The amendment of the must-carry rules aroused lively discussions among the broadcasters and network operators and actually set them apart. The compromise should be agreed as soon as possible, because the Draft Edition of the Law on Provision of Information to the Public has to be adopted by 19 December 2009 in accordance with the AVMS provisions.
Must-carry Rules Revised
In September 2009 the LR Ministry of Culture prepared a Draft Edition of the Law on Provision of Information to the Public and presented it to the public for harmonization. The main aim of the draft edition was the transposition of the AVMS directive into the national law and the implementation of its provisions thereof.
Besides the provisions implementing the AVMS directive, there is also a new provision essentially changing the now valid must-carry rules.
The Draft Edition of the Law on Provision of Information to the Public foresees, that network operators in Lithuania shall transmit all uncoded terrestrial public television (LRT) programmes.
Meanwhile, the present Law obliges all network operators to transmit one terrestrial public television programme and all uncoded Lithuanian national scope terrestrial television programmes.
According to the present Law, a national broadcaster means a broadcaster, whose programme broadcast by a terrestrial television network is received within a territory inhabited by more than 60 per cent of Lithuania’s population.
Consequently, such regulation obliges all network operators in Lithuania to transmit all national scope television programmes regardless the broadcasting technology (digital or analogue). Therefore, the wider the penetration of the digital television is achieved, the more television programmes must be carried by the cable operators.
Thus, according to the present must-carry provision, network operators are obliged to transmit 12 television programmes all in all. In future, due to the technological development the number of such programmes will only increase, as the valid provision does not specify on must-carry regulation depending on the broadcasting technology. The modification of regulation will oblige operators to transmit only two public television (LRT) programmes.
According to the research that was carried out by the Monitoring department of the Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania few operators were implementing the mentioned provision. Two main reasons for failing to fulfill it were pointed out, i.e. lack of free channels and lack of resources. Emerging of every new must-carry programme requires from the network operator additional equipment and infrastructure development. Operators note, that those expenses are not being compensated.
On the one hand it may seem, that the new must-carry rules will favourably influence the operators, as they would be able to avoid the increasing number of the obligatory programmes, but on the other hand, they fear, that national scope private broadcasters will demand big fees for including their programmes into the operators’ programme packages. It has to be noted, that at present operators do not pay broadcasters for the transmission of their programmes. With the change of the provision operators will have to start paying broadcasters, which will increase their expenses and will have a negative impact on the cable television subscription fee, which in its turn may have a negative impact on their business.
The present situation does not satisfy the broadcasters; therefore they want to change it. Their motivation for the change lies in the huge costs of the creation of the original programmes in which they invest and which then the network operators get for free and can offer in their programme packages to the subscribers. The broadcasters think, that this is not fair and that the network operators should discuss the purchase prices with the broadcasters and pay for the programmes respectively. The broadcasters are of the opinion that this issue should be left for the market and the State should not interfere. According to the broadcasters must-carry rules are not relevant for today’s regulative aims and they are not based on the public interest, as those programmes are freely available to the society and they are not paid or encoded. The broadcasters also underline, that under such regulation they are forced to acquire rights for re-transmission of those programmes, however the expenses are not remunerated. Taking all this into account the broadcasters claim they would be in favour of the new must-carry rules.