Media Bill

– in the House of Commons at 2:17 pm on 21 November 2023.

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Second Reading

[Relevant documents: Fifth Report of the Welsh Affairs Committee of Session 2022–23, Broadcasting in Wales, HC 620, Twelfth Report of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of Session 2022–23, Draft Media Bill: Radio Measures, HC 1287; Thirteenth Report of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of Session 2022–23, Draft Media Bill: Final Report, HC 1807; and the Government response to both reports, HC 155.]

2.24 pm

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I beg to move, That the Bill be read a Second time. I am especially pleased to do so today, as it is World Television Day.

The British media are world renowned. They inform and educate, they challenge and entertain. Content created by our media, be it journalistic exclusives or broadcasting endeavours, attracts domestic and international audiences and helps to drive our creative economy. However, the world in which this content is competing is changing rapidly. Technology has transformed every facet of our lives, and nowhere is that more evident than in the way we watch and consume television and listen to the radio. We have seen the rise of streaming giants and on-demand content, YouTube and smartphones, tablets and TikTok, and all those have combined to reshape our whole broadcasting landscape. Today, that landscape is unrecognisable in the context of what followed the last major reform of the rules that governed broadcasting in 2003.

We need to support the British media to enable them to compete and continue to serve their audiences with high-quality content. We need regulations fit for the digital age, and that is what this Media Bill will give us. In keeping with the Government’s defining mission, the Bill makes long-term decisions for a brighter future for our viewers, our listeners and our public service broadcasters. It is a pro-growth Bill that is designed to level the playing field for public service broadcasters such as the BBC, Channel 4, STV and ITV, among others, so that they can continue to provide first-class content and reach their audiences. As Members will know, we have engaged heavily with all parts of industry, from the streamers to the independent production sector and our public service broadcasters, to get the Bill right, and if we want our broadcasters to be ready for the next wave of technology, it is imperative that we get it right.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee

As the Minister says, the Bill marks a time of huge change in broadcasting and what have you, but the specific concern in Scotland, especially in my part of the world, is that while it mentions and makes provision for S4C, Gaelic broadcasting seems to have been omitted from it. I am sure that that is just an oversight, and that during the Bill’s later stages we will see safeguards in place for Gaelic broadcasting and BBC Alba in particular.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I recognise the great contribution made by Gaelic speakers. We have agreed that we will, in the first instance, bring together the BBC and Scottish Government officials to discuss the co-ordination of funding decisions for Gaelic language production between the two organisations. We considered funding arrangements for minority language broadcasting, including programming for the Gaelic language, at the previous charter review, and those arrangements will be considered again at the next review.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I am sure the Minister will acknowledge the immense importance of public sector broadcasting to the Welsh language. How will she ensure that the Bill reflects the significant challenges faced by S4C in providing a wide range of good-quality programmes for both linear TV and online consumption, and protects the viability of the Welsh medium sector?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

We are of course anxious to protect S4C. As it is a public service broadcaster, many of these provisions apply to S4C, which we strongly support.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way; she is being very generous with her time.

In recognising the importance of public service broadcasting to outstanding broadcasting UK-wide but particularly in Wales, we should also recognise that this is not just about Welsh language programmes; it is also about English language programmes produced in Wales. Is my right and learned hon. Friend not saying—entirely correctly—that the Bill is not about protecting public service broadcasters, but about allowing them to compete on a level playing field in doing what they do best?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Absolutely. My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point, because this Bill is all about protecting our public service broadcasters, whether that is the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 or S4C, and I am proud to be bringing it forward.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Conservative, South Swindon

On the point about public service broadcasting, does my right hon. and learned Friend recognise the growing importance of local television and how the Bill could be improved by making sure that local television coverage is dealt with as a public service broadcaster? It is getting as important as local radio stations such as Swindon 105.5 in my constituency

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Conservative, South Swindon

Swindon 105.5—I recommend you all listen to it, and BBC Wiltshire, of course. It is important that we recognise local television as a public service broadcaster, and an amendment could be made to the Bill in that regard.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I am always happy to discuss matters with my right hon. and learned Friend. This provision will help to protect radio more broadly through the smart speaker provision and there are other measures on protecting. The Government understand the issue of online local news, which is very important, and Ofcom has concluded proposals in relation to its role, but there are always matters we can look at further.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

What is contained in this Bill to address the concern that, in the digital age, the BBC licence fee is simply unsustainable?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

My hon. Friend will know that this is a matter that the Government are considering—that is, the question of the licence fee. We have already started looking at the issue that faces the BBC in a changing media landscape. People consume their media in a different way. Last year, 400,000 people did not renew their licence. This is something we are looking at, but it is not a question for this Bill.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

As the Secretary of State knows, Channel 4 is based in Leeds and I thank her for her decision that it should be retained as a public service broadcaster in the public sector. The Media Bill is an opportunity to legislate for new public service broadcasting purposes for media literacy and workforce diversity. They are not currently in the Bill, but is the Secretary of State considering those two issues in relation to the Bill?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

As the hon. Member will know, we are bringing forward the matters in this Bill, but he is right to state the importance of Channel 4. We have brought forward measures to ensure that it retains its ability to be sustainable while also protecting independent producers.

I was talking earlier about how it was important to engage to get this Bill right. We have engaged heavily and are very grateful to the wide number of people who have helped to ensure that the Bill has the appropriate scrutiny and has landed in the right place. I would like to put on record my thanks to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend Dame Caroline Dinenage. The Committee invested heavily in the Bill and I am grateful for its recommendations. I want to thank it for its constructive engagement with my Department and for its pre-legislative scrutiny earlier this year. Alongside views from the industry, its reports have played a crucial role in ensuring that the Bill delivers for audiences and listeners.

But it is not just the Select Committee that has called for this Bill. The Welsh Affairs Committee, led by my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb, and the Scottish Affairs Committee have both called for its introduction. I would like to thank Baroness Stowell of Beeston for her leadership of the Communications and Digital Committee, which also called for this Bill’s introduction and worked hard on the issues in it for a number of years. I would like to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), for Aylesbury (Rob Butler), for East Devon (Simon Jupp) and for Warrington South (Andy Carter) for their thoughtful and considered engagement. I would also like to thank the previous iteration of the shadow Front Bench for its support, and I am sure that this shadow Front Bench will also provide constructive engagement.

It is not just films that are central to our creative industries and our national life. We are in a golden age for the silver screen in the UK, and public service broadcasters are the main reason why. Whether it is reality TV shows such as “The Great British Bake-off” and “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!”, or dramas such as “Time”, “Broadchurch” and “The Night Manager”, our public service broadcasters have proven that they can continue to go toe to toe with the streaming giants, but it is clear that this Bill is needed to enable our world-leading broadcasters to compete in an ever-more online world. Measures in the Bill will introduce simpler, more up-to-date rules on what our public service broadcasters have to broadcast and how they reach viewers, making sure that the high-quality public service content for our audiences remains easy to find as viewer habits evolve.

For a renowned public service broadcaster such as Channel 4, this Bill will help to support its long-term sustainability. This includes removing its publisher broadcaster restriction, which will free up Channel 4 to make more of its own content if it wants to, and open new options for diversifying its revenue away from advertising. Alongside this, we are bringing forward measures to safeguard Channel 4’s significant role in driving investment into the production sector. As many Members will recall, I set out the core aspects of this package, which the Government have designed in consultation with Channel 4 and the independent production sector, in a written statement to this House on 8 November.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee

I heard the right hon. and learned Lady’s previous answer and I am sure that it came from a good place, but just to be absolutely sure—what we are looking for in Scotland are provisions similar to those for S4C, and if they could be bolted on as things progress, that would be gratefully welcomed. One final point I would make is that Gaelic broadcasting has enjoyed tremendous cross-party support in Scotland, pre-devolution and post-devolution, and I think she should bear that in mind. It is probably the same in Wales with S4C, so hopefully we will get the same provisions as S4C.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. He will be aware that Alba is not in the same position as S4C because it is a programmer rather than a channel. In that way, it has a relationship with the BBC, and that is how its funding arrangement is determined.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I am going to make some progress.

I was talking about Channel 4, but it is not just Channel 4 that is going to benefit from this Bill. The Bill includes measures specific to S4C, the Welsh language broadcaster. We worked closely with S4C on the provisions in the Bill, which will enable S4C to broaden its reach and offer its content on new platforms in the UK and beyond. The Bill also updates S4C’s public service remit to include digital and online services, and implements in statute other recommendations made in the independent Williams review in 2018. These provisions are a crucial part of the Government’s support for regional and minority language broadcasting. We know how important this kind of broadcasting is, giving many people content in a language familiar to them and providing a cultural outlet for communities across the UK. It was no surprise that, in its recent report on broadcasting in Wales, the Welsh Affairs Committee called on the Government to introduce a media Bill to Parliament as early as possible in the next Session, and I am glad that we have been able to deliver on that commitment.

It is clear that online demand streaming services are now an important part of the broadcasting landscape. From Netflix to iPlayer, they provide huge value to UK audiences and in many cases make significant and growing contributions to the UK economy. While UK audiences enjoy having instant access to the programmes they love, it is also essential that when they watch them on their smart TVs, they enjoy similar protections to live TV.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley

As a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee, I would also welcome assurances that our Welsh media broadcasting, S4C, is safeguarded under the Media Bill, but more specifically, can the Secretary of State confirm that the listed events regime will accurately reflect the importance placed by supporters on key competitions including the Six Nations rugby to ensure their status on terrestrial TV?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Member will know that sport is devolved in Scotland, and if the Welsh Government want to make any recommendations to us in relation to listed events, of course we would be very happy to listen to them.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I will make a little progress.

The Bill will provide greater protections for children and vulnerable audiences through a proportionate new on-demand video code, to be drafted and enforced by Ofcom, bringing streaming services in line with the protections that already exist for the audiences of public service broadcasters.

The Bill will also require greater provision of subtitles, audio description and sign language. This will lead to a much improved service for millions of people living with a hearing loss or visual impairment when they watch or listen to television programmes on demand.

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Assistant Whip

I draw the House’s attention to an expected future interest on this point that I articulated in Westminster Hall.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the work she has done to ensure that accessibility is accommodated in this Bill, and particularly for responding to the previous work she did with me and others on subtitling and other accessibility points.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I was pleased to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss these important points, and I am very proud that this Bill will ensure greater access so that those with impairments can enjoy the things that those of us without impairments already enjoy.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray

The Secretary of State mentioned the Scottish Affairs Committee, of which I am a member. She will know that, in our report on public broadcasting, we recommended that the Government provide urgent assurances on maintaining Freeview beyond 2034. That chimes very much with her speech to the Royal Television Society, in which she said:

“We want terrestrial television to remain accessible for the foreseeable future.”

Does she anticipate an opportunity in this Bill to ensure we have that guarantee beyond 2034?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important point, because we want to ensure that everybody has access to television. That is why I made those comments in my speech. We are looking at this matter. There are a number of ongoing reviews to make sure we have evidence bases. I am happy to stay engaged with him on that subject.

From Wimbledon to the FIFA World cup final, live sports are among the most important fixtures on our television schedules every week. To protect British viewers’ access to major sporting events, the Bill will modernise the listed events regime. In line with the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s recommendation, we have acted to close the streaming loophole.

Millions of us tune into the radio every single day to spend time with our favourite presenters or our favourite music. Whether it is Cambridge 105 Radio or LBC, we rely on local radio to keep us entertained and informed. Few know more about this issue than my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South, and I thank him for his tireless work to champion this vital sector. But as modern technology continues to transform how, when and where people tune in, we must ensure that stations across the UK have the right support in place so that they can reach their listeners.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s kind words. One of the issues we have discussed and debated in this Chamber over the last 12 months is the BBC’s decision to reduce local news on many of its local radio stations. I am very supportive of this Bill and welcome the steps to cut red tape for local commercial radio, but can she assure me and this House that there are sufficient provisions to ensure that local news continues on local multiplexes?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I was pleased to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and to take part in a session on his local radio station. As he knows, the BBC is operationally and editorially independent but, of course, local news is important. We have measures in this Bill to protect local news.

Because listeners increasingly listen to radio using smart speakers, the Bill will require that major smart speakers ensure that the UK radio stations that listeners love remain available on request. The Bill will also remove a number of outdated and burdensome regulations that are holding back the commercial radio sector, while strengthening protections for local news and information.

Finally, one of my central priorities as Secretary of State is to protect media freedom so that our world-leading media can continue to thrive. The Bill has media freedom at its core. One of its most significant measures is the removal of a long-standing threat to that freedom by repealing section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. 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. The Bill removes the sword for good.

The Labour party, of course, is no friend of the free press. The shadow Secretary of State has, in the past, called for boycotts of some of this country’s most well-respected papers. The Labour party has accused the Government of muddying the waters of this crucial legislation by including the repeal of section 40, but for us the water is clear. The position is clear: we will protect our free press.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

At Justice questions earlier today, the Government were again lauding anti-SLAPP legislation that protects small publishers and investigative journalists from oppressive conduct by wealthy individuals and organisations. That is exactly what section 40 does, and the Minister has completely mischaracterised it. Is it not inconsistency, amounting to hypocrisy, to repeal that provision?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Gentleman is very knowledgeable on this point, and I am always grateful for his interventions. I am proud that, together with the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend Sir John Whittingdale, I have brought forward provisions to strengthen the anti-SLAPP regime via a taskforce. The Ministry of Justice has proposed further legislation and Andy Slaughter, who is extremely knowledgeable, will know that currently it applies only to economic crime. Section 40 applies across the board, and SLAPPs are strategic lawsuits of a particular client, so repealing section 40 is necessary. I am proud to be bringing forward that repeal in this Bill.

I am sure that today we will hear significant contributions on this important Bill, and I look forward to the debate. We should be under no illusions about the urgent need to press ahead with reforms. Success today is never a guarantee of success tomorrow, and it is our job, as a Government and as a House, to enact reforms that keep our broadcasters at the top of their game in the years ahead. That is what the Bill will do: levelling the playing field, removing threats to the media’s sustainability, and opening up opportunities for them to maximise their potential and unlock growth. I commend this Bill to the House.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 2:48, 21 November 2023

As the Secretary of State knows, I welcome the introduction of this important and long-overdue Bill. I start by making her an offer: I will work with her on a cross-party basis to get the Bill into law as quickly as possible, subject to the proper scrutiny that would be expected from His Majesty’s Opposition. Britain’s public service broadcasters must be fully equipped with the tools they need to thrive in this intensified era of internet and on-demand television. That is why Labour has been calling on the Government for some time to bring forward many of the measures in the Bill. And it is not just Labour; Ofcom, Select Committees of both Houses, the public service broadcasters, consumers and industry leaders across the sector all back the Bill and want to see it passed into law, and some have done so for many years.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee

Further to the point I made to the Secretary of state, and further to the shadow Minister’s excellent point about working co-operatively across the House, would she support a straightforward amendment to protect Gaelic language broadcasting? I hope the Government will do so too.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I cannot say whether I would support an amendment until I have seen it, but despite a specific mention of “Gaelic-language content” in the briefing note on the King’s Speech, there seems to be no mention of protecting Gaelic language broadcasting in the Bill, which gives me cause for concern.

I am sure that the Secretary of State understands how frustrating the delay has been to everyone involved and how, unfortunately, it seems to our public service broadcasters, the creative industries and all the talented people who work in them that the Government do not care about them. Much of the delay was down to the pointless war on Channel 4: were the Government going to sell it off and did they think it was publicly funded? Nadine Dorries, their 10th Culture Secretary in 13 years, certainly seemed to think so, which slowed down the Bill.

Not content with chipping away for more than a decade at our remarkably resilient British creative industries, they attempted to take their Tory wrecking ball straight to one of our finest institutions, costing Channel 4 and other PSBs time that they could have used to get on the stronger footing with their international competitors that the Secretary of State has described today. If only the Bill had come sooner.

Selling off Channel 4 was never going to work. It was wrong for viewers and it has only done damage to our creative industries. The Government should not have been contemplating it in the first place. With all that time wasted, looking inwards and wrangling with themselves, they held our public service broadcasters back. The resulting delay to the Bill and all the consequences of that have to sit squarely with the Government. Never again must our PSBs be treated with such disdain.

It may seem like a non sequitur, but the Culture, Media and Sport Committee undertook incredibly thoughtful pre-legislative scrutiny. I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that the Committee’s work added considerably to the quality of the legislation across the piece.

PSBs are important to the wider creative economy because they stimulate growth, create quality jobs and nurture British talent across all our nations and regions, so I welcome the measures in the Bill to boost that success further, particularly those ensuring that PSBs are always carried and given prominence on smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks. There is still debate about whether “appropriate” prominence, as it is described in the Bill, goes far enough. Would “significant prominence” avoid confusion? As we set the framework and as the Bill moves to Committee, we have to explore what being clear about the mandate to Ofcom actually means.

For many people, the most important part of the Bill is the recognition that PSBs bring us joy and their unique universality brings tens of millions of us together, whether to cheer on the Lionesses, watch Elton at Glastonbury or mourn the late Queen. At a time where loneliness is at an all-time peak, public service content keeps us connected. It is a string threaded through homes in every city, town and village in this country. I welcome the important modernisations to the listed events regime in the Bill—there is a lot to welcome in the Bill—including closing the streamer loophole, so that TV-like services that provide live content via the internet, such as the World cup and Wimbledon, will be brought within scope in the listed events legislation.

