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Ofcom to be given powers to regulate streaming platforms

Ofcom will be able to enforce a new video-on-demand code (Yui Mok/PA)
Ofcom will be able to enforce a new video-on-demand code (Yui Mok/PA)

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has revealed new plans for Ofcom to regulate streaming platforms to “protect audiences” from “harmful material”.

The Government will give the UK media watchdog the power to draft and enforce a new video-on-demand code, aimed at setting standards for “larger TV-like services” such as Netflix, ITV Hub and Now TV to level the rules with traditional broadcasters.

The maximum fine for a breach of the code will be £250,000 or an amount up to five per cent of their revenue – whichever is higher.

Nadine Dorries
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said the plans will ‘revamp decades-old law’ (Steve Parsons/PA)

Ofcom will also be given a “strengthened duty” to assess protection such as age ratings and viewer guidance, with powers to force change under the new proposal.

The Government said the plans will include measures to protect audiences from a wider range of harmful material, citing unchallenged health claims and pseudoscience documentaries.

The white paper, released on Thursday, signals the framework for the privatisation of Channel 4.

Under private ownership, Channel 4 will have access to capital and the freedom to make its own content, allowing it to diversify its revenue stream, it said.

It will look to use some of the proceeds from the sale of Channel 4 to deliver a new creative dividend for the sector.

Channel 4
The white paper could herald the privatisation of Channel 4 (Philip Toscano/PA)

A consultation will also be launched on new rules to ensure broadcasters such BBC, ITV and Channel 4 make “distinctively British” programmes.

The Government cited period-drama Downton Abbey, sci-fi series Doctor Who and searing rape drama I May Destroy You as examples that “reflect a vision of a modern UK”.

The white paper also proposes the opportunity to secure rights to air TV’s major sporting events, such as the Fifa World Cup and Wimbledon, be made an exclusive public service broadcasters (PSB) benefit through reforms to the listed events regime.

Similarly, the Government will update prominence rules so online TV platforms are legally required to offer PSB on-demand services, such as BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub, and give them prominence so they are easy to find on the platform.

It will also set out a new remit for PSB quota, which currently requires broadcasters to air a minimum amount and variety of public service content.

Downton Abbey
Downton Abbey was cited as an example of a ‘distinctively British’ show (Ben Blackall/PA)

The Culture Secretary said the plans will “revamp decades-old law” to help PSBs stay competitive.

“The UK’s TV and radio industries are world-renowned for their creativity, driven by exceptional talent that is delivering ground-breaking public service programming.

“Set against the backdrop of the digital transformation of our viewing habits, today’s plans will revamp decades-old laws to help our public service broadcasters compete in the internet age and usher in a new golden age for British TV and radio.

“This will provide jobs and growth in the future along with the content we all love,” Ms Dorries said.

In a statement, ITV said: “We welcome the Government’s recognition of the huge value the PSBs deliver to the UK and its decision to introduce a Media Bill to deliver the necessary reforms to ensure PSBs can continue to thrive in future given market changes.

Julian Knight
DCMS chairman Julian Knight called for clarification on the role of radio (Chris McAndrew/PA)

“We will engage carefully with the substance of the White Paper once it is published, but many of its proposals – notably reform to prominence and inclusion rules, a more flexible approach to remits, and changes to the listed events regime – look very sensible.”

In a statement, Netflix said: “As we’ve previously said, we are supportive of measures to update the legal framework and bring our service in the UK under Ofcom’s jurisdiction.

“We look forward to reviewing the White Paper’s other proposals and continuing to engage with the Government on their plans.”

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport chairman Julian Knight said: “The rules ensuring major sporting events are free to be enjoyed by all have failed to keep pace with rapid changes in audience viewing habits.

“With many more people now watching online or on catch-up rather than crowding round a TV with friends and family, the Government must ensure that the promised review of the listed events regime extends protection of the sporting crown jewels to digital and on-demand content.

“With the proposals announced today aimed at helping public service broadcasters thrive, it is puzzling why there is a deafening silence on the role of radio and how it will be supported. This will need to be rectified if, as promised, audiences are to enjoy a new golden age of programming.”

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