The Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee has launched a call for evidence on the draft Media Bill, with a deadline for responses being 17 May 2023. Constant developments in the media landscape spearheaded by the growth of streaming and online services have left pre-existing media legislation playing catch-up. Published on 29 March 2023, the Bill aims to modernise broadcasting legislation and provide a more flexible regulatory environment to allow broadcasters to keep up with competitors.
Background: Media Bill
The Bill follows a White Paper published in April 2022 which set out the government’s vision for the future of the broadcasting sector. The Bill implements the government’s vision by introducing reforms to the regulatory framework for public service broadcasters (“PSBs”) and video on demand (“VOD”) services.
A breakdown of the key points from the Bill are as follows:
1. Part 1 of the Bill gives PSBs more flexibility in how they satisfy the public service remit requirements and in their fulfilment of particular quotas (for example, specified audio visual content made available by a service broadcaster by means of an on-demand programme service is to be regarded as contributing to the fulfilment of the public service remit for television in the UK if the content is available for not less than 30 days).
PSBs will also be able to deliver content on the remit more easily and flexibly through a wider range of free-to-air platforms (such as VOD).
2. Part 2 includes measures to make PSBs’ VOD services and internet programme services more prominent and widely available. The PSB prominence regime is updated by including PSBs’ “designated internet programme services”, ensuring that PSB’s online services enjoy a similar privileged position on smart TVs and other streaming mechanisms to PSB’s live channels.
The simplification of the PSB remit and extension of the prominence regime enables PSBs to compete with streaming giants on a much more even playing field.
3. Part 3 removes restrictions imposed on Channel 4’s abilities to produce content. As Channel 4 remains in public ownership, the Bill focuses on allowing for greater commercial movement. Alongside the pre-established 25% increase in its independent production quota, Channel 4 will see an introduction of protection for smaller independent producers. Channel 4 will also benefit from greater flexibility in its regional production quota and will no longer be restricted from creating its own content.
Part 3 also updates the public service remit of S4C (Welsh language television service) by removing the geographical restrictions so that S4C can offer content on a range of new platforms worldwide.
4. Under Part 4, all the largest VOD providers (“tier one”) will be subject to the same or similar standards of UK broadcasters, establishing a consistent regulatory framework and bringing all large VOD platforms under the jurisdiction of Ofcom. The Bill gives Ofcom powers to draft and enforce a new VOD standards code which will be applicable to all VOD services used by PSBs (excluding the BBC) to fulfil their public service remits and to all tier one Like the Broadcasting Code, the VOD Code will impose standards for accuracy, fairness, privacy and harmful or offensive content.
Watch this space for those VOD providers that make it on to Ofcom’s tier list!
5. Part 5 reforms rules applicable to radios and radio licensing. The Bill acknowledges that listeners are moving away from broadcasters towards consuming radio content over the internet; responding by stripping away some red tape and allowing stations to change their programming without the need for Ofcom’s consent.
6. Part 6 regulates the commercial relationship between radio stations and radio selection services, requiring that platforms such as Google or Amazon carry UK-licensed services and disallowing them to charge for access or receive revenue from overlayed ads.
Call for evidence
In its pre-legislative review, the Committee will (1) examine the policy objectives of the Bill, (2) consider if there are any unintended consequences of the legislation, and (3) make recommendations on how the Bill might be improved.
The Committee is inviting submissions with a particular focus on a few of the following points:
Public Service Broadcasting
- Whether it is appropriate that PSBs can meet their remit be online programming as well as linear programming.
- Whether the Bill is sufficiently flexible to legislate for any future extension of the listed events (sporting events of a national interest) regime to include digital content.
- Whether the proposals secure the future of Channel 4 and supporting independent content producers.
- Whether the requirements for the Tier 1 standard code are proportionate.
- What should be the criteria for designating an on-demand programme platform as tier 1?
- Whether the proposals in the Bill create any risks to the UK’s desirability as a market for VOD content.
- Whether the accessibility requirements for VOD are at an appropriate level.
- Whether the obligations on radio selection services are proportionate.
- Whether the Bill protects (1) the identity and content of local radio, and (2) the relevant internet radio service to be played in response to a voice command.
- Whether Ofcom is able to deliver its obligations set out in the Bill.
- Whether the Bill is flexible enough to address future developments in both audience habits and technological developments.
- Whether the Bill provides protection to those who prefer using broadcast services, or do not have internet access.