However, unfortunately the Government have not taken on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s recommendation to include digital on-demand rights in the regime, so on-demand highlights and online clips can be kept behind paywalls. I know the Government are conducting a review on digital rights, but the deadline for responses to their consultation was last year. I urge the Secretary of State to look down the back of the Culture, Media and Sport sofa—I am very fond of sofa metaphors, I am afraid, so hon. Members may hear more about sofas later—pull that review out and tell us what is in it? If the results of the consultation are not ready in time to be included in the Bill, will the Government include an enabling provision to allow digital rights to be added later?

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

Some of the points raised, including those about digital rights, are made by Colin Browne of the Voice of the Listener and Viewer. I recommend that the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State meet him to understand what other points he is concerned about, so they can be addressed during the passage of the Bill?

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The Father of the House is quite right to draw attention to the Voice of the Listener and Viewer—I believe that organisation is on my call list, so I will chase that up following his kind and sensible suggestion.

Another broad area that I ask the Secretary of State to look at again is children and young people’s television, which has been one of public service broadcasting’s biggest contributions to the life of our country. I am sure we can all name our favourite programmes, which might reveal the age of hon. Members. For me, they are “Jackanory”, “Grange Hill” and “The Magic Roundabout”, but for others they might be “Byker Grove” and “The Story of Tracy Beaker”, tackling issues rarely seen elsewhere in the media. Colleagues are welcome to mention their own favourite TV programmes.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Interesting. The hon. Gentleman obviously appreciates the importance of tidying up.

Sadly, I fear that the importance of children’s TV has been lost in the Bill. There has been a dramatic shift in the viewing habits of young people, particularly children over the age of 7, as increasingly parents no longer control viewing. Coupled with the long-term reduction in commissioning of original UK content for children, I am concerned that the Bill does not go far enough.

The Government must ensure that the next generation does not miss out on the high-quality, culturally relevant storytelling, such as “The Wombles”, for which our generations are so thankful to our public service broadcasters. I think I will develop a Wombles theme now. These programmes have a powerful influence on a child’s development. They provide role models—I am sure Angus Brendan MacNeil is an assiduous tidier up as a result of what he watched as a child—inspire ambition and encourage social inclusion. They engage participation in national conversations and develop a child’s understanding, valuing and ownership of what it means to be British.

Children’s TV also makes a significant contribution to the economy and provides quality jobs. It is a key part of our soft power too, promoting tolerance, logic and fair play to children all over the world. The Government must consider the wider consequences for public service broadcasters if children are not consuming as much content as they used to. It is unhelpful for the long-term interests of our public service broadcasters if a generation has little experience of their content. Will the Secretary of State think carefully about how she can work with public service broadcasters to get more quality UK-made children’s content and, crucially, make sure it is as accessible as possible to them?

The Bill is designed to allow current public service broadcasters to fulfil their obligations by taking into account their online delivery platforms, but children also spend a massive proportion of their time on Disney+ or on video-sharing platforms such as YouTube. I urge the Secretary of State to speak with those platforms about how they can provide more quality public service content produced here in the UK.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

There seems to be an excessive amount of advertising on commercial programmes aimed at young children, to the extent that it sometimes seems almost subliminal within the programme. Does my hon. Friend think that area needs to be looked at, because those programmes are using children as a commercial pressure on their parents or guardians?

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of work done by the Children’s Media Foundation and I am pleased to note his point. A great concern of mine is that all children’s television and broadcasting ought to be of the highest possible quality. In our country we have that tradition of making great children’s TV.

I am also concerned about the talent pipeline that PSBs rely on. For the past 13 years, successive Tory Governments have failed to understand the importance of creative education for economic growth and jobs. We get announcements with no follow-up, which means they have not taken the issue at all seriously. Government adverts patronised creatives, suggesting that ballerinas should retrain in cyber.

Complementing the aims of the Bill, Labour will back the next generation of creative talent that we know our PSBs need if they are to fulfil the promise offered by the Bill. We will equip the workforce with the skills, knowledge and understanding needed to sustain PSBs and the wider creative industries, which are so necessary to fulfil the pipeline. There will be a broad and balanced education for every child, who will have access to high-quality arts, culture and creativity under a future Labour Government.

I recognise the unique and vital role of the independent sector, as set out in the Bill. As MP for Bristol West, the home of BBC Wildlife, some Channel 4 studios and many creative industries that supply and work for them, I know how important PSBs are, or can be, for driving inward investment into communities across our country. I have seen for myself in my patch how that can stimulate the supply chain and the resilience of the local economy, but I want more for this industry across the country from this Government.

Finally, I welcome the measures in the Bill to give S4C, the Welsh language broadcaster, more flexibility in the modern world, and I welcome the comments that my hon. Friends have made about that.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Independent, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for giving way and congratulate her on her appointment. The point that I would like to make to the Secretary of State is that, although there is a broad welcome in Wales for the reforms to S4C, it is a channel that seems at the moment to be at a crisis point; perhaps that is going too far—it seems to be in an element of turmoil. I would be very grateful if the Secretary of State would look at what is going on at S4C, starting with the journalism of Martin Shipton on Nation.Cymru, because there are a few issues that need to be addressed.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the hon. Member for that intervention, although I think it was probably addressed to the Secretary of State. I agree with him on the importance of S4C, as I am sure we all do. I want S4C to have more flexibility in the modern world, but I did note, as has been raised by other colleagues, that there is no specific mention of protecting Gaelic broadcasting in the future. That is despite an explicit mention of it in the King’s Speech, so I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could clarify what has changed by the next stage of the Bill.

I thank the Secretary of State for bringing forward the measures in the Bill and urge her to listen to the comments that I have raised today, and those that my colleagues and others across the House will raise, because there is a great deal of cross-party consensus. We all want the Bill to be as good as it possibly can be. I reiterate my offer to work with her to get the Bill through Parliament in the best shape possible and to do so as smoothly as possible. Labour will back this Bill to back our public service broadcasters.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford 3:01, 21 November 2023

I echo the sentiment of others. It is always a pleasure to follow Thangam Debbonaire. In continuing with the spirit of non-partisanship that she expressed, I, too, hope that the Bill will get through the House quickly and think that we should congratulate the Secretary of State on getting this far. As she said, it is 20 years since we last had a significant media Bill of this size. Most of the big names that we think of in the media now, apart from the public service broadcasters, would not have meant anything or, indeed, did not exist at the time. I suspect that when the 2003 Act was being prepared, the biggest disruptor around was Blockbuster Video—[Interruption.] I can see a few memories being sparked across the House. That was the case then; companies come and go, but the importance of the sector continues.

This Bill is so important and timely for two reasons. The first is the economic importance of the creative sector; the creative industries are one of the Chancellor’s five important growth sectors—and rightly so, as they contribute something like £108 billion to the economy and support something like 2 million jobs. They are an extremely important part of the British economy and also help to spread British soft power around the world. Those institutions that provide great creative content are some of the things that people around the world most admire about this country.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

When I was last in the United States, before the pandemic, I was astounded by how many people asked me if I had heard of “The Crown” or “Downton Abbey”. If that was not an example of the soft power that our creative industries give this country, then I know of no better.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford

The hon. Gentleman is of course quite right, with the slight caveat that of course “The Crown” is made by Netflix—one of the global disruptors that produce great work that we watch, but also give rise to the necessity to protect our own British public service broadcasters.

Arguably even more important than the economic importance of our public service broadcasters is their cultural importance; in a global world—where, indeed, people can take British stories but produce them in a global context—we need a British voice or a collection of voices. At a time when our society is riven with divisions, we need activities and means of expression that remind us all of what we share, so the media, which both create and carry those illustrations of our shared experiences, are more important than ever. The protections in the Bill are important not just for our economy, but for the flourishing of our culture, and I can think of few more important things that a Government can address.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point about British soft power and projecting British culture on the world stage. Does he agree that, within that, there is also huge scope for projecting the variety of what modern Britain looks like? Does he agree that, whether it is through programmes on Disney+ like “Welcome to Wrexham” or through the Welsh public service broadcasters, projecting Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish identities as part of that overall industry is an incredibly important thing in the 21st century?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford

Partly as a fellow Welsh man, I completely agree with my right hon. Friend that it is about the subtlety of British culture. There is one recognisable British culture, but within that there are many streams of different cultures, and preserving each is extremely important—not just by itself but also to preserve the whole British culture. Precisely because we have not just one public service broadcaster—it is not just the BBC, but people from ITV, Channel 4, S4C and Channel 5 doing great work—we get the ability to project diversity of voices within the wider British voice. That is extremely important.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for giving way. I had hoped that there would be consensus right across the House on epistle he is giving on the importance of the Gaelic language, and that an amendment to make sure that the Gaelic language is protected should be supported across the House. If I may say so, there is a Gaelic TV station, BBC Alba Radio nan Gàidheal —in contrast to what was perhaps said from the Dispatch Box. It is important that we have that parity of esteem and that we can consider the funding that is necessary to allow the station to flourish.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point. As that matter is not in the Bill, I have not considered it very carefully. If I may say so, I thought that it was an expression of wisdom on the part of the shadow Secretary of State when she made the point that she could not commit to supporting an amendment that she had not seen. I think that is a good rule for everyone.

I wish to concentrate briefly on five areas covered by the Bill, the first of which is indeed Channel 4. It is what is not here that I celebrate as much as what is, because the Secretary of State took an early and wise decision not to proceed with a wholesale privatisation of Channel 4. I always thought that that policy was based on two pillars that were mutually incompatible; there was an argument that Channel 4 had no commercial future and was not viable, and a separate argument that it could be sold off and raise a huge sum of money for the Treasury. It seemed to me that we could make a plausible argument for either of those propositions, but it was really impossible to make a plausible argument for both those propositions at the same time, and that seemed to be what the Government were seeking to do for a time.

I wholeheartedly congratulate the Secretary of State on moving on from that policy and finding new ways to make Channel 4 viable in the long term, because that is extremely important. The way that the Government have chosen to do that is to remove the publisher-broadcaster restriction to allow Channel 4 to start making some of its own content. I merely observe at this stage that I hope that that will be done very cautiously, because among the virtues of Channel 4 is not just what it broadcasts, but the fact that it has promoted the growth of an enormous sector of production companies—some very small and some that have grown to be very large—and it is that ecosystem that has allowed much the successful creativity in recent decades, for more than 40 years.

I should declare an interest, because I was working for “Channel 4 News” the day the station started. I was there from day one. I suspect that, particularly given that the early reception of “Channel 4 News” was—how shall I put it?—not wholly positive, if somebody had told us then that the programme would still be on air at the same time every night as it was in 1982 when the station started, we would all have dropped down dead with shock. Nevertheless, it is still there and it is still controversial, and many other excellent things have been produced by the channel.

That has allowed other production companies to flourish, so I hope that, as Channel 4 moves cautiously towards producing some of its own programmes, it recognises, and the regulator and the Government recognise, that preserving that ecosystem of independent companies is hugely important. Channel 4 says that its move into in-house TV production will be gradual and will build on the existing diversity in the market; I very much hope that it observes that and that there is not too much conflict between proceeding cautiously with that and maintaining the channel’s overall viability.

The second detail in the Bill that I would like to deal with is preserving the prominence of public broadcasters on the new platforms that people use to watch TV. I welcome the measures in the Bill, but with some caveats. It is obviously important to ensure that UK users can easily find the public service content they value; despite the increasingly diverse global marketplace that we have discussed, about seven in 10 UK adults want UK life and culture represented on screen, and that is the core purpose of the public service broadcasters.

If I may pick up on the many gratifying favourable references to the CMS Committee, on which I serve under the enlightened chairmanship of my hon. Friend Dame Caroline Dinenage, we have suggested that PSBs should be given “significant”, not just “appropriate”, prominence on all platforms. We think that that will be a better way to protect the long-term interest of the PSBs, and it can be done by introducing amendments to proposed new section 362AM of the Communications Act 2003 on the Ofcom code of practice, so it is not a complicated thing to do.

Another detailed point I would make is that the Bill creates a level playing field in the must-carry/must-offer section for commercial PSBs in their negotiations with the programmers about how they will be carried, but not for the BBC. An amendment to that part of the Bill covering the must-carry obligations, setting out that a regulated platform should act consistently with the equivalent BBC charter and framework agreement provisions, would address that small point.

The next point I will concentrate on is listed events, and here I echo some of the remarks made earlier in the debate: it is very welcome that the loophole about streaming services has been closed. That will be a significant step forward in the way people watch big sporting events in particular, but again I commend to Ministers a recommendation of the Select Committee that the Government should go further and include digital on-demand rights as well, because that is how many people will watch big sporting events—something that brings the country together—in future. With the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, which were obviously in a different time zone, some digital on-demand clips and highlights reached 10 times more people than the live TV coverage where an event had seen some British success overnight in this country.

If we look ahead to future great sporting events, the men’s football World cup is in the USA, Mexico and Canada, and the 2028 and 2032 Olympics are in the USA and Australia respectively. Those are all inconvenient time zones for most British viewers, so extending the regime to on-demand rights would make a lot of difference to a lot of viewers.

I echo the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland, the former Lord Chancellor, about local TV. Those channels provide valuable services and I think they could be included in the licensed public service channel definition in the Bill. Allowing some guaranteed prominence for local TV services in the new TV ecology would help to ensure sustainability for that sector, which is increasingly important.

My final point is about radio. I am a lifelong fan of radio, and I am impressed and surprised by how the medium is flourishing in this area of infinite choice, particularly when it comes to music listening. For years, people have thought that the existence of services such as Spotify would kill off radio, but the opposite seems to be happening: there is more radio listening than ever. That is a tribute to all those in the radio sector, both BBC and commercial services, who have done an incredible job of preserving new generations of listeners.

As another word of congratulation to Ministers, I am delighted that, after some doubt, part 6 on the radio sector has been included in the Bill, because there are some very important protections that are needed. As online listening grows, radio stations are becoming increasingly reliant on global technology platforms that produce smart speakers to reach their listeners. It is important, at this stage in the development of radio, that we stop platforms’ potential abuse of their market position by charging for access to UK radio services or inserting their own adverts in commercial radio services, so those protections are very welcome.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

On that point about the growth of the radio sector, does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the real success stories of recent years is the emergence of a new generation of digital community stations to plug the gap of the local commercial stations that have become part of national groups and lost some of their local rootedness? Does he further agree that Ofcom should look at releasing more FM licences so that those new digital community stations can grow, especially in areas such as mine in west Wales, where take-up of digital radio is perhaps lower than elsewhere?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford

I do, because in an era when the biggest media have become completely global, what we used to call hyper-localism is important in all media. Radio Ashford in my constituency does what it says on the tin—it is very local. It is strictly about the town and it competes with the BBC’s offering on Radio Kent, which is broader and, like all BBC local radio, for a large part of the day is regional rather than even county-based. The capacity to have properly local services is very important.

If I may suggest a way in which those welcome protections could be strengthened even further, Ministers should consider expanding them to include online-only radio content such as podcasts and catch-up radio content, and indeed the systems in vehicles—that is where a significant proportion of radio listening takes place—which are not protected in the Bill as it stands.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

It is important in that context that we give consideration to the community radio stations that broadcast on FM—I have a number in my constituency, including Skye FM, Two Lochs Radio, Nevis Radio—which are very often hand to mouth. It is important that Government agencies conducting advertising through local radio stations remember the importance of those community stations and their high level of reach. They need to be given their fair share in that regard.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who makes a powerful point.

To conclude, the Bill is welcome. Many of the individual measures are welcome and necessary. Some could and should be improved, and I am sure that they will be as the Bill is scrutinised in its various stages. Overall, I am delighted that the Bill is now before the House, and I wish it, and the Ministers carrying it through, well.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 3:20, 21 November 2023

I appreciate having the opportunity to lead for the SNP on Second Reading. My hon. Friend John Nicolson, who usually leads on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has been unable to come along, so I have stepped into the breach, as it were, and agreed to manage the Media Bill for the SNP.

Although the Bill is welcome and takes a number of positive steps forward, I am concerned about how over-complicated some of it is. The Bill amends the Communications Act 2003, the Broadcasting Act 1996 and the Broadcasting Act 1990. Apart from amendments to corporation Acts and tax Acts, I have not seen anything quite this complicated. If I were a broadcaster or worked in this area, I would find it difficult to find all the information I needed even to comply with the legislation because of its complicated nature. The Media Bill mostly amends those three pieces of legislation, as well as a few others in smaller technical ways—smaller technical amendments are absolutely standard—but it has been done in a complicated way that will make it difficult to find some of the definitions.

I was looking, for example, for the definition of “programme”. I was directed to the Communications Act 2003, which directed me to the Broadcasting Act 1990, which then told me what the definition was. I have yet to find out the definition of “person”. Perhaps the Minister could furnish me with information on where I could find that definition in those three pieces of legislation. I did, however, find out that when it comes to choosing programmes and organising programming, an algorithm can be counted as a “person” if someone is assisted by an algorithm. I would find it very helpful if the Minister pointed me in the direction of the definition of “person”, which is used a significant number of times in the Bill when it talks about a person who is in charge of programming. Does the word “person” also relate to an entity or a group of people if they are in charge of programming? It would be helpful to have more information on that.

I am slightly concerned about other definitions and uses of words. The requirement for Ofcom to work out that there is a sufficiency of something without there being any clarity on what “sufficiency” means is slightly concerning, because something that I see as sufficient may not be seen as sufficient by somebody else. If there were more information on what “sufficient” meant, there would be more clarity on the changes to Channel 4 as a proportion of expenditure, for example, as opposed to a proportion of programming. “Sufficiency” is not sufficiently defined in the Bill.

