Culture Secretary: Media Bill will remove threats to public service broadcasters

Proposed legislation will introduce reform to keep the UK's public broadcasters “at the top of the game” and “level the playing field” by eliminating threats to their viability, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer is expected to say.

The Media Bill, which will be read a second time in the House of Commons on Tuesday, will update decades-old laws to ensure viewers can more easily discover public service broadcasting (PSB) services such as BBC iPlayer and ITVX on smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks.

It also includes plans to support Channel 4's viability by allowing the broadcaster to make more of its own programmes.

Among the bill's measures, PSBs will have more control over their TV programming and on-demand offerings through more flexible rules on the types of programs they are required to show.

The laws will also require PSBs to ensure that an “adequate range of program types” is available on their services, guarding against a possible reduction in specific types of programming – such as religious, science and arts programming.

Included is a specific requirement for PSBs to continue broadcasting news and children's programmes.

The bill will also ensure that major sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic and Paralympic Games continue to be shown by the UK's main broadcasters.

Meanwhile, the streaming giants will be subject to a new video-on-demand code, which will be drawn up and enforced by Ofcom.

The UK's media watchdog will have the power to draft and enforce the new code to level the rules with traditional broadcasters.

Viewers will then be able to formally complain to Ofcom about content on streaming platforms.

Opening the debate, Ms Frazer is expected to say: “We are in a golden age for the silver screen and our public broadcasters are a big reason for that.

“Whether it's reality shows like Great British Bake Off and I'm A Celebrity, or dramas like Time, Happy Valley or Broadchurch – our public broadcasters have proven they can go toe-to-toe with the streaming giants.

“But success today is never a guarantee of success tomorrow. The rise of streaming giants and on-demand content, YouTube and smartphones, tablets and TikTok have combined to reshape our entire broadcast landscape.

“It is our job to introduce reforms that will keep our broadcasters at the top of their game for years to come. This bill will do that by leveling the playing field, eliminating threats to their sustainability and opening up new opportunities to maximize growth and unlock potential.”

The media bill will also remove the threat that publishers will pay all legal costs if they win or lose a court case, by repealing section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which is not in force.

If enacted, it would mean publishers would have to pay legal costs in defamation and privacy cases, for both sides, if they were not part of an approved regulator.

Ms Frazer will add: “This bill has media freedom at its core. Article 40, and the possibility that publishers will have to pay the legal costs of people suing them, even if they win, has hung over us like a sword of Damocles. This bill removes the sword for good.”