Which regulation for the audiovisual sector in the French Community?

There is no longer any public audiovisual service in the French Community of Belgium. Remains an « autonomous public enterprise ». The autonomy referred to here is that enjoyed by the company within a specific regulatory framework, determined by law and by a management contract. The management contract, which is more precise than the law, establishes the public service missions that the company must carry out in return for public funding, an endowment.

So far, everything is going relatively well, since the formula of the autonomous public enterprise (EPA) could allow a little more flexibility than the public service, which is sometimes bureaucratized in a Kafkaesque way. However, for this to work, regulation and control are essential: we must be able to ensure that the public service missions are correctly fulfilled and, if necessary, correct the situation. However, the existing systems are partially deficient, for various reasons that are linked to the excessive importance of parties in Belgian political life. Let us give three symptomatic examples.

An unbalanced composition of the CFS bodies

Within the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (CSA), which is responsible for regulating the audiovisual sector in the French-speaking Community, the College of Authorization and Control(1) has the task of monitoring compliance with the rules and dealing with complaints (those relating to commercial advertising are the most numerous). Within this College, Mrs. Sépul sits for the Advertising Council, the main Belgian advertising lobby. This oddity could possibly be understood given the role of the advertising industry in the audiovisual sector and the co-regulatory mission of the CSA. But we look in vain in this same college for associations that defend the audiovisual without advertising. It is impossible to speak of a balanced composition within the CSA.

In reality, the Parliament and the Government of the French Community, which each appoint half of the members of the College, do not seem to have any reflection on its composition other than political. Each party nominates a representative of a particular interest and submits it to the other parties. The power relations do the rest: so-and-so brings this one, the other one that one, we do not discuss. It is a question of placing cronies and protecting agreements, not of seeking a democratic balance in a body whose regulatory mission is nevertheless essential.

This same logic has even more serious results: Mr. Rea Fuente, who is also the secretary of cabinet of Mr. Demeyer, Mayor (PS) of the city of Liege, sits on the Council. He was appointed by Minister Laanan (PS). The city of Liège is a shareholder in VOO. VOO is « image n°1 of TECTEO »(2), an intermunicipal company whose activities include providing access to television. The law provides that these access providers are controlled… by the CSA. There is thus at the heart of the CSA a representative of a crucial shareholder of a TV access provider who must be controlled… by the CSA!

This would be called a conflict of interest and the champions of the renovation of the PS would not fail to be greedy. Note, it is not only the PS: neither the two other parties of the majority, nor the opposition, nor the press did not blink. Sleep well and watch TV well.

The Minister of Audiovisual breaks the CS

In your opinion, what is the first television channel of the French Community? Well, no, it’s not RTL-TVi, which has the highest audience figures and presents itself as the main French-speaking Belgian channel. Because RTL-TVi, whose premises are located in Brussels, has legally moved to Luxembourg, where the advertising rules are less restrictive. The guilty, not to say responsible, Minister Laanan signed a protocol of « cooperation » with Luxembourg, to pretend that she could still do something(3)This was against the advice of the CSA — whose valiant president is also a PS member — which was fighting to prevent advertising from the country of the banks from being allowed to run free. Since then, parliamentary questions have followed, indicating of course that the government has no control over the channel. Nobody in Belgium has anything to say to the most watched TV channel of the French Community…

At the same time, the credibility of the CSA is undermined by this decision, since it has to call to order television stations that have a lower audience than RTL, which is therefore competing unfairly with them.

But why on earth did the Minister accept and even facilitate this truly hallucinatory situation? Answer: because the SP needs to show itself on RTL-TVi. Again, it should be noted that the other political parties did not lift a finger to oppose this democratic scandal. Apart from some perfectly harmless gesticulations, nothing.

But what does the parliament do? He is passionately lobbied by the government

The management contract is a tool that is increasingly used (the SNCB contract is currently being renegotiated(4)). It is a very concrete text, which is negotiated between the government and the management of the autonomous public company. It is therefore negotiated between a very small number of people, with too little involvement of Parliament. A contact of the CSA indicates the following paradox: the Parliament intervenes in the writing of the decree (the law) which is rather general on certain points, but it does not have much to say on texts like the management contract which are more precise. It can take up the matter with hearings and then issue opinions, but we saw during the previous renegotiation of the RTBF management contract that it did everything it could to prevent this from happening(5)

A crucial issue for autonomous public enterprises is that parliaments should be able to participate actively and thoroughly in the drafting of these contracts, without having to obey the government. In our increasingly unrepresentative democracies, putting Parliament back at the center, preventing it from being lobbied more and more by the government or even by supranational bodies (think of the absurd « golden rule » imposed by Europe) is crucial.

Who could change the game, give power back to Parliament?

Parliamentarians themselves are free to do so. But it turns out that they are « blocked »(6)… by their political parties, whose leaderships, in search of numbers, demand discipline from their troops. This is a lock that explains to a large extent why all this little world obeys the media and economic logic. Hurry up, get some air: don’t let yourselves die, present your lists to the elections!

J‑B Godinot

 

Notes et références
  1. http://www.csa.be/organes/cac
  2. http://www.tecteo.be/tecteo-secteurs-voo.html
  3. Ce document-monument et sa défense ministé- rielle sont en ligne : http://www.fadilalaanan.net/downloads/pdf/AccordGDLux_Dossier_2009.06.04…
  4. Voir http://www.pourunrailperformant.be/
  5. Le Parlement s’était divisé notamment sur les questions relatives à la publicité commerciale à la RTBF. Ecolo était alors dans l’opposition et faisait mine de s’opposer à d’avantage de pub. Le Parlement n’était pas parvenu à remettre un avis unique et la ministre avait reçu une série de notes. Une fois passées les élections régionales de 2009 et Ecolo entré au gouvernement, tout le monde a voté pour la pub, sauf le MR, encore dans l’opposition.
  6. Tout est relatif : une proportion très conséquente des parlementaires aiment bien être bloqués si l’on en juge par leur attitude suiveuse et attentiste…
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