The shadow Secretary of State mentioned the word “appropriate” in respect of the availability of public sector broadcasters through internet services, and raised concerns about whether it should be re-termed as “significant”. That would probably give those broadcasters the level of prominence that we expect and want them to have, so that people can access their services in the way that they want and expect. I agree that there could be a different way of doing that.

I will come to a number of different issues, but let me touch on the requirement on the prominence of services. That is important, and I am glad that the Government have chosen to tackle the prominence of services. The order in which public service broadcasters appear—particularly for those who use Amazon Fire Sticks, for example—is important. As those broadcasters have responsibilities that other broadcasters do not, it is important that they are given a level of primacy.

However, I am concerned that the App Store and the Google Play Store are not included in the measures, given the way in which such organisations—particularly the App Store—have behaved. They have said, “We can carry things such as the BBC iPlayer or the STV player only if you give us a significant slice of your revenue.” That is not acceptable. If people look up the BBC iPlayer on the App Store, it should be the top result, rather than being placed further down because Apple has had an argument with the BBC about it. It is inappropriate for Apple to charge the BBC significant amounts of money for a level of prominence that the BBC should have by right as a public service broadcaster. That is important not just in relation to the software in the Fire Stick, for example—or however we choose to view our video-on-demand services—but in the prominence that public service broadcaster apps, such as Channel 4 on demand and BBC iPlayer, are given. The same applies to BBC Sounds in radio access. Those broadcasters should not be charged significant amounts for that prominence.

While I am on radio, I appreciate what has been said about ensuring that Alexa and Siri provide the correct radio station. I would really like Alexa or Siri to play Taylor Swift when I ask for her, rather than Rage Against the Machine. It is not that they are trying to provide me with something else; it is that they do not understand my Scottish accent. Improving the listening ability of those services so that they can play the song that I want would be incredibly helpful.

I like the provisions on advertising. In some cases, it is not Alexa or Siri making decisions on advertising; it is TuneIn Radio—or whichever programme Alexa or Siri is playing through—that is making those decisions. As long as that provision applies to how we hear advertising, rather than who deals with the background stuff, I am happy enough with the measures.

I agree with Stephen Crabb, who has just headed out of the Chamber, on the importance of local radio. In my constituency, Station House Media Unit—known as shmu—does local magazines as well as a significant amount of local radio. It feels really rooted in our communities in a way that, as the right hon. Member said, larger stations that have been taken over by other companies do not.

I appreciate the level of children’s content we have had, particularly on the BBC, having watched CBeebies with my children. When I was younger, I went to a fancy dress party dressed as a Tweenie. I cannot remember whether I was Bella, Milo, Fizz or Jake, but I can tell the House that I did not have to look up those names, because I remembered them. They are ingrained in my soul, having watched the show with my little sisters. They are significantly younger than me, which is why I mention such a recent television programme.

Ofcom has had to scale up massively to service the provisions of the Online Safety Act 2023. I am appreciative of that, and I have a lot of time for the growth in capacity and the number of excellent people it has brought in to do the work. Can the Minister give us a level of reassurance that, for the policing of this area, the writing of the regulations and guidance that this Bill will require and the different interactions that Ofcom will be having, in particular with video-on-demand services, it will have the number of individuals and capacity and resource to be able to undertake such additional layers of work? I am aware that Ofcom is doing significant portions of work around broadcasting already, but I do not want it to have to stretch itself when it is already having to grow at pace. I am concerned that there are not even the number of qualified individuals to take on that work, given how specialised and important it is. Can the Minister reassure me that he is having conversations at least with Ofcom about its capacity when this legislation comes in?

A number of my colleagues have mentioned the Gaelic language and the issues around it. Of course, those could all be solved by devolving broadcasting to the Scottish Government, but in lieu of that, I will highlight some of the disparities. The Secretary of State was perhaps getting a little confused between BBC Alba and MG Alba, which are two different organisations. [Interruption.] Alba—my pronunciation is nearly there. I am an east-coaster. The two organisations are different and operate differently. We appreciate the support being given to S4C, which is a good thing, but we have a disparity, as £89 million of licence fee is going to S4C, whereas only £10 million is going to the Gaelic language. There is a requirement for a quota of at least 10 hours a week of Welsh language programming, but no requirement for a similar quota for Gaelic programming. I am concerned by that.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

The hon. Member is making a very good point about the Gaelic language. I absolutely hate to say this in this place, but my constituency has a few native Gaelic speakers—there are so few of them. I pray that in a few years’ time another generation will have the language. Gaelic is in a vulnerable situation, which reinforces her point.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I very much appreciate the hon. Member’s point. I went to visit a Gaelic nursery in Aberdeen a couple of years ago. Staff there were concerned about the reduction in Gaelic programming for children, because outside the nursery the children were not necessarily getting the exposure to Gaelic that they might have had if they had lived in Skye or the Western Isles. They were concerned that, just because they had chosen not to live in those communities, the language embedded in those children and their ability to access TV programmes in their native first language was significantly reduced. I am concerned by the disparity. I hope the Minister appreciates that we are coming from a good place in trying to ensure the protection of Gaelic, some level of parity and that people across Scotland can access it.

I will highlight specifically what the Bill states. It states that there has to be

“a sufficient quantity of audiovisual content that is in, or mainly in, a recognised regional or minority language”.

Later, the Bill states that

“‘recognised regional or minority language’ means Welsh, the Gaelic language as spoken in Scotland, Irish, Scots, Ulster Scots or Cornish.”

The Bill does not define what “a sufficient quantity” is. It does not say whether it will be measured on the basis of the percentage of people who speak that language in each of the countries. That wording is concerning, and given that there is a quota for Welsh programming, it is disappointing that there is not a similarly recognised quota for any of the other languages.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

My hon. Friend is making some strong points, and all of us on the SNP Benches support full funding for S4C, but it is specifically worth saying that there is no index-linking of the funding available for MG Alba. In many respects, the situation that Gaelic broadcasting is now facing is even worse than people might consider, because in real terms the funding available for MG Alba will, by 2027, be 50% of what it was in 2008. We are facing an existential threat to the survival of Gaelic broadcasting. We can think about the breadth and depth of the programming. I have programme-making in Skye, including from Chris Young of Young Films, who is known for “The Inbetweeners”. He, for example, produced the excellent “Bannan”. We need to fund such broadcasting appropriately.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I agree. We do not regret or feel angry at the Welsh language programming that is provided and the support for it. As my right hon. Friend said, we are looking for parity, and the index-linking of funding is important. We also need to recognise that the Scottish Government are already providing significant funding for the Gaelic language and to MG Alba, but there is no parity in terms of the licence fee.

I have a few other things I wish to say. Sadly, the Bill finally says goodbye to teletext; it is the end of teletext as we know it. It has not been in use since 2009, but the Bill finally removes it from legislation.

I also wish to talk about football games and how broadcasting and listing works. Listing is the particular concern. The Secretary of State said that the listing system is being revamped—I am not sure exactly what word she used but that was the direction she intended. However, the listing system itself—the way in which category A and category B listings are chosen—is not being revamped. No change is being made to that.

My hon. Friend Gavin Newlands is unwell and unable to take part in today’s debate, but he has done a huge amount of work on trying to ensure that we can access Scottish football games. It is incredibly important that we can see Scottish football games in Scotland. The Broadcasting Act 1996 says:

“’national interest’ includes interest within England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.”

It does not say, “England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”; it says “or Northern Ireland”. Given how popular Scotland’s football team is in Scotland, its games should be classed of national importance, especially as we have finally made it to the finals of a tournament. That is wonderful and we want to be able to see those games. It is not fair that viewers in Scotland have to pay to see their national team play, whereas viewers everywhere else in the UK do not have to pay for the same privilege. This issue is important. I note the point that the shadow Secretary of State made about the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s digital rights enabling provision, and I agree that if enabling provisions could be made on digital rights for sports events, that would be an important move.

I have a couple more issues to raise. The first is on-demand services and the inclusion of the 30-day requirement. Unfortunately, the Bill does not make it clear whether that means 30 consecutive days. It is important that the word “consecutive” be added unless precedent in other legislation suggests that “30 days” means 30 consecutive days. Why is news excluded from that provision? Damian Green spoke about the economic and cultural importance of our media, but we must consider its democratic importance in ensuring that knowledge is spread. I do not understand why the Minister and the Secretary of State have chosen to exclude news from this 30-day requirement on digital provision. The other thing that could have been clearer is ensuring that some of the provision is accessible. I know that the BBC has worked hard on this, but we are not there yet, as some of the local news that is provided is nearly impossible to find. If I want to watch Aberdeen-specific news, or even Scotland-specific news, it is hard to find it and disentangle it from more national news. Accessibility is required in that regard.

This legislation provides for quite a lot of delegated powers. I have not managed to make my way through all of them, but using the affirmative procedure often strikes the right balance. Using the draft affirmative procedure for a significant amount of the delegated powers in this Bill is important.

I am pleased that we have the Bill. I am concerned about the lack of futureproofing in some of it and about the overcomplication, as some of the definitions are difficult to follow and therefore may not achieve what the Government intend. The cultural sector is incredibly important to the entirety of the UK. It is incredibly important in Scotland, and we certainly will not oppose the Media Bill as it goes forward.

Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation, Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation 3:39, 21 November 2023

I am delighted to speak in this debate, not least because although the Government have been committed to a media Bill for a long time, it has always been with that well-worn caveat, “when parliamentary time allows”. I am really grateful to both the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, Thangam Debbonaire, for their kind words about the work of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. I am pleased that one of our first recommendations to be adopted by the Government was to include the Bill in this Session, and I am even more delighted that it has been introduced so quickly following the King’s Speech.

So much has changed since the last piece of major media legislation was passed 20 years ago, in the days when broadcasters decided when their programmes could be watched, TV was almost entirely analogue and only about 4% of the country had any form of access to the internet. But not everything has changed. Public service broadcasters remain at the heart of the UK’s media ecosystem, providing content that enriches our culture, our society and our democracy, and radio remains resilient, despite the environment in which it operates changing beyond recognition. It falls to us to pass legislation that both recognises the immense way in which technology and audience behaviour has changed and preserves the future of our valued PSBs and radio stations for years to come.

I am really pleased to see that the Government have accepted the majority of our Committee’s recommendations following our hard work on the Bill. The changes make the Bill more effective, closing the loophole that allows an unregulated streaming service to buy the rights for a listed sporting event and then stick it behind a pay wall. They make it more workable, improving the drafting of how the must-offer and must-carry carriage deals between PSBs and platforms should be negotiated. They make the Bill more proportionate, exempting news and sport from the requirement for on-demand content to be available for 30 days if it is to count towards a PSB’s remit. They make it more futureproofed, ensuring that the definition of an internet radio service can be amended to reflect changing audience habits or use of technology, and they make the Bill clearer, by ensuring that Channel 4’s sustainability duty is compatible with its existing statutory obligations.

There remain a few areas where the Bill will benefit from further discussion as it progresses, and I would like to pick up on a few of those today. The first is the issue of genres, which some Members have talked about. Ensuring prominence for our public service broadcasters is central to the Bill, but it is the obligation on them to provide high-quality and diverse programming that enables us to make the argument for prominence so incontrovertibly.

The changes to the public service broadcasting remit are significant. Other than news and current affairs, the Bill will remove the genres in the Communications Act 2003—for example, religious and arts programming, or children’s programming; I will not be drawn into the trap of discussing my favourite, because my dad may well be watching the debate—and replace them with an obligation to provide programming that reflects the lives and concerns of the UK’s different communities and cultural interests and traditions. That simplifies the remit of PSBs and the enforcement of it for Ofcom, but at what cost?

In our inquiry, the Committee found that these changes have received far less attention than other aspects of the Bill. Funnily enough, it was something that the PSBs themselves did not want to linger on in their evidence to us, but that is all the more reason why we need to consider whether these changes are the right ones. It is true that much of what people regard as public service content is now provided by a wide range of providers beyond PSBs and sometimes for free—for example, on Sky Arts—but not all genres are served in that way, and we need to be sure that the Bill gets the balance right.

With regard to prominence, obligations on our PSBs must be fairly balanced with the benefits that they are going to see. The harder it is to find public service broadcasting content, the less likely that content is to be watched, so PSBs need prominence on smart TVs and streaming sticks. That cannot come soon enough, but those who followed our inquiry will know that there was a debate among stakeholders as to whether we keep the existing descriptor for electronic programming guides that PSBs’ prominence should be “appropriate”, or change it to “significant”. That sounds like a really technical argument, but in the advanced user interfaces of today, what prominence looks like varies considerably from device to device and from platform to platform, so it is really important. What is considered appropriate prominence is far more open to interpretation than before, which is why we supported changing “appropriate” to “significant”. That was one of the few recommendations we made that the Government did not accept. Ultimately, what really matters is ensuring that public service content is always carried and is always easy to find, so that is what we need to work through as the Bill progresses.

We also need to consider whether the Bill’s “must carry” obligations on platforms need aligning with the “must offer” obligations in the BBC’s charter and framework agreement. Are we aiming for a level playing field between platforms and all our PSBs, or only the commercial ones? The House needs to explore that question, as well as whether the Government should extend the new prominence regime to local TV services. Those services are given prominence on electronic programme guides, on either channel 7 or channel 8, but the Bill does not give them prominence on smart TVs. We need to decide whether that is the right direction.

There are also places where I would be grateful if our Ministers provided more detail. Our Committee recommended that the new video-on-demand code should apply to all platforms in the same way that the broadcasting code applies to all broadcasters. However, the Government intend to apply that code only to platforms with a large UK audience. I recognise the Government’s argument that the legislation must be proportionate: clearly, applying the code to small, niche services such as a football team’s on-demand service could unfairly and unnecessarily penalise them, with no overall audience protection. However, we need more indication from the Government of the types of services they have in mind. The Minister will probably say that no decision has been made, but Ministers will have already considered this issue as they developed the Bill and responded to the Select Committee’s report, so I hope he will be able to say a bit more about what services he envisages being in scope.

We also need a bit more clarity on a late addition to the Bill: the introduction of a new special clause for multi-sport events that was not in the draft Bill. That clause would apply to four group A events: the summer Olympics and Paralympics and the winter Olympics and Paralympics. Currently, Ofcom consent is not required when there are genuine partnerships—that is, full and comprehensive rights on both sides of the partnership—but the Bill will change that, with each partner only entitled to “adequate live coverage”. This morning, the Select Committee had a session on women’s sport and met broadcasters, including the BBC’s director of sport, Barbara Slater. She raised real concerns about the impact of that clause, especially without any detail of what “adequate” means. If we are to avoid PSB coverage of those listed events being undermined by the Bill, we need clarity. Why did Ministers add that clause? What is wrong with the current rules? We need to make sure that we protect those moments of national importance, and that the Bill does not lead to any unintended consequences.

Turning to radio, there are places where we could look again at what is covered by the legislation. As Members have already heard from my right hon. Friend Damian Green, on-demand content from licensed radio stations is not covered by the Bill, nor are any online-only stations, yet some 10 million adults listen to podcasts every week and some of our biggest broadcasters have online-only stations. We all know how incredibly important radio is—it is the most trusted medium in the UK—and, in particular, how important local radio is. More than anything, the public reaction to the BBC’s changes to local radio brings that home. Sharing content across large areas risks undermining the sense of localness that has, until now, made BBC local radio really distinct. The measures to protect radio are some of the most important parts of the Bill, and we need to reflect on whether they go far enough.

Ultimately, of course, there is only one question to ask of any piece of media legislation: does it deliver for its audiences? First, the Bill is critical to the sustainability of our PSBs. While those broadcasters do not always get everything right, they provide huge value for audiences: they are the broadcasters who entertain us, who teach us, and who show us our national sporting triumphs—and, quite often, our defeats. Secondly, the Bill is critical if viewers are to be confident that all TV-like content, whether broadcast or on demand, will be subject to the same or similar standards. Thirdly, this Bill is critical to the future of radio, where stations are increasingly dependent on online platforms for access to listeners. This Bill seeks to ensure that radio remains the strong, trusted medium that it is today. Yes, there is more discussion to be had on the exact contents of the Bill, but it does deliver for audiences, which is why I am so pleased to hear that it has support from across the House and why I want to see it come into law as soon as possible.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 3:49, 21 November 2023

I want to start by expressing my party’s broad support for this Bill, which is timely. What a change we have seen since 2003 when the Communications Act was passed: it is a massive change. The new legislation is crucial for public sector broadcasters, and I therefore believe that time is of the essence. However, I am treating this debate as a bit like a tutorial in which we will have an interesting exchange of ideas. On behalf of my party, I will reserve our opinions—in the light of certain reservations that I will express—and we shall be abstaining on the Bill tonight. That does not in any way indicate that we do not support the thrust of the Bill, and I think that needs to be understood.

The first concern I would air is the removal of some regulations about local broadcasting. We have heard from all around the Chamber the importance of local broadcasting, including what it means in platforming voices and stories from across the nations and regions, not least the highlands, where I come from. I think this is a good point at which to unreservedly add my support to my colleagues—one across the Minch, Angus Brendan MacNeil; another to the south of me, Ian Blackford; and Kirsty Blackman—in saying that it is crucially important that we get it right with regard to Gaelic. As I said in an intervention, it saddens me to say this, but the situation of the language is precarious and we need to do everything possible to secure its future.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee

I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that there should be some sort of legislative underpinning and support for Gaelic broadcasting. Indeed, BBC Alba has asked for that and pointed that out.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Yes, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct.

