Online Multimedia: Italian Imperialism

Accessibility 4 All by Claude Almansi

Italian bill on multimedia services

The Italian parliament is presently examining a government proposal of a decree that would modify the law on TV and radio towards the implementation of  “Directive 2007/65/EC [Webcite archived version] of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2007 amending Council Directive 89/552/EEC on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the pursuit of television broadcasting activities.”

The human-readable “schede di lettura” (reading notes) of the Camera dei deputati (Lower House) are available online [Webcite archived version]. The actual bill in legalese has not been officially published online, but an unofficial scan of a fax version is available from several sites, e.g., mcreporter.info/documenti/ac169.pdf (3.7 MB).

Online video = television

While the EU directive’s purpose is to take into account new on demand television offers, the definition of multimedia services in article 4 of the Italian bill also equates Web sites/platforms that offer online video to multimedia services subject to the same obligations stipulated by the bill as television broadcasters, unless their use of video is merely “incidental.” Among these obligations: editorial control, which means – in the case of web sites/platform offering videos – provider’s liability.

Jurisdiction

Article 2 of the Italian bill stipulates that media service providers – including sites/platforms hosting videos in a “non incidental” way, see above – situated in Italy are subject to Italian jurisdiction, i.e., to the bill. The bill’s definition of “situated in Italy” includes media service providers:

  • whose main seat is in Italy, even if editorial decisions are taken in another State of the EU
  • whose main seat is in Italy, even if service decisions are taken in another State of the EU
  • who use an earth-satellite up-link based in Italy

Moreover, article 3, about cross-border broadcasting, of the Italian bill stipulates that Italy  can ask, at the request of EU members, for the block of broadcasts from non-EU countries for motives of:

  • public order
  • protection of public health
  • safeguard of public safety, including national defense
  • consumers’ and investors’ protection

and impose a fine of Euro 150.00 – 150’000.00 if the non-EU provider does not comply with the blocking demand.

Paradox of timing restrictions for adult (pornographic, violent) content

One of the paradoxes of considering sites/platforms that offer videos as televisions subject to the bill appears in its article 9, about the protection of minors. This article stipulates that adult (pornographic or violent) content cannot be broadcast between 7 am and 11 pm.

As to the absurdity of applying such a timing limitation to videos offered on the web, see Kine’s ironic remark in the discussion Decreto Romani – Stop ai film vietati in TV e sul Web [Webcite archived version] started Jan. 21, 2010: “Come sarebbe anche al WEB scusa? Non [l]i guardo i film su youjizz dalle 7 alle 23?” (“What, also on the WEB? Can’t I watch videos on youjizz from 7 am to 11 pm?”)

Threat to accessibility

The Italian bill creates a similar absurdity for accessibility: it keeps the EU directive’s audiodescription and  captioning requirements for TV, but it threatens the possibility to use Web sites / platforms offering videos by submitting them to the same  conditions as TV channels. And even if a text-only offering of information and knowledge will pass automated accessibility tests, multimedia is a very important part of real accessibility for all.

The paradox here is that Italy has probably the best legal tools for furthering computer accessibility in EU, and maybe in the world, and actually works at implementing them. See the accessibile.gov.it site of the official observatory for accessibility in the public administration, which recently published Roberto Ellero’s tutorial on Accessibilità e qualità dei contenuti audiovisivi [Webcite archived version]  (Accessibility and quality of audiovisual content).

This tutorial fully integrates a text part and a video provided with Italian and English subtitles:

Webmultimediale

In the text part, Roberto Ellero refers to several pages of www.webmultimediale.org, the main site of  Webmultimediale, a project he founded for the study of online multimedia, and in particular of how the accessibility requirements for online multimedia can be a stimulus for creativity and a great help in education because these requirements also cater to various learning styles.

Webmultimediale is among the projects directly threatened by the bill’s equating of online videos with TV offerings. Not only does its www.webmultimediale.org site make a “non incidental” use of video, but it also has an open video hosting part, www.webmultimediale.it, where people upload their videos with a time-coded transcript in order to caption them. No way either could be maintained if the bill passes. Which means that Roberto Ellero’s tutorial on Accessibilità e qualità dei contenuti audiovisivi [Webcite archived version], commissioned by the government’s Observatory of accessibility in the public administration, would be severely maimed.

I happen to participate in the Webmultimediale project. The jurisdiction conditions in the bill made me think of a discussion about Web accessibility Roberto and I animated at the end of last November. Roberto lives in Venice; I, in Geneva. The discussion venue was the Instructional Technology Forum mailing list, based at the University of Georgia (US) but with subscribers from all over the world, and how we all used variously hosted e-mail accounts. So where were “editorial” decisions made, in so far as there were any? Were they made, e.g., when I embedded a California-hosted YouTube video, made by Roberto in Venice, in the Florida-hosted wiki that we used for background material and, later, to gather the discussion threads? Under what jurisdiction did I do that?

Threat to education

Beyond the Webmultimediale example above, it is the use of multimedia in Italian education that is put at risk by the bill. If it becomes law, what teachers and educational institutions will dare offer a video podcast of lectures, scientific experiments, and use of video in teaching under the threat of being asked to comply with the administrative requirements imposed by the bill for TV broadcasters? Even if they try to upload the videos on a foreign platform and link to them, there would still be a risk that the foreign platform will be considered a television broadcaster and blocked in Italy.