MPs listen to RSN calls to protect traditional TV viewers in rural areas

Following last week’s speech by the Culture Secretary in which she promised to protect traditional TV (see the RSN article here), the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has released its report on the government’s draft Media Bill.

The new legislation aims to address the evolving “media ecosystem” and take into account the rise of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.  The draft bill intends to:

  • simplify the remit for Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) and ensure public service content is easy to find for UK audiences on platforms and connected devices such as smart TVs and streaming sticks;
  • keep Channel 4 in public ownership and remove the existing publisher broadcaster restriction so that the channel can produce and monetise its own content;
  • remove geographical broadcasting restrictions on S4C, enabling the channel to offer its content on a range of platforms in the UK and abroad;
  • bring Video-on-Demand platforms under stricter regulatory control;
  • remove some regulatory burdens from commercial radio stations;
  • protect radio’s position on voice-activated smart speakers;
  • and repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which would (if commenced) require news publishers to pay both sides’ costs in any legal proceedings if they were not a member of an approved regulator.

Following the publication of the draft Bill, the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee announcement plans for pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill to address some of the concerns raised.  This has included looking at protecting viewers who only access content from Public Service Broadcasters (PBS), like the BBC, through linear broadcast services, essentially those who don’t use on-demand TV but watch TV in real-time.

If approved the Bill would see PSBs having greater flexibility in how they can deliver their remit which has raised concerns that it would lead to a reduction in public service content on linear channels.  The new report from the Select Committee said:

“This would have acute consequences for the 7% of households who do not have access to the internet at home: Ofcom reports that 69% of these households say they do not want or need to be online, 20% are concerned about complexity and 20% about cost. Meanwhile, an estimated 68,000 premises do not have access to a decent broadband service.”

The campaign group Broadcast 2040+, of which RSN is part of, has lobbied the Select Committee and the government to guarantee broadcast services to continue beyond 2040.  The report states that the group:

“argued that the Bill could lead to audiences who rely on broadcast services facing an “inferior experience of public service broadcasting”.  It went on to quote Broadcast 2040+ campaign: “Without additional safeguards, the Draft Bill, as worded, could be damaging and undermine the importance of universality, which ensures that everyone across the nations of the UK can access free public service content. [ … ] Being able to access or afford high-quality broadband or being able or willing to sign-up to and use online platforms should not become a barrier to accessing public service content.”

Following the publication of the report from House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, the Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer promised that they were “not going to pull the rug from under the devoted audiences of Freeview channels… We want terrestrial television to remain accessible for the foreseeable future.”

The government has yet to publish its formal response to the report.  The RSN will continue to work with Broadcast 2040+ to ensure rural communities are not overlooked in any future legislation.


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