Furthermore, as we know, local radio—and, as was expressed by Sir Robert Buckland, who is no longer with us, the same is true of local television—is absolutely fundamental to the proper functioning of local democracy. I know this only too well, and in some ways I regret it. Let me give Members, for their lighter amusement, a cautionary tale. When I was first elected to be a member of Ross and Cromarty District Council a long time ago—I was once upon a time the youngest member of the council—my younger brother was a broadcaster on Moray Firth Radio, our local radio station, which is still alive and well today. He thought it would be kind to me to put me on his chat show on a Saturday morning called “The Chipboard Table” just days after I was first elected. He sat me down—this was live—and he said, “Jamie, last night we had a dram together, and you told me that you felt your fellow councillors were quite creative in the way they completed their expenses.” This led to an indifferent start to a career in local government, but that is one of the scars I bear. Luckily, it was a long time ago. For accountability and throwing a light on local democracy, local radio is absolutely crucial, and notwithstanding my experience, I would not have it any other way.

On the issue of quotas, the removal of Ofcom’s responsibility to monitor the delivery of content in education, science and culture may risk content in these areas declining. That would concern me because, as was eloquently expressed by Damian Green, the soft power this country exerts is about being British, but it also about reflecting the different facets of our nation that English-speaking countries find absolutely fascinating. As the Bill progresses, I will be looking to ensure that Ofcom retains a statutory requirement to measure the output of each of these genres—language, culture or whatever—against, let us say for now, the benchmark of what we have at the moment. I do not wish to see any decline from that whatsoever.

On accessibility, when it comes to linear television, there is a requirement for 90% of programmes to be provided with subtitles, as we know. It is right that there should be greater access to those things. Let me give the House another personal example. On a Sunday evening, a cousin of mine who is a little older than me comes and has a meal with my wife and I, and she watches the television. She is a great friend and much loved. She is also pretty deaf, and for some television programmes we can get the subtitles up, but for others we cannot. Perhaps I am not very intelligent with IT, but by gosh we’ve tried, and it is hugely frustrating that she cannot see the words that are being said. The same applies to people with visual impairment—we are talking about signing and other ways of helping. The Liberal Democrat party will look to require that at least 80% of on-demand TV content be subtitled, with 10% audio described and 5% signed. That is our position at this stage.

While I find it tricky to find the subtitles, another issue is also tricky to find. One of the most important aspects of the Bill is the call for public service broadcaster prominence, ensuring that the likes of BBC, Channel 4 and ITV are not only easy to find on any smart TV, but are also given due prominence. This is the existential issue for our public service broadcasters, and the question of how appropriate prominence will be defined is vital. The Liberal Democrats would like the current call for “appropriate” prominence be strengthened to “significant” prominence, and I believe we will be tabling amendments to see whether we can achieve that.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The hon. Member is talking about a range of different issues, which highlight the fact that there are a lot of disparate concerns about the Bill. Does he share my concern that the draft programme motion does not include taking oral evidence for the Bill, and does he understand why the Government have done that?

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I believe that is a wise point, and we would be wise to heed it.

When it comes to Channel 4, I believe I am not alone in having concerns about plans to relax the publisher-broadcaster status, and about the potential risk that that poses to the unique contribution that the channel makes to the diversity and sustainability of the independent production sector across the nations and regions. Again, that takes me back to my earlier point about the sheer diversity of the product being part of our soft power, which is important to this country. However, there is a caveat. With the increased independent production quota and Channel 4’s prediction that any changes will take at least five years to launch, that fundamental change might not lead to any market shock in the short term. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we shall see.

Finally, let me turn to what is perhaps a core debating point today. Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 requires new outlets to pay the costs—we know what that is all about. The Liberal Democrats stand firmly against that charge. The 2013 Bill followed the Leveson inquiry and the phone hacking scandal, and the proposed change will put at risk the balance between free speech and public safeguarding, all the while favouring news publishers. One could say that that is a standard political stance in this debate, and perhaps Conservative Members would take a different view. However, let us consider one final point, which is important in terms of the notion of British justice. This change would mean that anyone without substantial financial resources or deep pockets that can match the might of the newspapers would find it impossible to pursue legitimate grievances through the legal system. We need to think about that very deeply. What can the small man possibly do against the publishing giants? That is hugely important and I think there is a warning here. With that I will conclude my remarks. I sincerely hope that my career in this place will not include any more gaffes on live radio, but you can never tell, Madam Deputy Speaker, least of all from a highland Member of Parliament.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee) 3:59, 21 November 2023

A number of hon. Members have mentioned how long it has been since the last major piece of media legislation, but it is worth reflecting on that period of change and what it means. When the Communications Act 2003 was passed more than 20 years ago, Amazon was a relatively small online retailer selling music, books and video games, Netflix delivered videos and DVDs by mail order for people to watch at home, and YouTube did not exist. If we had asked someone then what a smart device was, they would probably have guessed that it was a scientific calculator. There were no smart devices, and the iPhone was still some years away from existing.

The idea that every one of us would carry in our pockets a device allowing us to watch live television whenever we like would not have been envisaged, or people would have thought that to be far off. That is significant not just because technology changes the media landscape but because it has a massive impact on viewing habits. That in many ways is the real challenge faced by the public service broadcasters today. The Bill is a hugely welcome step towards addressing some of those needs, but there will continue to be an ongoing challenge.

All Ofcom data is clear that, with the exception of the pandemic period when everyone watched a lot more television, public service broadcasting is declining. The minutes people spend each day watching public service broadcasting are declining year on year. Broadcasters face ongoing pressure not just from that audience decline but from rising costs through inflation for television production, which are running much faster than the consumer prices index. That puts an inevitable squeeze on budgets.

Public broadcasters that have the luxury of making more of their own programmes while raising money through subscriptions and other things are better placed to deal with that audience change. Nevertheless, it is there. The biggest challenge that the BBC faces is not about it not making brilliant programmes, not having fantastic writers or not nurturing brilliant talent; it is that people are voluntarily declining to pay the licence fee simply because they feel their needs in gathering news or watching fantastic programming can be met elsewhere.

The challenge that Channel 4 has faced is that, without the ability to invest in programmes from which it can make money, it relies solely on advertiser revenue, and that revenue is under challenge all the time, so it is much harder for it to be sustainable and to plan for the future. I welcome the Government’s introduction of measures in the Bill to change Channel 4’s remit. I understand the concerns raised by companies in the independent production sector, but I think they would recognise that that sector is totally different from when Channel 4 launched. At that time, a lot more BBC and ITV production was done in-house and there were no other routes to television.

Channel 4 created an opportunity for independent production companies to launch businesses, make programmes and gain an audience that otherwise would not have existed. Now, there are huge opportunities for independent producers. While Channel 4 is an important part of that ecosystem, it is by no means the only one, so the best thing we can do for the independent sector is ensure that Channel 4 is in as robust health as possible so that it can commission more, because 65% or 70% of a bigger TV company is worth a lot more than 100% of a very small one, or one that is struggling to continue to exist.

Those are the ongoing challenges that the PSBs will face, and the fight for attention will only continue. People now are more distracted not only by video-on-demand services but by video gaming and other forms of audio-visual entertainment. That is the backdrop against which the Bill is being introduced.

The question of the degree of PSB prominence on connected devices—modern televisions that are internet-connected and totally integrated with people’s on-demand viewing habits—is incredibly important. Whether that level of prominence is “significant” or “appropriate” is an important debate. Is it enough simply to have the television schedule there on the device, with that schedule the live schedule ranked in order on the electronic programming guide as we are used to seeing it? How easy is that to find? Will people be constantly shifting through menus for on-demand services, be those Netflix, Amazon, Sky programming or whatever, before they find the television guide?

We see in Ofcom’s yearly audience analysis data from its media nations report that those under the age of 40 do not really regard television as a live product any more, unless they are watching the news or live sport; it is an on-demand product. If we asked student audiences what they thought of the TV schedule, they would find the idea of going home, turning on a television, pressing the No. 3 button and watching live what had been preselected for them, in a selected order, completely anathema. Younger audiences do not expect television to be a live product. They do not expect to go to the television guide to find what they want. In fact, audience analysis shows that, increasingly, when people turn the television on, the first thing they do is turn to an on-demand service like Netflix to browse what is there—that is their primary act, rather than going to a channel.

Whether it is easy to find the schedule and see what is being shown will be key to the debate on prominence. Otherwise, the PSBs will continue to find it hard to have a share of voice and be noticed in an environment where people are increasingly distracted by what they want to see. That experience itself is fractured, as a consequence of the way that on-demand services are designed. They are tailored to the user, so everyone will see a different screen when they turn them on. When everyone turns to Netflix, they see something different. They even see different tiles advertising the same programmes, tailored based on their past viewing habits. That is great for the consumer; it makes it much easier to navigate the services and find what they are looking for, but it makes it much harder for them to be challenged and surprised.

What is the value and role of original British content, telling unique stories of people on these islands? How easy will that be to find if people do not know to look for it and have not viewed it before? Those are the sorts of questions that Ofcom will have to consider. The Bill gives Ofcom the power to issue guidance, but it is important that here in this House we are on top of what Ofcom analyses and recommends, and that we feel that whatever the final wording of the Bill, it ensures that PSBs get a fair share of voice.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I did not even think about the TV schedule as something that people look at. I never look at a TV schedule. I do not know if my Fire Stick or my PlayStation has a TV schedule. On significant prominence, I was picturing the BBC iPlayer app being at the top of the apps list. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Ofcom should look at both those things: how it appears on the screen and where the public service broadcasters are in any live schedule?

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee)

The hon. Lady makes an important point. It should be easier to find through app stores. Although they are not directly in scope of the legislation because they are not broadcast formats in their own right, that question should be asked—is it easy to find? It should be easy to find on a connected device when it is turned on, and it should be easy to locate the apps.

Ofcom also has to consider whether the business model that underpins connected devices is fair to public service broadcasters. There is no doubt that the business model for Amazon and Google is to try to create a connected device space where all the entertainment exists and is tailored to each person. They also want to build the ad tech into that, so that they are the principal beneficiaries of the ad revenue, by monetising the placement of that content as well and diverting it away from broadcasters who have traditionally sold audiences to make money. That is the underlying problem that public service broadcasting faces today. The sale of audiences to generate advertising revenue to invest in programmes—the model that has fuelled independent public broadcasting for 50 years—is not broken, but it does not work in the way it used to; it is much more diffuse.

The revenue challenges that come from that are extremely real. That is why, on Channel 4, although I am pleased to see the Government’s changes to the remit, we need to keep a watching brief to see whether they go far enough. We have not gone as far as Channel 4 asked to go in its counter-offer to privatisation, which was the ability to go to the markets to raise money from private investors to create a programming fund that would invest £1 billion over two years in new programming. If we simply allow Channel 4 to acquire a stake in the making of programmes that it will broadcast, which will make revenue in the future, will that be enough now to meet the challenges that it will face? Given the ongoing pressures this year on declining ad revenue for TV broadcasting, we need to make sure that that will be enough. We should not assume that the measures in the Bill, which are welcome, will be the last word on that. There may be more challenges to come.

I would like to add two further points. It is right that we try to create more parity between the regulation of on-demand online services and broadcast television. If a viewer turns on their connected TV device, as far as they are concerned Netflix is as much television as the BBC, and there should be some parity in the way the platforms are regulated, the obligations they have to their users and the notifications they give about the suitability of the content. That should apply to advertising too. Often the debate we have is around advertising that targets children, but children are not watching live television; they are watching it on demand. The danger at the moment is that we have a highly regulated live broadcast television environment, but an almost completely unregulated online one. We should be far more worried about the ad rules that apply on YouTube than those on ITV, because that is where the children are. It is vital that the work on the Government’s online advertising review is completed at pace. The project has been worked on for a number of years. There needs to be proper enforceability of the advertising codes that have stood us in good stead in the broadcast world, but do not yet work in the same way online.

Finally, on media ownership and media freedom, which the Secretary of State mentioned in her opening remarks, we should give some consideration—maybe the Bill is not the right place—to the ownership of UK news companies and news assets, particularly if they are acquired by organisations based in jurisdictions overseas where maybe the regard for press freedom is not the same as it is in the UK. The Bill does not address that concern. If we have an ongoing concern about a vibrant news media landscape, there should be some concern about the companies that own media organisations—where they are based, what their interests are and what interest they have in the way the news is reported here. We do not want to see the press regulated in any way—we want to avoid that and in many ways the measures in the Bill are a nod to that as well—but we want certainty about safeguarding media freedom in the future.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

My hon. Friend makes a very interesting point about news media. What does he think about the ownership of public service broadcasters? Should there be legislation in place to consider who is allowed to own a public service broadcaster? For example, ITV could be bought and sold tomorrow on the stock exchange to somebody in a different country who has very different values and views on what content might be put out on ITV. Should that be in scope as well?

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee)

My hon. Friend makes a very interesting point. Whether it be ITV or a newspaper such as The Daily Telegraph, which is currently up for sale, what is the motivation of someone acquiring them? We might assume they would not seek to censor what was going on, but would they have a different view on creative content, news, the stories they want to tell and what obligations exist for them? That is not something we have had to consider before, but in a market where such media assets are attractive to global investors, we should not be unconcerned about the motivations of investors who might buy those companies.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber 4:12, 21 November 2023

Mòran taing, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate.

There has been much discussion about the impact of the Bill on Gaelic broadcasting and it is that that I would like to reflect on today. I think it is fair to say that in decades gone by—50 or 60 years ago—there was largely indifference to the Gaelic language right across the political divide. That, I am glad to say, has changed. Let me state that the Gaelic language belongs to absolutely everyone and it is right that we continue to look at the support we can give to the language on that cross-party basis. It is important that we retain that consensus. The reason I mention 50 or 60 years ago is because in the 1970s some fundamental changes took place. In some respects, there was a renaissance for the language. We had the establishment of the Gaelic college in Skye—we have just celebrated its 50th anniversary—and there was everything that happened in a wider sense in music. There was the arrival, again on the island of Skye, of the rock bank Runrig, which gave a voice to young people in the language. We think, of course, about what the West Highland Free Press did.

My friend Jamie Stone reflected on the diminishing numbers of Gaelic speakers in his constituency, but it is important that we retain a sense of perspective. There are some very strong signs about not just the durability but the growth of the language. I can think specifically about Gaelic education. In my own constituency, I have a number of Gaelic primary schools, most recently in Portree. I am delighted that the number of children going to the Gaelic school in Portree is way in excess of the number going to the English language school. There are some very strong and encouraging signs.

In the light of all of that, what we do and in particular what we do in relation to the Media Bill is important. It is worth reflecting that the Government have in the past said some very encouraging things about recognising the importance of the Gaelic language.

According to a White Paper published on 28 April 2022,

“The Government recognises the hugely valuable contribution that MG Alba makes to the lives and wellbeing of Gaelic speakers across Scotland and the UK, including through its unique partnership with the BBC in the provision of BBC ALBA. Such a partnership must ensure high quality, diverse Gaelic language content continues to be readily available so that Gaelic culture is protected in the years to come. We also recognise that certainty of future funding is important for MG ALBA being able to deliver for Gaelic speakers.”

I endorse those words, and I make an appeal to the Minister: that protection of Gaelic really must be included in the Bill, so that we can then have the necessary discussion about the responsibilities we all have to ensure that there is appropriate support for the language.

We have heard a great deal today about remote and rural areas, and I think of the contribution that is made by Gaelic broadcasting in such areas. I think of the production facilities in Inverness, Stornoway and, indeed, Portree in my constituency, associated with the Gaelic college. We are home to some film production activities—I referred earlier to Chris Young, who produced “The Inbetweeners”—and I think of some of the Gaelic drama that has been produced, such as “Bannan”. We often hear about programmes in the UK being sold internationally, and this Gaelic drama has been sold internationally, although admittedly on a shoestring. I have always been overwhelmed when I have had the opportunity to be on site with the 70 or 80 people producing that masterpiece of Gaelic drama.

All of that shows what we are capable of doing throughout these islands, and it shows the ability of people to contribute Gaelic content, but of course it has to be funded. As I mentioned earlier, we face a cataclysmic challenge because of the real-terms decline in funding for MG Alba ever since its foundation in 2008. We are at a crisis point. I welcome the funding that has gone into S4C, but my goodness, if we could get even a fraction of that funding, what a difference it would make. Let us think about not just the social and cultural contribution, but the economic contribution generated by the investment that we have had. MG Alba sustains about 340 full-time jobs, half of which are in the highlands and islands, and with its annual funding of £13 million, it produces gross value added of more than £17 million. We are talking about a return of £1.34 for every £1 of investment. Just think how it would be if we could increase that, and see more of that economic contribution in our remote and rural areas!

