Insights Government publishes draft Media Bill to reform regulation of public service broadcasting in UK

The Government says that the draft Media Bill will “enable public service broadcasters (PSBs) … to unleash their potential to grow, produce more top-quality British content and invest in new technologies to keep viewers tuning in amid fierce competition from subscription-based online platforms”.

The draft Bill follows the Broadcasting White Paper published in April 2022 and incorporates the reforms outlined in that White Paper, as well as new reforms to “protect the position of UK radio on smart speakers” as listeners move away from AM and FM stations to internet-based services.

The draft Bill:

  • requires smart speaker platforms to ensure access to all licensed UK radio stations, including community stations;
  • bans platforms from charging stations for being hosted on their services or overlaying their own adverts over the top of those stations’ programmes;
  • reduces regulatory burdens on commercial radio stations, relaxing content and format requirements that tie them to commitments to broadcast particular genres of music or to particular age groups;
  • brings mainstream video-on-demand (VoD) services consumed in the UK, such as Netflix and Disney+, under a new Ofcom content code to protect audiences from a wider range of harmful material, such as misleading health claims;
  • allows VoD viewers to be able to complain formally to Ofcom;
  • strengthens Ofcom’s duty to assess audience protection measures on VoDs, such as age ratings and viewer guidance;
  • gives Ofcom more robust powers to investigate and take action to enforce content standards for VoDs if it considers it appropriate, including issuing fines of up to £250,000 and, in the most serious and repeated cases, restricting a service’s availability in the UK;
  • includes action to ensure VoD viewers can more easily discover PSB services, such as BBC iPlayer and ITVX on smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks;
  • includes new rules to make VoD content more accessible to those with seeing and hearing impairments;
  • introduces simpler, more flexible rules on what TV programmes PSBs are required to show, meaning that they will be better equipped to adapt to changing viewer habits as people increasingly watch TV on digital devices instead of traditional linear TV;
  • removes the ban on Channel 4 producing its own content;
  • puts Channel 4 under a new legal duty to consider its long-term sustainability alongside the delivery of its public service remit;
  • removes geographic restrictions on S4C (the Welsh language broadcaster), allowing it to broaden its reach in the UK and beyond and offer its content on a range of new digital services;
  • ensures major TV sporting events, such as the Olympics and World Cup, remain free to watch by as many people as possible; and
  • repeals s 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which is not in force, but would require news publishers to pay both sides’ costs in any legal proceedings if not a member of an approved regulator.

The Government says that publication of the Bill in draft will “allow for further engagement with the industry to ensure these major reforms deliver for broadcasters and viewers”. It also says that it remains “fully committed to introducing the Bill as soon as Parliamentary time allows”. To read the Government’s press release in full and for a link to the draft Bill, click here.