information, please contact Mr. Amund Utne on tel. (+32)(0)2 286 18 50 or Ms. Annette Kliemann on tel. (+32)(0)2 286 18 80.

23 April 2004

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