I appeal to the good sense of the Minister, because I know that he has much good sense. I appeal to him to respond positively when he winds up the debate. Let us come together in this Chamber and collectively accept our responsibilities for Gaelic, as we have for other languages. Let us make sure that this station—for MG Alba is a station—can flourish, and that BBC Radio nan Gàidheal can flourish. Again, mòran taing, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 4:17, 21 November 2023

It is a pleasure to contribute to this Second Reading debate on a Bill that comes at a crucial time for our creative industries and broadcasters. Several broadcasters are already applying for the 10-year licences, and we need to have a settled approach to how they can be granted. I should refer the House to my entry in the transparency register, as a former Minister, and to the interests that I have declared in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

My right hon. Friend Sir Roger Gale, who was in the Chair earlier, was the director of BBC children’s television in the 1970s. A number of children’s programmes have already been mentioned, but, for what it is worth, my favourites were “Paddington”, “Pipkins” and “Mr Benn”. It has often been said by the person who created “Mr Benn” that children’s television had to attract not only older children but adults, who would often sit watching it alongside the children. It has sparked many a career, including the careers of Members of the other House but also those of some of the greatest broadcasters of today.

The Media Bill reflects the changes in technology and in how people consume broadcasting in a variety of ways. A lot more is consumed on the go or on demand, and I regret that there are fewer community moments—water cooler moments, as they used to be called—but broadcasting still plays a vital role in shaping the conversation, through the fun and joy that people have in watching, as well as in exposing some of the interesting challenges we face.

In this broader landscape and market, I welcome the global online platforms. They have helped the viewer and the creative industries, but they have also brought a risk for our public service broadcasters, particularly our commercial public service broadcasters, who have responsibilities that those other organisations simply do not have. It is important, if those broadcasters are to be viable and sustainable, that we recognise the context in which those platforms land.

There has been at least one call from the shadow Secretary of State for the use of Henry VIII powers, and that is because we need to be flexible. The last time we had similar legislation was in 2003. By the time the Bill goes through, we will need to have that flexibility built in—I hope it goes through at pace, because it really matters to our broadcasters and the industry that it does. As my hon. Friend Damian Collins said, there are certain areas in which Channel 4 would have liked the flexibility to go slightly further. Let us build that flexibility in now and, rather than seeing Henry VIII powers as something bad, look at what they can be used for. I must admit that in my role as a Minister, I found that one of the most flexible pieces of legislation was the Environmental Protection Act 1990. It was by having Henry VIII powers that we were able to keep pace with the challenges we faced, and we should welcome the opportunity to add such powers to this Bill.

I thank the Members of both Houses who performed the pre-legislative scrutiny. That has made it a stronger Bill, and it is important that the Government have largely listened. That shows maturity, and it is why I think the Bill will be a success. I echo Members’ comments about ensuring that we use the word “significant” and not just “appropriate” in proposed new sections 362AM and 362AO to the Communications Act 2003, because we need to give clarity and send a firm message to Ofcom. At the end of the day, Ofcom is an independent regulator. It does not represent people right across the country, and it is important that Parliament has a voice in pushing or promoting that.

The Select Committee referred in its report to the use of negative statutory instruments by the Government. I ask the Government to think again slightly. Having experienced a variety of legislation, I know that the role of negative SIs is well established and that they represent about 80% of the legislation that we make. They are used to update minor points. However, it is not necessary to leave such elements to Ofcom or to take these things to court when Parliament can assert that role.

I am really pleased about the change in Government policy that has led to the parts of the Bill that relate to Channel 4. It was under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government in 1982 that Channel 4 was created as a way to have a public sector broadcaster that was still state owned but that generated all its revenue privately rather than through the licence fee, and what a job it has done. S4C was, of course, created on the same day. I very much welcome the special status that Channel 4 will continue to have, as well as the new powers that give it the freedom and flexibility to produce. I also welcome the commitments still being made to the independent sector, and I know that Channel 4 will not suddenly rush to bring everything in-house—far from it. Why would it, when the way it has done things so far has been so successful? I pay particular tribute to its exceptional chief executive, Alex Mahon, who has been a real champion for Channel 4 and the creative industries. Long may she flourish.

Turning to the excellent ITV, I suggest that it really needs a level playing field and this kind of opportunity, particularly when it comes to global platforms. The extra burdens put on our public service broadcasters are important to the diversity of the TV that we enjoy, and ITV continues to go from strength to strength. Just like Channel 4, it has made transformations in its filming. Channel 4’s portrayal of the Paralympics in 2012 has been recognised around the world as a real game changer by the Paralympic movement. Similarly, ITV broadcasts brave coverage of the news and is spending a lot more money on going to some of the most challenging parts of the world. Other broadcasters including Sky have done similar things. When we give Ofcom these powers, we must send a strong message about the robust application and enforcement of prominence for PSBs on global online platforms, on terms that enable them to thrive and deliver their remit.

Much has been said about local radio, and a significant number of local radio stations have been created in Suffolk Coastal following the significant reduction in BBC Suffolk’s very local content. Although I regret that reduction, it has opened up an opportunity for many more broadcasters. I welcome the provisions in the Bill to make it easier for local radio stations to broadcast and thrive.

On part 7, there is a lesson for all of us in the light of the Leveson inquiry that a knee-jerk reaction to a prominent public inquiry is not necessarily the best way to generate new legislation. I can see why people were so upset, and continue to be upset, when the media seem to have the freedom to trash people’s lives and reputations, but it was not the right knee-jerk reaction. It is good that we never commenced section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and are now repealing it. I would be very concerned if the repeal led to a rush of newspapers suddenly departing from the Independent Press Standards Organisation or Impress. I know that some newspapers have chosen not to use either, but we should not actively encourage that choice through the Bill.

This is a good Bill, and I hope the House will let the Government work at pace. The Bill is important for the commercial viability and sustainability of PSBs, none of which has the benefit of the licence fee, which means that the BBC does not particularly need to work to generate income. I should say that I worked at the BBC for six to nine months before becoming a Member of Parliament, and it has a very special place in UK life, but it is important that we have a wide range of PSBs. The Bill will help to keep PSBs sustainable for the future.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North 4:27, 21 November 2023

I welcome this debate, and I strongly welcome the departure from the idea of selling off and privatising Channel 4. It has been a very good channel that continues to do a lot of innovative things. That it can develop its own content can only be a good thing, as it shows the importance of public service broadcasting.

We should reflect that the Bill is going in the direction of proper regulation of the media, while recognising the value and importance of public service broadcasting. We should compare that with the United States, which, since the second world war, has systematically defunded public service broadcasting and has ended up with news values essentially dominated by Fox News and nothing else. We should value the principle of public service broadcasting.

I am particularly pleased that Gaelic and Welsh-language stations are not only protected but supported by the Bill, as they have greatly increased the speaking of Gaelic and Welsh, enhancing and developing the culture of both Scotland and Wales.

Many of us often criticise journalists, but we very much value the idea of a free press and a free media, which we do not always appear to have. We should think a little more about the multiple ownership of different media outlets across TV, newspapers, radio and so on.

The Bill is also about trying to keep up with changing technology and a changing media landscape. There was a time when radio was one thing, television was another, social media had not been invented and newspapers were completely separate from all of them. All of those are now essentially merged into one, in some way or another: radio interviews are televised and newspaper articles appear on websites, often with videos. That is not a bad thing—it is often a good thing—but there is a universality to the media, and many people get their information from online sources.

However, we should be slightly cautious because we, in this Chamber, are all media obsessives, I suppose. We probably read newspapers and listen to current affairs programmes more than anybody else in our society, so it is easy to forget that a significant proportion of the population does not watch very much television, has no access to smart phones, does not know how to use a computer and is completely lost in a digital divide. Those people are increasingly isolated and left behind. The Bill does not pretend to give an answer to that. I am not sure there is a simple answer, but we should recognise that a growing proportion of the population—not huge, but significant—often loses out on all kinds of information as a result.

I will briefly address the question of news values. I believe there is a high degree of bias in the way that a lot of news is reported in our media, notably international reporting on global affairs. If something happens in the USA, Europe or whatever war is being followed at that time, be it the horrors of Gaza or Ukraine, that is news, but if something happens in much of Africa, Latin America or south Asia, it is simply not reported at all. The huge conflict going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo receives almost zero coverage in any of our written or broadcast media. The problems of, say, indigenous communities in Ecuador receive no coverage either.

We need to think about how we can encourage all our media to have a more global view when they report globally. The BBC has cut back on its global coverage significantly. It cannot afford to have journalists all around the world, so it puts them in the best known places—Brussels, Washington and so on—and has cut back on many other places. The only global channel that currently tries to report on the whole world is al-Jazeera, which is funded entirely by the Qatar Government and royal family. We need diversity in broadcasting as well as in the way in which the news is chosen. That applies to many other issues as well, including the reporting of environmental affairs and debates about global warming.

Commercial media is driven by the need to make money to survive, so it has no great incentive to do anything other than entertainment, because that is what brings in the audience and advertising. It does not necessarily provide information and education for the population. I realise Ofcom has to do a difficult balancing act, but we should be aware that the majority of the population no longer looks at the two alternatives most of us in the Chamber grew up with—the BBC and ITV—but at a whole plethora of different news outlets. Therefore, those people have a wide variety of news issues thrown at them.

A number of colleagues have raised issues about local journalism and local papers, which also appear heavily online. I once worked in a genuinely local paper—it was printed on the same site where we wrote the stories and it was part of the community. It then became part of a bigger group, then another bigger group and then an even bigger group. Local papers across the country are actually not local at all. They are owned by a media group in a distant place and, if they are lucky, there are one or two journalists in the town in question and they live largely by press releases.

My friend, Ian Blackford, quite rightly commended the West Highland Free Press for its work. I remember that it was set up because of a lack of local reporting. There was a very serious determination by those who set it up to ensure that it was a genuinely independent paper that covered a huge part of Scotland and that was able to build community strengths and links with it, and I think that the paper has been very successful in doing that.

A long distance away and in a completely different kind of community, the Camden New Journal group, which also includes the Islington Tribune and other enterprises, is, again, a wholly independent group set up by the journalists who worked on the paper when the previous owners essentially walked away from it. It is independent, it is local, and it is co-operatively run. It is also very, very successful, because it concentrates completely on the news and stories within the local community and tries to bring them forward.

Having newspapers and radio stations that cover all languages is also very important. We have talked about Scotland and Wales, but there is also a plethora of communities in this country who want to hear stuff in their own language. I remember speaking in this House, probably from this very spot, in the 1980s, trying to defend London Greek Radio, which was set up as an independent Greek-speaking radio station. It was raided 74 times by the Post Office and all its broadcasting equipment was taken away—goodness knows what happened to the 74 items of broadcasting equipment. Eventually the station was given a licence, and it is now a very successful Greek language radio station. There are many other language radio stations all across the country, which is important. It is important for people growing up in bilingual communities to be able to listen to things in their own language, and for young people to feel that sense of belonging to the Greek, to the Turkish, to the Somali or to any other community, as well as being able to communicate in English. That to me is the great value of local radio stations.

My final point is about social media. When I go to meetings, I often ask people how many of them ever buy a newspaper. If the audience has nobody in it over the age of 50, no hand goes up. Younger people simply do not buy newspapers at all—they have no relationship with them. They rely completely on social media for their news, information and ideas. We all access social media. We are all driven in social media by various algorithms, some of which are owned by people far away, who have patented those algorithms. They follow us, they follow our interests and they decide what news we ought to have. It is hardly a free media when we are directed to the news that somebody wants us to hear. It is not simple. It is not simple to regulate on what algorithms do, but we should be extremely well aware of it.

We should also be aware that it is possible to set up a radio station—unless I am wrong about this Bill—that is purely online. There is no regulation of it whatsoever, other than the basics of libel law and things such as that. That is an area that will grow. It is an area that is increasing, and some of the online radio stations have very large audiences indeed. Some of them are very good, and some of them less so, but we must be aware of that and the need in the longer term for further regulation and control of the behaviour of algorithms and how they can influence opinion—politically, socially and commercially—and everything else in our lives.

We should just take a moment to think of the bravery of many journalists around the world, including those who have been killed in Gaza over the past few weeks; those who are in prison in Egypt, in Russia and in a number of other countries; and those who risk everything in order to try to get the news out. They need support and protection in every way possible.

I would also like to put it on record that we should reflect quite seriously on the situation facing one of the world’s best-known investigative journalists—that of Julian Assange, who has now spent almost five years in a maximum security prison for revealing uncomfortable truths about Iraq and other places. Journalism at its best tells us the truth. At its worst, it is propaganda for somebody else and somebody very, very powerful.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice Conservative, Camborne and Redruth 4:39, 21 November 2023

I agree with some of the comments of Jeremy Corbyn, in particular his comments about the bravery of journalists covering conflict around the world today.

It is very doubtful that there will be a Division on the Bill this evening. We have had something of a love-in, with contributions from all parties saying that they support the Bill. I do not want to shatter that consensus, but I am going to do so. Although it is clear that the Opposition are not going to divide the House on Second Reading, I must say to them that, had they chosen to do that, I would have supported them. I would have done so purely because of the strength of my feelings about clause 50, which repeals section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. I believe consistency in this place matters, even though it might sometimes be elusive. The truth is that section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act was part of a Conservative-drafted compromise following the Leveson inquiry. It was a compromise in which I had a hand, and I am not about to vote against it, today or at any other point.

The reason I supported the thrust of the Leveson proposals at the time was not despite my being a Conservative, but because I am a Conservative, and true Conservatives believe in accountability. It is true Conservatives who, throughout history, have faced down powerful vested interests and it is true Conservatives who will always look out for the underdog, whatever the consequences might be. The Leveson inquiry followed decades of failure on the part of the press to engage seriously with self-regulation, and the craven failure of this House over 70 years to act on the findings of no fewer than seven inquiries and Royal Commissions set up during that time.

It is often the case that we never quite know when something that is known to be a problem will become a big story—a running story, as we call it in the media. It was the hacking of the phone of Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl, that made this House decide to act. Therefore it was a Conservative Prime Minister at the time who condemned the Press Complaints Commission as wholly ineffective. It was a Conservative Prime Minister who set up the inquiry. It was a Conservative Prime Minister who chose Lord Justice Leveson to lead that inquiry—in part because Lord Justice Leveson was recognised as somebody who respected the press and believed passionately in the freedom of the press, and could therefore be relied upon to come up with a sensible set of proposals.

It was a Conservative Prime Minister who wrote the terms of reference of the Leveson inquiry and a Conservative Prime Minister who said that that inquiry should make policy recommendations to the Government. When that report came back, it was a Conservative Prime Minister who stated on the Floor of this House that we could not just say, “Let’s have one last chance saloon for the press again.”, because we had done that. When that report landed—all 1,800 pages, in four volumes—my noble Friend Lord Cameron, then Prime Minister, asked Oliver Letwin to work out a way to implement the proposals of the Leveson inquiry.

There followed a series of compromises to accommodate some of the concerns of the press. First, while Lord Leveson had recommended that there should be a statutory body, preferably Ofcom, that would act as the recognition body, that was seen to be problematic by the press. So Oliver Letwin came up with the rather ingenious idea of establishing a Royal Charter for the self-regulation of the press. The press then raised concerns that a future Government might be able unilaterally to change the terms of that charter simply by bringing forward Orders in Council. We accepted that that was a very fair concern. Paradoxically, the press then asked whether Parliament could safeguard the integrity of the Royal Charter by ensuring that it could be amended or removed only if there were a super-majority of both Houses of Parliament and, in addition to that, a super-majority in the Scottish Parliament.

Finally, there was a lot of discussion about the editors’ code and who should hold the pen. The media felt that existing editors should always hold the pen on the editors’ code, which was contrary to what Lord Leveson had suggested. Again, however, to carry the press with us—as it had said that it would work with us if we made the concessions that it wanted—we made that final concession to ensure that the editors’ code would always be written by the newspaper industry, not by any other independent body.

At various stages during those multiple concessions, Oliver Letwin asked me whether I would help to broach conversations with the Opposition parties with a view to forming a cross-party consensus on the matter, and I did so in good faith. At this point, I pay particular tribute to the Mother of the House, Ms Harman, who was at that time the shadow Secretary of State, and to Edward Miliband, who was then the Leader of the Opposition, for the way in which they approached the issue. The easiest thing for any Opposition to do is simply to oppose everything for the sake of it, but on that issue, they recognised the importance of trying to arrive at a consensus in Parliament for the good of civil society.

I hope that you will not mind if I pay tribute to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, in your former guise as Opposition Chief Whip. I remember attending one meeting where it was somewhat presumed that I would be able to turn up on the night with 70 Conservative rebels to defeat the Government. You probably saw the anguish on my face at the daunting prospect of having to do such a thing. You made everybody else in the room aware that Whips’ Offices can, when they put their minds to it, be pretty good at burning off opposition.

It is true that the victims of phone hacking were quite concerned about the level of compromise that politicians were making on their behalf. I remember Hugh Grant being particularly sceptical of that. We got him in and said, “Trust us; we are going to do this. This is a cross-party consensus: all parties are signed up to it. It will happen.” It is disappointing that, a decade on, Hugh Grant is being proved right because of the Government’s actions through the Bill.

Some months after we had put in place the royal charter for the self-regulation of the press, I met Sir Alan Moses, who was the first inaugural chairman of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, the industry’s own regulator. I remember saying to Sir Alan, “IPSO is making good progress. It is an improvement on the PCC. It wouldn’t have to do a great deal more in order for it to be a recognised regulator. Why doesn’t IPSO simply seek recognition?” He said, “George, I completely agree with you. However, my contract of employment forbids me from saying so publicly.” How is that for the freedom of speech that we hear so much about? Sir Alan Moses, the inaugural chairman of IPSO, was subject to a gagging order, no less, that prevented him from saying what he believed to be true.

