Insights Media Bill becomes law


The Media Bill has received Royal Assent, meaning that the landmark legislation aimed at updating legislation and regulatory frameworks for both public service broadcasters and video on demand services has become law. It comes as a number of prominent CEOs from the UK broadcasting industry wrote to the Government, urging it to pass the Bill in advance of the dissolution of Parliament before the general election.

We have previously written about the contents of the Media Bill (now Media Act 2024) here, here, and here, and we will doubtlessly have more to say on the subject as relevant secondary legislation is published and work begins on developing new codes of practice. For now, we summarise some of the major changes that the new Act introduces.

First, the Act aims to create a level playing field between on-demand programme services (“ODPS”) and traditional broadcasters by requiring ODPS to be subject to a similar regulatory regime to that which applies to traditional broadcasters through Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code. A new ‘Video-on-Demand Code’ will be developed by Ofcom to apply to major streaming platforms as designated by the Secretary of State as “Tier 1 services” and will reflect current ‘standards objectives’ such as protection against harmful and offensive content. The new Code will also ensure that such ODPS are accessible, and Ofcom will set targets for subtitling, audio description, and signing (our recent commentary on access services can be found here). Ofcom will also be empowered to issue fines of up to £250,000 for non-compliance with the new Code.

The Media Act also brings requirements relating to public service broadcasting (“PSB”) up to date. It promises to “simplify” the current PSB remit by introducing greater flexibility in how to meet that remit by, for example, taking into account public service content on Video-on-Demand services. There are also requirements for major online TV platforms (such as smart-TVs or set top boxes) to ensure that public service content is available, prominent, and easily accessible. In addition, the Act makes clear that ‘qualifying services’ under the listed events regime must be provided by a public service broadcaster.

Other provisions in the Act include freeing up Channel 4 to produce its own content, broadening S4C’s remit, and updating the regulatory framework for commercial radio so as to grant stations more flexibility to update their services without the involvement of Ofcom. It also ensures that licensed radio stations across the UK will be made available free-of-charge on smart speakers and other voice-activated online platforms.

Finally, the Act repeals s.40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, a law drawn up in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry which envisaged publishers paying the costs of those who sued them – even if they were successful – unless they signed up to a state-backed regulator. The law was never implemented but remained on the statute books (and as a subject of much debate and controversy). The passage of the Media Bill into law means that that section 40 has now been repealed.

While the passage of the Bill was relatively rushed in the light of the impending election, the implementation of the Act will take some time. As recently as February, Ofcom published its ‘roadmap to regulation’ which made it clear that, for example, the new Code for Video-on-Demand services will likely not be finished until the second half of next year, and providers will then have a further 12 months before they are expected to comply with it fully. In the meantime, we can expect a series of consultations, as well as the passing of secondary legislation, all of which we will comment upon in due course.

To read the Act in full, click here.