Insights UK Media Bill: Government explains changes made to the text laid before Parliament


In March 2023, the Government published a draft Media Bill and on 8 November 2023 the Bill was introduced to Parliament. The main provisions of the Bill are set out below.

The Bill proposes to permit Public Service Broadcasters (“PSBs”) (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C) to fulfil their statutory public service remit not just through linear TV broadcasts, but also via a wider range of services such as their on-demand services. PSB programme quotas can also be delivered not just by way of their broadcast channels but also via other services, including on-demand services. PSBs must ensure that “an appropriate range of programme genres” are available on their service, whereas previously the law referred to a number of specific genres (e.g. drama, sport, music, news, science, religion etc). It will be prohibited to broadcast any listed event (e.g. important sporting events such as the FA Cup and Wimbledon) live without prior consent from Ofcom and, effectively, these rights will be reserved to PSBs who will provide free live coverage.

New provisions are proposed to ensure that PSB apps, such as BBC iPlayer, ITVX and My5, are easy to find on smart TVs and other devices similarly to the way in which PSB TV channels always take the top position in electronic programme (TV) guides.

To create a level playing field between on-demand programme services (“ODPS”) and traditional broadcasters, Ofcom will establish a code, like the current Broadcasting Code, to capture ODPS which are not currently subject to standards regulation in the UK (e.g. rules to protect of children from inappropriate content and to protect the public from harm and offence). The code will be primarily aimed at larger ODPS (threshold to be defined), such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney+, and will extend to broadcasters outside the UK that make their content available to the UK public. Ofcom will also develop an accessibility code for ODPS with a view to providing greater access to subtitles, audio description and signed interpretation.

The Bill contains reforms for Channel 4 such as removing the prohibition on it producing its own content. It also contains provisions to reduce regulatory burdens on commercial radio stations and to protect UK radio’s availability on voice-activated smart speakers.

Finally, the Bill removes s.40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which has never been brought into force. This would have forced news publishers to pay both sides’ legal costs in defamation and privacy cases if they were not a member of an approved regulator, regardless of the outcome of the court case.

In the reports of its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill in July and September 2023, the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee recommended a number of changes and clarifications to the original version of the Bill published in March 2023 (reported by Wiggin previously). On 17 November, a paper was published explaining in detail which of those recommendations have been included in the version of the Bill now before Parliament and which have not. For example, one of the Committee’s key recommendations, that the new standards code should apply to all ODPS and not just to larger ODPS, has not been accepted by the Government. Although the thresholds have not yet been set, the Government explains that the obligation should be proportionate and practical and that applying the new code to small niche services (e.g. a football team’s VOD services) could unnecessarily penalise them with little or no benefit to overall audience protection.

On 21 November 2023, the Bill went for its second reading in the House of Commons.

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