Let me turn to the specifics of section 40, which put in place one of the key provisions of Leveson’s recommendations: the creation of incentives for an industry regulator to seek recognition. That is often misunderstood, for the provisions of section 40 are symmetrical: not only does it protect innocent people who want redress and access to a process of arbitration, but it protects publishers from people with deep pockets who go to lawyers such as Carter-Ruck or Schillings and threaten litigation—through so-called SLAPPs—to intimidate and bully publishers and prevent them from publishing things. Had we put that in place and commenced section 40, if a Russian oligarch, for instance, had said, “If you print that, I will see you in court,” and all sorts of injunctions came forth from various lawyers, a publisher would have been able to say, “No, you won’t. We will see you in arbitration.” That would have protected genuine investigative journalism in a way that has never been done before.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

The right hon. Gentleman is making a most interesting speech. He must be aware that the laws relating to libel and so on are completely misshapen, in that it is totally a rich person’s game. Anyone without resources gets threatened with libel and is silenced immediately. They have no recourse to legal aid and no other way of dealing with the situation other than either to accept something they believe to be wrong or to make themselves bankrupt trying to defend themselves.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice Conservative, Camborne and Redruth

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The truth is that the system of arbitration, backed up by the cost provisions under section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, protected small, plucky journalists working for small publishers as much as it protected the weak and vulnerable who could not afford legal action. It is important to note that the arbitration system envisaged would only have engaged at all where there was what is called a cause of action, which is to say where people have a case in law. The arbitration system would never have become overwhelmed, since there would have been a sifting process to take out simple complaints about inaccuracy and so forth. In essence, the system would have focused predominantly on the areas of defamation and privacy.

We even considered what I used to term the Private Eye test, which is to say that if we have a publication that for all sorts of ideological reasons has never joined up to anything at all—bear in mind that Private Eye never even joined the Press Complaints Commission—there was an option for them to be able to demonstrate adherence to the principles set out in the royal charter while not joining a body. There was also a large area of discretion for the courts on an individual case. While there was a strong margin of appreciation in favour of those who signed up, it was not black and white. The clause stated that where it was “reasonable in the circumstances” for a court to find a different position, it had the right to do so.

I am therefore generally critical, as the House can understand, of the repeal of section 40, but I welcome the fact that the Government have committed to the continued existence of the royal charter on the self-regulation of the press and that they have no intention of bringing forward any Order in Council to disband the Press Recognition Panel. It is important to recognise that Leveson did not recommend that we needed to take a legal provision through an Act of Parliament to give effect to these cost provisions. His recommendation was that we or the courts could use the Civil Procedure Act 1997 to set civil procedure rules to create a margin of appreciation and an incentive in favour of those who joined an independent regulator.

While the Government legislated in this place, albeit that they then failed to commence the order, it was entirely understandable that the Civil Procedure Rule Committee and the Master of the Rolls might have felt it inappropriate for them to act in this space. Now that the Government have signalled their intention to vacate this space, it is entirely open to the Master of the Rolls and the Civil Procedure Rule Committee to make their own civil procedure rules in this space to give effect to the Leveson inquiry. Let us not forget that that inquiry was established under the Inquiries Act 2005 and is explicitly referenced in the royal charter. It would be fair and reasonable for the courts to give consideration and weight to that fact.

An important duty now falls to the Press Recognition Panel. That body, independent of Government, does not need to wait for advice or permission from Government; it is entirely open to the Press Recognition Panel to put together a detailed report setting out its recommendations for what the alternative incentives might be to encourage publishers to sign up to a recognised regulator. It may come up with some useful advice for all parties in this House as they consider their manifestos going forward.

In conclusion, I feel that the failure to commence the full architecture of the Leveson proposals was a terrible missed opportunity for the press, and I say that as one of the few Members on these Benches who first came into Parliament with a brown Press Gallery pass. I knew every single one of the journalists in the Press Gallery and the news organisations they worked for, and I developed a strong appreciation and respect for the individual character of each and every one of those newspaper organisations—even the ones that were often critical of the party on the Government Benches—as I understood their tradition.

Those of us who really believed in the freedom of the press and wanted to see the press thrive had in our minds that if it sought recognition, it would become distinguished from social media and other news content. A decade ago, we were already seeing the start of so-called “fake news” and the idea put forward by Leveson was that a recognised regulator could be used as a Kitemark showing a news organisation’s commitment to ethical journalism. That would be a positive and would restore trust in our press, which had been lost over the years. The idea was that the Broadcasting Act 1996, covered today in much of this Bill, would affect the regulated broadcasters, but that there would be a much more flexible, self-regulatory model for the press or other online content. We could also see, even 10 years ago, that there was going to be a convergence between broadcast media, who would increasingly have online news content in written form, and the print media, who would increasingly be online and would have podcasts and video content. Therefore, a blurring would take place in the traditional distinction between broadcast and print journalism. The great beauty of the architecture we put in place with the royal charter for the self-regulation of the press is that it enabled there to be multiple regulators, some of which might specialise just in online news and others that might specialise just in the printed press, with everything else in between. Had we implemented that, we would have had a great opportunity to restore trust in the truthfulness and integrity of journalism in this country.

There is a final reason why I believe it was short-sighted of the press not to do this. When the courts see that over a period of time there has been intransigence on the part of the press to take standards and genuine accountability seriously, and a craven weakness in this House to act in this space at all, they will make public policy decisions. It is no good complaining about SLAPPs, privacy injunctions and so forth when this House has failed to do even the most basic things to put in place some sensible protections for our civil society. So I would have opposed this Bill on those grounds alone, but I recognise that it contains much else that has cross-party support. I hope that the Government will consider removing clause 50 at a later stage of our consideration of this Bill.

Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge 4:57, 21 November 2023

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on the Media Bill. I wish to focus narrowly on part 4, which sets out the provisions on public service broadcasting and gives Ofcom powers to draft and enforce a video-on-demand code. The Bill proposes to do that by extending audience protection measures, for example, age ratings and content warnings, that are currently enforced for broadcast media and BBC iPlayer-only to all on-demand programme services.

A number of colleagues have mentioned how the media landscape has evolved rapidly in our lifetimes. I remember the black-and-white telly in my parent’s lounge, with the choice of just three or four channels. I remember traditional linear TV, where we would all sit around to watch a programme and we would not answer the phone or the doorbell, because if we missed something, that was it. I remember my grandparents getting a VHS player before we did in the 1980s and my grandma would record “Thomas the Tank Engine” and “Postman Pat” for us, and we would binge watch it when we went to stay with her. Of course, so much has changed since then, and when my children were young, they did not even understand the concept of linear TV. I remember going to stay with a family member who did not have a smart TV at the time and my children did not understand how they could not watch “Octonauts” right that minute.

So much has changed in our lifetime. Of course, there are many wonderful aspects of media programming in this country—we have some fantastic content that is the envy of the world—but there are also some not-so-wonderful aspects, and there is lots of material out there that may be entertaining for adults but we definitely do not want children to see. That is the point of the Ofcom broadcasting code, which says for broadcast TV:

“1.1: Material that might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of people under eighteen must not be broadcast.

1.2: In the provision of services, broadcasters must take all reasonable steps to protect people under eighteen.

1.3: Children must also be protected by appropriate scheduling from material that is unsuitable for them.”

A healthy family media environment relies on parents being able to keep children safe by making sure they do not accidentally come upon content that is not suitable, and on parents having control over what is suitable for their own children. It goes without saying that young children should not be watching violence, sex, extreme language and all those kinds of things. We accept that as a society, and that is why we have rules and systems in place to help parents and to stop children seeing unsuitable content.

Our traditional on-demand media—cinema, DVD and VHS—is regulated by the British Board of Film Classification, which is a highly respected organisation that has been going for over 100 years. We are all familiar with the littles triangles telling us that a film is a U, PG, 12 and so on. Our TV scheduling is regulated by the broadcasting code, which mainly relies on the watershed so that broadcasters do not put out programmes before 9 pm that children should not see. On demand presents a new challenge for our broadcasters, because the watershed does not apply. By definition, all the content is available all the time, and therefore parents cannot rely on the fact that it is before 9 o’clock to know that a particular programme is safe.

Some commercial streaming services have voluntarily adopted the BBFC’s ratings. Netflix is a good example. It has adopted the U, PG, 12 and so on ratings. That is really important, because the BBFC ratings are some of the clearest, most transparent and most respected in the whole world. The BBFC even has an app now where parents can look for any programme or film, and it will tell them the rating and exactly why that rating is given, so that parents can be fully informed about what children are going to watch.

I visited the BBFC a couple of weeks ago—I highly recommend that to Members; it is more than willing to give briefings—to see how it rates films, trailers and programmes. It is a hugely impressive organisation, with enormous levels of trust from not just the content creators but the public. It surveys 10,000 members of the public every four years to ask them about their attitudes to violence, swearing, sex, drugs and so on, to feed into its ratings, so that there is buy-in from the public.

Some services have not opted into the BBFC ratings or produced a suitable rating system of their own. The most significant player in this category is Disney+, which has an opaque system of age rating that cannot be trusted by parents. For example, the film “Avatar”, which I think most people would say is suitable for children, has a rating of 16+, and yet a quite sinister adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” that involves nudity, horror, child molestation, forced prostitution and a depiction of child drowning has a rating of 9+.

The problem is that when parents see that kind of discrepancy, and when the ratings are opaque and there is no transparency about why things are rated in the way they are, parents just remove the passwords, because they think, “I want my child to be able to see ‘Avatar’”. But in removing the passwords or changing the settings on their account, they inadvertently enable children to watch a lot of material that is not suitable for them.

Clearly, Disney+ and other streaming services need to be subject to the same standards as broadcast media. If material is unsuitable for children, it is unsuitable whatever the platform on which it is viewed, and it is the intention of the Bill to remedy that. Clause 38 will require Ofcom to review audience protection measures used by providers of all on-demand tier 1 programme services, including those that do not have their headquarters in the UK. In other words, the Bill seeks to ensure that what we might call the new media—streamed content—is subject to the same audience protection measures, such as age ratings, content warnings, parental control and age assurance measures, as traditional and linear material such as cinema, DVD and broadcast TV.

So far, so good—that is a laudable and much-needed aim—but my question to the Government is, why reinvent the wheel? Why task Ofcom with another review and developing another new code, when we already have a world-leading regulatory framework in the BBFC? Why not instead extend the remit of the BBFC—an internationally trusted organisation—and an age-rating system understood by millions who already use streaming media, so that those familiar ratings logos of U, PG, 15 and so on are visible on each and every programme on every streaming platform?

Indeed, 88% of parents find the BBFC ratings on Netflix extremely helpful, so it would make sense to standardise these ratings across all the major streaming platforms. The platforms would pay the cost—that is how the BBFC is funded, so it would not require a massive expansion of the BBFC. For example, the BBFC gives the code and the transparent materials for rating to Netflix; Netflix polices itself, and every so often, the BBFC will check that it is fully compliant with the way it regulates itself. There would be a clear advantage to extending that universal rating system across all streaming services: it would not be reinventing the wheel, and there are also serious question marks about Ofcom’s capacity to deliver on both the requirements in this Bill and the significantly increased requirements placed on it by the passage of the Online Safety Act 2023. I urge the Minister to consider amending the Bill to use the BBFC and its code, rather than Ofcom, to achieve the aims of clause 38.

I also urge the Minister to consider extending the remit of the Bill’s audience protection provisions beyond broadcast and streaming to all UK-accessible video content, including online. I appreciate that that would be a very significant expansion of the Bill, but if its purpose is to bring audience protection regulation up to date with the current and future media landscape, we are just skirting around the issue if we do not include online content. Indeed, the principle of part 4 of the Bill is to create that parity between online and offline. Nowhere is that more needed than in the much less regulated online space.

I say that principally because of the proliferation of unregulated hardcore pornography on the internet—pornography that would be completely illegal in the offline world, on DVDs or on streaming services—that is now being viewed by millions, including children, and causing immense societal damage. We are not talking about erotic magazines passed by teenage boys around the bike sheds, but extreme, violent, hardcore, repulsive and completely illegal material: violent rapes, violent assaults and incest. It is the most unimaginable, degrading material—material that is illegal offline on traditional platforms, and always has been. If we are rightly convinced that it matters what people watch—that it matters that children are protected from strong content, whether they are watching it on TV, streaming it on demand or seeing it on their phones—we have to apply the same principle to pornography.

A third of the internet is pornography; Pornhub has more users than Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, Pinterest, Zoom and LinkedIn put together. It is a $100 million industry, and algorithms draw users into more and more extreme material. The Government’s own research makes the link between viewing violent pornography and violence against women and girls, yet the average age of first viewing in this country is 11. We will never turn the tide on violence against women and girls unless we recognise the role of pornography in conditioning men and boys to link violence with sexual pleasure. That is why I urge the Minister to bring online pornography content within the scope of the audience protection measures in the Bill.

The Online Safety Act will go some way towards helping in this space: its age verification provisions will make it harder for under-18s to access that content. I very much commend the Government on accepting those amendments, which had cross-party support. But that Act missed an opportunity to crack down on online porn that would be completely illegal in the offline world—material that still proliferates online and, even with the new protections, will of course be accessed by some children. Again, the BBFC can have a role here, because it is the BBFC’s role to regulate offline porn, such as DVDs, and certain adult websites. It has a very effective working relationship with the adult industry and with payment providers, so if the BBFC establishes that a particular adult platform has on it a video that is illegal and should be taken down, it can contact the payment providers and ask them to deny payment to that website until the video is taken down.

Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price Conservative, Thurrock

Does my hon. Friend agree that the BBFC is also a very established brand that is trusted and understood by the public, so the public would themselves have confidence if the BBFC was given the ability to act in this space?

Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is exactly why I am calling for the BBFC to have a much greater role in this Bill, but also for that role to be extended to the regulation of pornography. The BBFC has been going for over 100 years; other countries look to it and its ratings. It has buy-in from the public and from the content creators themselves, so it is perfectly placed to provide the kind of regulation and expertise we need. If we really want online and offline parity when it comes to audience safety—of course we do, because it does not matter where this content is viewed; it will have the same effect—we must look to include pornography in the scope of the Bill. I would go so far as to say that if the Government really want to leave a legacy of child protection and reducing violence against women and girls, nothing is more important than preventing access to hardcore pornography that is, and always has been, illegal in the offline world.

I welcome the Bill; it contains some excellent provisions. Obviously, I have focused narrowly on one aspect of it, but I ask Ministers to consider mandating that all streaming services use the BBFC’s age verification ratings, and extending audience protection measures to online content, especially violent pornography.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury 5:09, 21 November 2023

I am delighted to see this Bill before the House today. It has been a long time coming, and its arrival is extremely welcome.

From a very young age, I wanted to be a broadcaster. So committed was I to this goal that I wrote to BBC Radio Oxford at the tender age of 15, and complained that it did not produce any programmes for teenagers. Somewhat to my surprise, it told me to put my money where my mouth was, and invited me to go in and make them myself. My first series covered such weighty topics as spots and school dinners; life as a teenager was rather more naive in that long ago era.

After university, I joined the BBC full time in its news and current affairs department, working as a reporter, presenter and producer. As the Spice Girls, in a blaze of colour, heralded the launch of Channel 5 in 1997, I perched on the newsroom desk to prove that current affairs did not have to be stuffy and boring. Indeed, so keen were we to be modern and relevant that I was even allowed to have a cameo as a newscaster in “Shaun of the Dead”. There being no greater possible pinnacle of an on-air career, I then moved behind the scenes to work as an adviser to ITV for several years.

I recount this biography not as an application to make a late appearance on the new series of “I’m a Celebrity”—I feel these Benches have provided enough victims of that recently—but to show that I have been lucky enough to have some experience of the subject matter, and perhaps more importantly, to illustrate the wide range of the country’s public service broadcasting landscape. All the broadcasters I have mentioned—the BBC, Channel 5 and ITV—have in common that they are PSBs, and it is on them that I wish to devote most of my remarks.

Public service broadcasting is not just about news and current affairs, crucial though they are; it is about reflecting all parts of our country, not just the metropolitan elites, not just London—and, indeed, not just England, as we have heard from our colleagues in the Scottish National party. It is also about showing programmes that do not just have an immediate commercial rationale. As one example, I think Channel 5’s commitment to children’s programming is commendable, and its recent commission of an animated series with disabled lead characters for pre-school children is incredibly important.

As the Government themselves have stated, this Bill will

“reform the legal framework for the regulation of public service broadcasting”, and there can be no doubt that this is sorely needed, because the media and entertainment landscape, as we have heard several times, has changed almost beyond recognition over the past 20 years. My right hon. Friend Damian Green and my hon. Friends the Members for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) and for Gosport (Dame Caroline Dinenage) have touched on some of the circumstances we faced in 2003, such as watching analogue TV, Netflix still posting DVDs to its customers and Blockbuster Video still existing on our high streets. YouTube, iPhones and Twitter had not been invented, yet they are the ways in which we watch much of our content these days.

Let me add some other cultural memories of that year. Jemini—with a J—scored “nul points” at Eurovision, Cilla Black quit “Blind Date” live on air and Jonny Wilkinson scored a last-minute drop goal that won the Rugby world cup and the nation’s hearts. That same year, 2003, more than 19 million viewers were glued to their screens as the “Coronation Street” serial killer Richard Hillman abducted the Platts and drove the family into the canal. It was must-watch TV the length and breadth of the country. However, those TV audience numbers for drama could only be dreamt of today. Indeed, the entire TV landscape is almost unrecognisable, thanks to rapid developments in technology that have in turn brought about fundamental changes in viewing habits. Today, 75% of households have an on-demand streaming service, and according to Ofcom, 90% of 18 to 24-year-old adults bypass TV channels and head straight to streaming, on-demand and social video services when they are looking for something to watch.

