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Media Bill to protect public broadcasters

Proposed legislation will enact reform to keep the UK’s public service broadcasters “at the top of their game” and “level the playing field” by removing threats to their sustainability, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer is expected to say.

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

It also features plans to support Channel 4’s sustainability by allowing the broadcaster to make more of its own programmes.

Among the Bill’s measures, the PSBs will be given more control over their TV schedules and on-demand offerings through more flexible rules on the types of programmes they are required to show.

The laws will also require PSBs to ensure an “appropriate range of programme genres” are available on their services, protecting against a potential reduction in specialist genres of shows – such as religious, science and arts programming.

A specific requirement for PSBs to continue to broadcast news and children’s programming is included.

The Bill will also ensure 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, streaming giants will be subject to a new video-on-demand code, which will be drafted and enforced by Ofcom.

The UK media watchdog will be given the power to draft and enforce the new code to level the rules with traditional broadcasters.

Viewers will then be able to complain formally 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 service broadcasters are a major reason why.

“Whether it’s reality shows like the Great British Bake Off and I’m A Celebrity, or dramas like Time, Happy Valley or Broadchurch – our public service 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 whole broadcasting landscape.

“It is our job to enact reforms that keep our broadcasters at the top of their game in the years ahead. This Bill will do that by levelling the playing field, removing threats to their sustainability and opening up new opportunities to maximise growth and unlock potential.”

The Media Bill will also remove a 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 have meant that publishers would have to pay legal costs in defamation and privacy cases, for both sides, if not a member of an approved regulator.

Ms Frazer will add: “This Bill has media freedom at its core. Section 40, and the possibility of publishers having to pay the legal costs of the people who sue them, even if they win, has hung over our media like a sword of Damocles. This Bill removes the sword for good.” Express and Star

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