European Broadcasting Union (EBU)

Founded in Torquay, in 1950 and based in Geneva, the European Broadcasting Union enables public-service broadcasting companies in almost every European country, together with those in North Africa and the Middle East, to work together on a wide range of cross-frontier issues and projects. Operating in English and French, the EBU organizes programme exchanges, stimulates and coordinates co-productions, negotiates broadcasting rights for major sports events, operates the Eurovision and Euroradio networks, and provides other commercial, technical and legal services to its members.

Originally created by broadcasters in western Europe, the EBU merged with its eastern European counterpart, OIRT, in 1993. It now has 74 member companies in 54 countries, ranging from Monaco to Russia, as well as 44 associate members in countries further afield. Membership is now formally open to broadcasters in member states of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) situated in the latter’s ‘European Broadcasting Area’ – whose borders, at 30 degrees north and 40 degrees east, extend further south and south-east than any conventional definition of Europe – or in any member state of the Council of Europe situated outside the EBA. Members must broadcast nationally and be ‘under an obligation to, and actually, provide varied and balanced programming for all sections of the population … [and] produce and/or commission, at their own cost and under their own editorial control, a substantial proportion of the programmes broadcast’.

Through Eurovision and Euroradio, the EBU specifically promotes international collaboration in programme production and transmission. Onward transmission of national cultural, sporting and news events – which began notably with the broadcasting of the marriage of Prince Rainier to Grace Kelly in April 1956 and has since included all Olympic Games – is matched by a range of co-productions in many fields. The most prominent such co-production is the annual Eurovision Song Contest, which has been held since May 1956 and remains the most widely watched single television programme in Europe each year (averaging 125 million viewers). Not all EBU broadcasters participate in the contest, although they are entitled to do so. Notable non-participants include Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, all which of which (unlike Morroco and Israel) may not feel comfortable for political reasons in asserting a ‘European’ character.

Eurovision has its own permanent broadcasting platform on a Eutelsat satellite, carrying constant exchanges of material. On the technical front, the EBU is active in promoting research and development of new broadcast media, and in recent years has led or contributed to the development of a number of new systems, including radio data system (RDS), digital audio broadcasting (DAB), digital television (DVB) and high-definition television (HDTV).

The EBU seeks actively to influence the legal and regulatory environment in which its members operate, attempting to shape EU audiovisual, cultural and competition policies, in particular. Its office in Brussels seeks specifically to ‘represent the interests of public-service broadcasters vis-à-vis the European institutions’, whilst, in parallel, its individual members will lobby member-state governments in national capitals. On a range of policy issues in Brussels – notably the use of new media by public-service broadcasters and the negotiation of rights to broadcast major sporting events – the EBU often finds itself pitted against its more recent, private-sector rival, the Association of Commercial Television (ACT). The EBU also has official relations with the Council of Europe and works with similar regional broadcasting unions worldwide. In addition to Geneva and Brussels, the organization has offices in Moscow, Singapore, Washington and New York.

September 2012

Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012

Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry

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