While the likes of Netflix, Prime and Disney offer a panoply of great programming, they are not bound by the requirements on our public service broadcasters—the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. The responsibility that PSBs bear to present socially valuable content carries a burden, and it is only right that that is reflected in the regulatory regime. Key to achieving that is ensuring due prominence for PSBs on whatever device. At its simplest, there is no value in having high quality, publicly important programming if viewers cannot find it quickly and easily, yet that is increasingly the risk with the market as it is today.

We are all familiar with the shift away from an on-screen list of TV programmes—electronic programme guides—to a set of tiles along the bottom of our screens, but whereas the lowest numbers on an old EPG could easily be reserved for the PSBs, the tiles can be set in pretty much any order. Inevitably, those linked to the highest paying providers of content, or otherwise prioritised, are frequently the first to be seen. It can take many clicks on the remote to get to the smaller PSBs: Channels 4 and 5.

I strongly welcome the Government’s provisions on the new online prominence regime, and I agree with ITV that a “clear mandate” must be

“given to Ofcom for a muscular implementation of the Bill…on terms that enable PSBs to flourish and deliver their remits.”

I would be grateful if the Minister set out in a little more detail how he envisages Ofcom implementing the new regime, and said whether he supports the regulator taking a bold stance to ensure that global companies comply with our decisions in Parliament for an appropriate level of prominence for our PSBs.

I would also be grateful for reassurance that a secondary power to designate platforms will be cast as broadly as necessary to achieve the aims of Bill. For example, that could potentially include gaming consoles, which I understand from much younger colleagues are often used to access PSB content. This is not just about watching the box in the corner of the room. The requirement to give PSBs prominence cannot become a licence to print money by the platforms carrying them, so I welcome the Bill’s proposals for a must-offer, must-carry regime, with an arbitration scheme as a backstop.

The other side of the coin is that the privilege of prominence carries with it a duty, and nowhere more so than at the BBC. It must do better if it is to retain its hallowed position as the most prominent and privileged of the PSBs, because it is funded by all of us through the licence fee. I have said before that I believe that that funding method is living on borrowed time; it is an anachronistic and frankly regressive tax. During my 12 years as a magistrate, I saw the painful impact, particularly on some women, of the draconian measures that are taken against those who cannot afford to pay that licence. Although the future of the licence fee is not part of today’s debate, the funding model puts additional and serious duties on the BBC as a PSB.

I fear that the BBC is no longer the organisation that I joined more than 30 years ago. We are all familiar with the growing torrent of criticism, not least of aspects of its coverage of the middle east crisis. Although there are undoubtedly some phenomenally good and brave journalists in the field, there have also been some appalling and inexcusable lapses in the BBC’s reporting. Responsibility for that must go to the very top of the newsroom, and it must always be remembered that the facts are far more important than a juicy headline. I fear that if it is not careful, BBC Verify will have to start scrutinising its own newsroom, and that was not the idea of it in the first place.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

Leaving aside the newsroom, when pensioners started paying the licence fee again, I had a large number of them in my constituency. Three of them made contact with me, one of whom objected, and two of whom were trying to pay in an old-fashioned way that the BBC’s agents could not cope with. That shows that the licence subscription system works pretty well and is welcomed. I say to my hon. Friend that if we had the alternative to the licence fee, or some other kind of household impost, we would have a subscription where the BBC stops serving everyone in the country, and starts serving those who choose to pay. As it is a national institution, we still face the question put by the Canadian, Graham Spry, nearly 100 years ago:

“It is a choice between the state and the United States.”

Let us choose the state and make it a public broadcaster still.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

I thank the Father of the House for his intervention. He raises important points, which is why we will need to have a long and detailed debate on the future of the licence fee at another time. I chose my words relatively carefully in saying that I hoped the licence fee was living on borrowed time, rather than saying that the end must come immediately. My hon. Friend raises points that will have to be addressed before we move to another system, but I personally feel that the current model is not sustainable in the medium to long term.

It is not just me who has raised concerns about the BBC. According to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, trust in BBC News has plummeted from 75% in 2018 to 55% in 2022. That trend clearly cannot continue.

I have focused my remarks principally on broadcasters, as that is where the majority of my experience lies, but I will turn for a moment to the print media. I listened carefully to the comments of my right hon. Friend George Eustice, and I am afraid to disappoint him but I agree rather more with my right hon. Friend Dr Coffey on section 40. I am glad to see the Bill removing that sword of Damocles from newspapers. It struck me that, although it was never commenced, it loomed over papers and magazines as a potential form of state control that would have been unconscionable interference in the freedom of the press. While I have many quibbles with both national and local newspapers about how they cover some stories, I felt that the draconian measures in section 40 were an entirely disproportionate way to tackle complaints.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

I will make one or two more points, just in case they answer my right hon. Friend’s question, but I will certainly give way in a moment.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on media freedom, it was a surprise to me that it was ever considered appropriate to oblige the publisher to pay the costs of both sides in a legal claim, even if the publication won the case. I know that that stance was taken by the organisation Reporters Without Borders. Thankfully, the Bill will put that right, and I am reassured that the industry’s own actions in recent years in setting up its own regulator, IPSO, and beefing up internal complaints handling procedures have proved effective, without the need for further statutory intervention.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice Conservative, Camborne and Redruth

Obviously, the easy way for any publisher to avoid the cost provisions would be to seek recognition. What is it about the Leveson recommendations that my hon. Friend disagrees with so much? What in the royal charter for the self-regulation of the press does he find objectionable and impossible for a news organisation to subscribe to?

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

As I just outlined, my principal concern is about the suggestion that a publisher would have to pay the loser’s costs, irrespective of what those costs could be.

The Government have considered the many factors in play in reaching this decision. It is important to say that this is not a licence for newspapers to print whatever they wish—I hope that is understood in my local area by the Bucks Herald and the Bucks Free Press. There are undoubtedly times when the line between fact, comment and insinuation seems to be ever thinner. Self-regulation brings with it a responsibility to get articles right first time, as well as to give sufficient opportunity for a right to reply and appropriate space for both sides of the story. I hope that newspaper owners and editors will take the opportunity of the repeal of section 40 to redouble their efforts to justify the trust we are putting in them to work to the highest standards.

The Media Bill is essential to securing the long-term future of our public service broadcasters. More than that, it gives confidence to our nation’s wider creative economy. We need to ensure that the Bill gets on to the statute book as smoothly and quickly as possible. I have not proposed amendments or called for specific changes because I recognise the urgency. The industry has worked closely with the Department for many months, if not years. As a result, I believe that we have before us a Bill that is well thought-out, fit for the future and fair to all. I am delighted to give it my enthusiastic support.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South 5:23, 21 November 2023

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Rob Butler. I fear that I may repeat much of what he just said. I am pleased to be speaking in this debate, a week on from the King’s Speech debate in which I spent quite a bit of time calling on the Government to get on and introduce the Media Bill. For once, they listened to me—that’s nice.

The Media Bill we are debating is the first piece of media legislation for 20 years. The media landscape has changed beyond belief in the last two decades—it is vastly different from the world we lived in 20 years ago—so the Bill is vital to supporting broadcasters and audiences in the modern age. As the media landscape has changed, it is important that we support legislation without delay to give certainty to this important sector. We should recognise that the Bill will probably govern the media landscape for the next 20 years, so it must be forward-thinking, outward-looking and open, just as the previous legislation was.

I declare my interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary media group and the all-party parliamentary group on commercial radio. Let me start by saying that I welcome the Bill, which responds well to the needs of the sector. Because of time limitations, I will focus my remarks on three specific areas of the Bill. I will do something that I rarely do, and put television ahead of radio.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to simplifying the existing remit for public service broadcasters. PSBs are what make our television landscape renowned around the world, but they face unprecedented competition for viewers, programming content and talent in an era when global streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are producing original content and becoming increasingly dominant in the market. It is good that we have more content producers, but even better, they are choosing to make content here in the UK because of our regulatory framework.

TV prominence is about ensuring that UK viewers can easily find public service content that they value. We are living in an increasingly global marketplace, but there is still an appetite for programmes that reflect British values. In fact, around seven in 10 UK adults want UK life and culture to be represented on screen, and a similar number agree that PSBs make programmes designed for UK audiences. Why is it important that we introduce legislation to protect PSBs? Surely, viewers will want to watch the programmes that they make.

Until now, in return for providing public service content, the Government, through Ofcom, have allocated frequencies to broadcasters. In a relatively uncomplicated world, those channels have been easy to find on electronic programme guides: ITV, and STV in Scotland, on channel 3; Channel 4 and Channel 5 on their respective channels. Once someone has tuned in their TV to the nearest transmitter, they press the number on their remote control and the channel is there.

In a future world where the internet is used to deliver the linear TV and video on demand, the tech companies and platforms will decide where products and programmes appear. In fact, at the moment, if Samsung or LG decided not to include the BBC iPlayer app on their TV screens, there is nothing the BBC, UK viewers or the Government could do about it. If Amazon decided to double the charge for Channel 4’s on-demand service to appear on its Fire Stick, there is little Channel 4 could do about it. From speaking to Channel 4, I know that when Amazon moved the location of the Channel 4 app on the Fire Stick, there was a significant alteration in the viewing of Channel 4. It matters where the apps are located on the relevant platform.

If we want to make sure that British viewers can easily find BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, and STV in Scotland and S4C in Wales, we need to agree the framework that will ensure that platforms carry those services. I fully support that. I also urge the Government to look carefully at using the word “significant” rather than “appropriate”. That will determine where the channels are found on those platforms.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I wholeheartedly agree that it is not just about the schedule. As I said earlier, I was not aware that we had a schedule. We do not use Freeview; we open the Fire Stick or PlayStation and look at the apps. The prominence of the apps is important. If someone does not have terrestrial TV or an aerial hooked up, that is the only way that they are able to consume the public service broadcast content.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

There may be an age divide that determines whether someone looks at an electronic programme guide or the Radio Times, or whether they just look for a tile. The notion that viewers want to continue to use linear TV is important. That is why it is so critical that we legislate in the right way to make sure that British viewers can find it.

The changes in the Bill will impact Channel 4 more than any other PSB, given its unique publisher-broadcaster licence. Channel 4’s status, introduced by the Conservative Government back in the 1980s, has significantly aided the development of the independent production sector in the UK over the last 40 years, which is now worth nearly £4 billion. The removal of the publisher-broadcaster restrictions will allow for Channel 4 to produce its own content, as opposed to simply commissioning or acquiring all of its content from third parties. Why does that matter? For the first time, it will allow Channel 4, when it produces content, to own the rights for that content, which it can then sell around the world, creating another stream of revenue which will allow products and programmes to be funded on Channel 4.

The Government have announced plans to increase Channel 4’s independent production quota as part of the changes. However, there will be many small production companies in areas such as the north-west of England, which have seen a rapid growth in independent production businesses, who are still unsure about the full impact the changes will have for them. Will the Minister, in his response, expand a little more on what the changes will mean for those businesses and give some assurances that they will still be able to thrive once Channel 4 receives its new licence and the Bill receives Royal Assent?

Channel 4 has indicated that it will maintain its existing commitment to spend 50% of its budget for main channel commissions outside London. That is really important to regional production. Ofcom has announced that it will be consulting on whether changes will need to be made to Channel 4’s regional programming making quotas. Is the Minister able to provide a timeline for that consultation, so we know when any changes will come into effect?

I want to touch on local TV and echo some of the comments from other hon. and right hon. Members. I have received representations from the local TV networks who are concerned that the current Bill does not guarantee local TV service prominence in the new TV ecology, and neither does it grant powers on a par with those of local radio services. At some point, the sector will start to provide streamed linear programme services. Will the Government be giving consideration to including local TV as part of the licensed public service channel designation in the Bill to help ensure sustainability for the sector? It really is important that there is an understanding for this sector going forward, because it is making decisions today on the future of its business plans.

Finally on TV, if we are looking to the next 20 years, because this is the only Bill we are likely to see in the media landscape, we should be conscious that the previous broadcasting Bill ran for 20 years. On the Government’s management of a digital terrestrial television switchover, I have been reassured in my conversations with the Minister that he wants terrestrial television to remain accessible for the foreseeable future. I very much agree with him on that. When he is summing up, could he give an indication of the criteria he might want to set before broadcast TV services on Freeview are considered for switch off? That was in place for DAB digital radio. There was a clear criteria in terms of when that might happen. Things have moved many, many times over the years, but it would be helpful for the digital terrestrial sector to understand what the Government might be thinking.

Before I turn to the provisions on radio, may I put on record my congratulations to all those who have worked in commercial radio over the past 50 years? Independent local radio, as we once knew it, celebrated its 50th anniversary just a few weeks ago. It was 50 years ago in October since LBC and Capital Radio arrived on our airwaves in the capital, 50 years since Radio Clyde in Glasgow launched and 50 years since BRMB in Birmingham launched. They were the four stations in 1973 that appeared on our AM radios. Over the 50 years, we have seen a plethora of local, regional and national stations arrive on AM, FM, DAB and now online via Radioplayer and smart speakers. Today, commercial radio is delivering record audiences. Back in the early 1980s, we were all convinced that video was going to kill the radio star. Actually, radio is in rude health. We have regional brands, national stations and hyperlocal services focused on their own towns and cities that are doing remarkably well. We should all recognise in this House how strong commercial radio is today and how much we value the services that people who work in that sector provide for us.

There is unanimous agreement across the BBC, and across commercial and community radio, that the Bill, on the whole, works for radio. It contains crucial measures that will help to safeguard the future in the face of changing technology and shifts in listening habits. The radio sector continues to deliver significant public value, providing trusted news, entertainment and—particularly important—companionship for about 50 million listeners every week. UK radio broadcasters make a substantial contribution to the creative industries, and BBC and commercial radio combined generate more than £1.5 billion in gross value added for the UK economy.

I especially welcome the provisions to support the future of the UK radio industry on voice-activated smart speaker platforms, and the removal of outdated regulatory burdens such as music formats on analogue licences for commercial radio stations. When there was a limited number of stations in each market, it was right for the Government to regulate the number of stations that could provide each particular type of service, but today, when there are a great many services, it should be for the market to decide. If country music is not working, it is possible to switch to jazz without spending too much time bothering the regulator.

There are, however, a few parts of the Bill that I should like the Minister to clarify for the industry. Part 5 deals with the safeguarding of local news and information on DAB services, and it would be helpful if the Minister could explain how those powers will work in practice. For instance, how would a multiplex decide which services must carry local news? Would the multiplex owner be responsible for the enforcement against a digital sound service provider, or would that be the responsibility of Ofcom? What would happen if a service carrying local news stopped broadcasting? Would the obligation be transferred to another service holder, or to the multiplex owner? As for Ofcom’s new role in producing guidelines for the regular broadcast of local news, can the Minister tell us when and how Ofcom will be consulting on that process?

Part 6 contains clauses relating to futureproofing. Will there be scope for expansion of the provisions to cover on-demand and online-only radio content provided by UK broadcasters, as opposed to linear content? Finally, may I ask whether the Government will consider an amendment to protect access to radio in cars, which still accounts for about a quarter of all radio listening, by bringing non-voice activated infotainment systems within the scope of the Bill?

I want to touch briefly on the proposals

“for the repeal of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013”, a decade-old provision that has never been brought into force. While I appreciated the opportunity to observe the perspective of my right hon. Friend George Eustice, whose knowledgeable account of the forming of that legislation was extremely insightful, I am afraid I disagree with the points that he made. It does not seem right to me that publishers who are taken to court could be forced to pay the legal costs of a judgment if they are not a member of an approved regulator, regardless of whether they win or lose the case. I am a firm believer in the freedom of the press. I have spent time working as a journalist, and there have been times when journalists have written about my activities. There are, occasionally, times when I do not like what the press have written, and there are, occasionally, times when I believe that the press have got it wrong. Healthy democracies, however, need objective journalism which is free from state involvement.

The reason I do not agree with my right hon. Friend is this. The Leveson report recommended a system of

“voluntary independent self-regulation”, envisaging

“a body, established and organised by the industry” which

“must be funded by its members”.

Lord Justice Leveson said that that body should include all the major players in the industry—national newspapers, and as many regional and local newspaper and magazine publishers as possible—

“although I am very anxious that it remain voluntary”.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice Conservative, Camborne and Redruth

What Lord Justice Leveson actually said was that the members of the body would only be recognised as a regulator if they had sought recognition from an organisation called the Press Recognition Panel. Leveson very clearly rejected the model put forward by Lord Black in the other place, for the very good reason that there was no independent accountability and no body to recognise that independent regulator.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s comments and I recognise his knowledge in this area. He was involved at such a deep level that he has experience and expertise in this field.

For me, the media regulatory landscape has changed significantly since section 40 was introduced, with the Independent Press Standards Organisation now regulating nearly 2,000 print and online titles, including the vast majority of UK national, regional and local newspapers. I feel that that has left us with an obsolete law on the statute book which was never enacted. Removing the section was a Conservative party manifesto commitment in 2017 and in 2019, so I welcome its proposed repeal by the Bill.

