MPs seek Media Bill changes
September 22, 2023
By Colin Mann
Obligations on smart TVs, firesticks and set-top boxes to ensure public service broadcasters (PSBs) are prominent on their platforms should be strengthened, according to the UK House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
In its report on the draft Media Bill, the Committee also wants to see current obligations on PSBs to provide programming in areas such as religion, international matters and science, retained.
The Committee report follows pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, which is aimed at ensuring PSBs – the BBC, ITV, STV, Channel 4, S4C and Channel 5 – can thrive in the new world of streaming services, updates their remit and ensures on-demand content is held to the same standard as broadcasts.
The Committee calls for PSBs to be given ‘significant’ rather than ‘appropriate’ prominence in listings and searches for content on connected devices, so that public service content is always carried and easy to find.
The report also urges the Government to retain the obligations of PSBs to provide specific genres of content. The Bill as currently drafted keeps a requirement to provide news and current affairs, but removes genres such as a religion, international matters and science. MPs argue that this could lead to a decrease in provision in less commercially successful content.
Among other recommendations are amendments to ensure a new Video-on-Demand code – aimed at ensuring TV-like content provided by streaming services such as Netflix is subject to similar standards imposed on traditional broadcasters – applies to all VoD platforms and not just those with large UK audiences.
On listed events, the Committee backs the measures to ensure sporting occasions such as the FA Cup Final and the Wimbledon Championships are reserved for PSBs only, but calls for the Bill to be used to close a loophole that allows an unregulated streaming service to buy the rights for a listed event and put them behind a paywall.
Backing the inclusion of the Media Bill in the forthcoming King’s Speech, Dame Caroline Dinenage MP, Chair of the CMS Committee, said: “Our Public Service Broadcasters play a central role in enriching our culture, society and democracy and this Bill is critical to ensuring they continue to thrive. With significant legislation like this coming along only once in a generation, it is vital the Government gets it right. Our proposed changes to the Bill will ensure it is proportionate, future-proofed in a world of shifting viewing habits and rapid technological change, and most importantly in the very best interests of viewers and listeners. It is vital that the Government prioritises the legislation in the upcoming fourth session of this Parliament.”
In July 2023, the Committee published a report on the provisions in the Bill relating to radio. The report also highlights the Committee’s continuing concern about the impact of the BBC’s Digital First strategy on linear TV and radio audiences. Sharing content across large areas risks undermining the sense of localness that has, until now, made BBC local radio distinct, the report says.