Insights UK Media Bill has first reading in House of Commons


On 8 November 2023, the Government introduced the Media Bill to Parliament for its first reading. 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 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. 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.

New provisions are proposed setting out a “must offer” requirement regarding PSBs which offer a designated internet programme service (“IPS”) and a “must carry” obligation in respect of such designated IPS on a regulated television selection service (“TSS”). An IPS is one provided by a PSB which meets certain eligibility requirements including that the service would make a significant contribution to the fulfilment of the public service remit for that PSB. A regulated TSS is a service provided via the internet and in connection with internet TV equipment which presents programmes or programme services to users and allows users to select between and access them.

Reforms are proposed for Channel 4 such as removing the prohibition on it producing its own content. To address the inevitable impact on independent production companies, several safeguards are proposed such as an increase in Channel 4’s independent production quota from 25% to 35% and measures to ensure fair and open access to Channel 4’s commissions.

To create a level playing field between on-demand programme services (“ODPS”) and traditional broadcasters, Ofcom will establish a code, similar to the current Broadcasting Code, to capture ODPS which are not currently subject to standards regulation in the UK (e.g. scheduling rules to protect children from inappropriate content and rules to protect the public from harm and offence). The code will be primarily aimed at larger, “Tier1”, ODPS and will extend to broadcasters outside the UK that make their content available to the UK public. Tier 1 ODPS includes an ODPS used by a PSB, other than the BBC, to contribute to fulfilling their public service. Providers will have to be designated as Tier 1 ODPS and the Government’s proposed list of designations would be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny. The new code will not include provisions relating to advertising and product placement which will instead be addressed through new regulation currently being considered under the Government’s Online Advertising Programme (which was subject to a consultation from March to June 2022). The bill also requires Ofcom to develop an accessibility code for Tier 1 services with a view to providing greater access to subtitles, audio description and signed interpretation.

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.

The text published on 8 November contains amendments to the original version of the Media Bill published in March 2023. In the reports of its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee recommended a number of changes and clarifications to the original version of the Bill (reported by Wiggin previously). According to reports, the Committee confirms that most of its recommendations have been accepted in this new version. However, one of its key recommendations, that the new standards code should apply to all ODPS and not just Tier 1 ODPS, does not appear to have been accepted by the Government.

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