In concluding my remarks, I want to offer my thanks to the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend Sir John Whittingdale, to the Secretary of State and to officials in DCMS for all their positive engagement with me, with the industry and with those in the House who have long been pressing for this Bill to be brought forward. I know that the Minister is just as keen as I am to see the Media Bill on the statute book, and I am grateful to him for taking note of the issues that I have raised today. I look forward to his addressing those issues in his reply, as well as to our continued engagement over the coming months so that we can pass this Bill as soon as possible.

Photo of Duncan Baker Duncan Baker Conservative, North Norfolk 5:41, 21 November 2023

It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend Andy Carter. I remember being warned by the Whips on my very first day in this place, “Do not make the mistake of thinking that the media are your friends. They are not.” I can still remember that. After four years of being in this place I understand the sentiment, but actually we have a job to do. It is to represent our constituents and be accountable, and the media equally have a job to do. As far as I am concerned, we form a relationship with each other, hopefully for the benefit of our constituents. It might not always be a friendship, but in my case it is a decent, healthy working relationship none the less. In North Norfolk we are lucky, because we have some really good local media companies. We have good local TV, good local radio and good local newspapers, and I work with them all. I would like to think that we have a good relationship because I have a job to do and so do they in reporting on my role and what I am doing in Parliament.

We all know that local media are under immense pressure and I have been very outspoken about BBC local radio cuts. BBC Radio Norfolk is a beloved institution in my parts and I still think that those cuts were misguided and wrong. They will devalue the product, push content creators into online from radio and put pressure on our regional newspapers, which are already struggling as a result of the ever-dwindling numbers of people who are reading print content. Local media are often far more adept at reporting on the stories our constituents want to hear, because the regional stories affect the reader directly. Local news programming often aims to be the authentic voice of its viewers and their interests, with viewers often telling stories directly through their own words.

One of the purposes of the Media Bill is supposed to be to ensure that viewing migrating to new streamed platforms does not result in viewing and revenues to public service broadcasting being lost. However, while supporting the largest broadcasters, the Bill does little to protect the rights of viewers to access local news and information on their new TV sets. So for me, the fundamental issue of the Bill is the definition of public service channels. Under the Bill, local TV services are no longer included in the definition, which means that Ofcom will have no power to secure carriage and prominence for internet-delivered local TV streamed services on smart TV sets.

The reality of that is that if local TV services cannot replace lost viewing and revenues, they will ultimately no longer be able to deliver their services. For one of my local TV stations, That’s TV, it will have a direct impact on its business. I have always supported That’s TV, along with its presenter Charlie Walden and now his successor, Ryan Wykes. Both have been young, talented and keen reporters and I have greatly enjoyed working with them. It is important that they flourish and are not lost, because the demise of local TV would be an irreversible loss to the media landscape.

Where the Bill has got it right is in reducing the regulatory burden on commercial radio stations. They, too, are stretched for advertising revenue but contribute enormously to the rich fabric of community media. To give an example of just how popular local radio is in my region: according to RAJAR data from Sept 2023, 199,000 people across Norfolk and north Suffolk tuned into Greatest Hits Radio, including 18,000 in North Norfolk alone. That is more than BBC Radio Norfolk, at 125,000, and more than Heart Norfolk, at 174,000. That echoes what my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South has just said.

Of all the people listening to the radio in Norfolk, around one in every five listened to Greatest Hits Radio for at least some of the time. It is vital that stations like these are supported and enhanced so that brilliant reporters such as Tom Clabon can continue to report on the latest and most important regional topics, day in and day out. I often find these journalists have a freer rein and more flexibility than journalists from, say, the BBC, with its strict schedule on what they can and cannot report.

One concern is that increasing the visibility or accessibility of public service broadcast content could have an adverse consequence in providing unfair competition to regional newspapers that, as we know, are under great pressure across the country. I am blessed to have a brilliant local newspaper that covers all of my constituency—I know not all MPs have that.

There is almost a clamour to buy the North Norfolk News on a Thursday morning, and I pay tribute to up-and-coming journalists such as Adam Barker and the local democracy reporter George Thompson, and not forgetting Stuart Anderson, the community editor, who was the first reporter to interview me after my election, We have worked together productively ever since I was elected to inform the population of all things in North Norfolk.

As I end, I cannot fail to mention protections for non-commercial community radio stations. I have one of the best, Poppyland Radio, based in Northrepps village hall. A bunch of wonderfully energetic, creative and talented presenters and volunteers enable it to broadcast 24/7 but, like every other local media channel, it needs protection to ensure its viability. I hope consideration can be given so that, across the spectrum, it is not just the broadcasting giants that are protected but also the content creators who represent our smaller communities. Without them, the journalists of the future may never be given the opportunity to learn their trade, and then we and the communities we represent would all ultimately suffer.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the House for neglecting to mention at the start of my remarks that I have recently accepted hospitality totalling £345 from Sky, a broadcaster, to see Madonna—it was unforgettable. I apologise for failing to mention that in my remarks, and I wish to correct the record. I hope that is acceptable. Thank you for your guidance.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 5:48, 21 November 2023

I am pleased to welcome the introduction of the overdue Media Bill. I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

It has been 20 years since the last major piece of broadcasting legislation was passed, and the media landscape has since changed dramatically. In 2003, the words “television” and “radio” described the devices on which we consumed our visual and audio content. Now these formats have taken on a life of their own.

Television can be viewed without a physical TV, and radio can be streamed online. As this technology has evolved, so have the habits of audiences and the competitors entering the industry. In the television space, for example, global streaming services now challenge our public service broadcasters for the attention of audiences. Rather than being linear channels, they offer catalogues of content for the price of a subscription.

Against this backdrop, we are pleased to finally have the Media Bill before us today, in order to give our public service broadcasters and UK radio the tools they need to thrive in the digital era. Just last week, I again met stakeholders from across the industry, including from public service broadcasters, radio providers, online platforms and consumer groups. While not everyone agreed on every detail of the Bill, what was clear from the discussions was the almost unanimous desire to get the Bill through as soon as possible.

Too much time has already been wasted in bringing forward the changes that are needed. Around 18 months ago, Ministers first introduced the “Up NextWhite Paper, which contained many of the crucial measures we see before us in the Bill today, including welcome commitments to modernise the public service remit, to ensure public service content is prominent and easy to find on smart TVs and streaming sticks, and to futureproof the listed events regime, so that UK audiences can enjoy important national sporting moments.

However, rather than getting on with providing support for the broadcasting industry, the Government chose to waste a year pursuing doomed plans to privatise Channel 4 instead. Thanks to widespread opposition, Ministers finally made a very welcome U-turn on that proposal. That was a huge relief, not least for those local economies across the country who rely on Channel 4 spending over 50% of its commissioning budget in areas outside London, which Andy Carter raised some important questions about.

Although I am pleased to welcome the Bill today and look forward to supporting it in its passage, it is vital that the Bill is subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny. Indeed, the Bill has already made distinct progress from its draft thanks to pre-legislative work by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which has rightly received praise from across the House. The Chair, the hon. Member for Gosport (Dame Caroline Dinenage), outlined some of the accepted changes, including creating exemptions to the 30-day requirement, making progress in closing the streaming loophole in the listed events regime and adding much-needed protections to help facilitate a smooth end to Channel 4’s publisher-broadcaster restriction.

However, I would like to highlight some areas where clarification may be needed, starting with the first four parts of the Bill, which primarily focus on visual media. It is important that the Bill seeks to ensure that the public service remit is not overly complex or onerous. However, the Voice of the Listener and Viewer, the Media Reform Coalition and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee have raised concerns that removing explicit requirements to cover genres such as entertainment, drama, science, religion and other beliefs could lead to a decline in the provision of content in those areas. Will the Minister clarify what impact assessment the Department has carried out on how the new remit will impact the nature of public service content, particularly with respect to the removed genres?

In the light of changing viewing patterns, it is sensible to provide PSBs with some flexibility to meet their remit through on demand programming, but the Broadcast 2040+ campaign and others have been clear that public service content on linear television must still be protected and maintained. If it is not, we risk excluding those who live in rural areas, do not have an internet connection and an older generation that rely on being able to watch television in its traditional format. Will the Minister explain how the Department will work with Ofcom to hold our PSBs to the highest standards, and ensure that they continue to deliver quality content for as many people as possible?

Further scrutiny will also be needed to ensure the new video-on-demand code is not just a copy and paste of the broadcasting code, and is tailored to the needs of the on-demand environment, a point touched on by Damian Collins. It must also be clear who this code will apply to. Currently, the Government have said tier one services will be subject to the code, but there is confusion over how tier one will be defined.

Discussions will also be important to ensure the new prominence regime achieves the aim of making sure public service content is easily accessible on smart devices, properly considers how best to implement prominence for the likes of S4C, as raised by a number of hon. Members, and takes into account legacy devices.

On listed events, we need further clarification on how the findings from the Government’s consultation into digital rights will be implemented. We do not want a situation where a major sporting event takes place overnight and the next day the online clips are behind a paywall, meaning people in the UK are cut off from viewing it.

Let me move now to the radio-focused parts of the Bill—particularly part 6. I am aware that there has been a wider concern over the drafting and intent of the clauses. Thanks to the occasions that I have been in this Chamber to discuss the importance of preserving BBC local radio, the Minister will be well aware by now that I believe that radio services are of vital importance to people up and down the country. I am therefore also in full support of the changes that the Bill makes to ensure that UK radio services are available and easy to access, without undue interruption, on devices such as smart speakers.

It is with that support in mind that I wish to ask the Minister how he plans to ensure that these measures are futureproofed, as I know that is something that Radiocentre and the BBC have raised, too. For example, does the Department have any plans to extend the regime where necessary, for instance, to include car entertainment systems? Further, despite the rapid growth of podcasts and online-only radio, these forms of audio are not covered by the Bill’s protections. Does the Minister believe that that, too, should be kept under review?

Although I support these measures, I know that the likes of TuneIn, TechUK, and Google, which I met last week, have shared some concerns over this section. Again, I am pleased that the Department has taken on board some of the important recommendations made by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee to ease some of those concerns. However, I would still be keen to hear from the Minister on what work the Department has carried out to ensure that smart speaker platforms are able to prepare internally for carrying radio services through their preferred routes. It is vital that radio is protected in light of changing listening habits, and, in order for this regime to be successfully implemented, there must be proper engagement with platforms and technology stakeholders to ensure that they are able to comply.

Although the Media Bill is overdue and in need of some clarifications and adjustments, I am very pleased to welcome it today. I look forward to working closely with Ministers and Members from across the House on ensuring that we seize this once in a generation opportunity to update media regulation, and create the change needed to ensure the future of our brilliant British TV and radio.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology) 5:56, 21 November 2023

May I start by thanking all hon. Members who have contributed to this debate? It has been wide ranging and remarkably consensual with one small exception. Nevertheless, there has been much support for what the Government are seeking to do in this Bill from right across the House. That is perhaps in part because it has been a long time in the preparation, but I think that it is all the better for that. The Government decided to publish the Bill in draft form, and we have consulted very widely since that time.

We are extremely grateful to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend Dame Caroline Dinenage, and to the Lords Communication and Digital Committee. We have also held extensive discussions with broadcasters, platforms and all those who have an interest including—just to reassure the Father of the House—with Colin Browne of the Voice of the Listener & Viewer, whom I met recently. We intend to continue to engage with all those with an interest in the Bill to make absolutely sure that we have got it right.

A number of hon. Members, in the course of their contributions, remarked on the extraordinary transformation that has occurred in the media landscape over the past few years. It is absolutely the case that things such as EPGs and linear television are becoming less and less part of everyday behaviour, particularly for young people who access television content. It has meant that there has had to be a succession of Bills to update the legislation to take account of the changes. I have to admit that I was a member of the Broadcasting Bill Standing Committee in 1996. I led for the Opposition in the Committee on the Communications Act 2003, and I am delighted that I shall be taking this Bill through Committee in the next few weeks.

I particularly welcome the offer from the shadow Secretary of State to work with us in taking the Bill through and I look forward to working with her and Stephanie Peacock in Committee as I think that there are areas where we share a common objective. We are also keen to work with all members of the Committee to ensure that we get this right.

As I say, there has been a remarkable transformation in the media landscape. We are particularly grateful for the recommendations, and I want to touch on one or two made particularly by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. I have always had a high regard for that Committee, having spent 10 years chairing it. As ever, the report produced by the Committee was extremely valuable and we were delighted that we were able to accept a large number of the recommendations.

There were one or two recommendations on which we took a different view. In particular, one that has been raised by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Gosport and for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), was the distinction between “significant” and “appropriate”. A number Members have recommended that we should use the words “significant prominence”, rather than “appropriate prominence”. The Government have taken a different view, which can be summed up as, “Significant can indeed be appropriate, but appropriate is not necessarily significant.”

S4C is an example of that. In Wales, it is very important that it should be highly visible, and therefore significant prominence in Wales is appropriate. On the other hand, it would not necessarily be appropriate for S4C to have significant prominence outside Wales. It should obviously be findable, but it has a different position outside Wales. The Government remain of the view that “appropriate” is a more fitting term than “significant”.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I am very conscious of what my right hon. Friend says, but “appropriate” is so wishy-washy and it is clear that promoting S4C in parts of England is not what people are talking about. It is leaving the decision to Ofcom and judges, as opposed to the very clear signal from Parliament that we want our public service broadcasters to be high up the list right across the country, including on the platforms we discussed earlier.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

As I say, in a large number of cases the appropriate position would be a significant one, but we think there needs to be a degree of flexibility to take account of regional differences, and therefore that Ofcom is perhaps better placed to look at each individual example and decide the appropriate level.

I come to Channel 4, which has featured a lot in the course of the debate. Channel 4, set up by a Conservative Government, has played an extremely valuable role in the broadcasting landscape. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe who rightly said that when Channel 4 was created, the independent production sector did not really exist at all. The indie sector was created by Channel 4 and the fact that Channel 4, as a broadcaster, commissioned all its content from the indie sector.

As a result, we now have one of the most successful independent production sectors in the world, which to some extent does not now need the support of Channel 4; it is making content for all the broadcasters, in this country and beyond. Nevertheless, it is the Government’s decision that, to provide Channel 4 with a more sustainable revenue base moving forward, we should allow it to acquire an in-house production capacity if it so chooses. We talked to the independent production sector at length and felt it was appropriate that in those circumstances we should increase the independent production quota to 35%, in order to provide some underpinning of the independent production sector. We hope that that will ensure the continued sustainability of the independent production sector at the same time as giving a Channel 4 an additional ability to diversify its sources of revenue.

There have been a number of contributions from north of the border during this debate, particularly around Gaelic broadcasting. One measure in the Bill for the first time makes the provision of services in the minority languages across the United Kingdom part of the public service remit. That did not exist before. It is for Ofcom to decide an appropriate level of provision, but there is now a requirement that there should be such provision.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee

I hear what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but should there not be something a bit stronger and more stringent in the Bill than a decision by Ofcom further down the road, and should it not be written into law, as several Members have asked?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

Well, I would say to the hon. Gentleman that clause 1 makes clear that there should be a significant quantity of

“audiovisual content that is in, or mainly in, a recognised regional or minority language”.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Just to correct the Minister, it does not say “significant quantity”; it says “sufficient quantity”, but there is no definition of “sufficient”. We are concerned about the fact that that word has not been defined. We want a reasonable amount of Gaelic content to be available.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

I apologise to the hon. Lady. She is absolutely right: it does say a

“sufficient quantity of audiovisual content”.

That will be a matter for Ofcom to rule on. MG Alba already gets support—

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

I am grateful to the Minister, who I appreciate is trying to be helpful. What we are asking for specifically is that protection in law be given to Gaelic in the way it is given to other languages, such as Welsh. I hope that that can be done with cross-party consensus, which is what we have done over the course of the past few decades in this place.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

I share the right hon. Gentleman’s wish to see continuing provision both for the Welsh language and indeed for Gaelic. I would, however, draw a contrast. Some have suggested that there should be some kind of equity in the support given to the Welsh language and to Gaelic. Of course, S4C receives funding from the licence fee, but that is in recognition of the fact that there are nearly 1 million Welsh speakers in the United Kingdom. MG Alba gets some support from the Scottish Government, which is welcome, but there are approaching 100,000 people in Scotland who speak Gaelic, so there is a big contrast between the two.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee

There is a reason there have been so few Gaelic speakers over the centuries: Acts of Parliament, from the Education (Scotland) Act 1872 onwards—and even before. The point is that we are looking for redress and hope, not for more of the same. I mean that in a good spirit; I hope it does not come across otherwise, because I know that the Minister is not that type of person. I am trying to communicate to him the urgency of the real need, expressed by a number of Members, for that kind of support.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

I am afraid that all I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that the Government recognise the importance of continuing support. We expect the BBC to continue providing a channel in Gaelic, in the form of BBC Alba, and we welcome the fact that MG Alba produces content through an arrangement with the BBC and with the support of the Scottish Government. We have now, for the first time, put into the public service remit the requirement to provide

“a sufficient quantity of audiovisual content”.

That is a significant step forward, even if it does not go quite as far as SNP Members would like.

The provisions covering radio have been rightly welcomed and described by my hon. Friend Andy Carter, who is an acknowledged expert in this area. We have worked closely with the radio sector, and I think that the audio review identified the need to ensure the protection of radio services as more and more people adopt smart speakers.

A number of hon. Members raised local television, of which the Government remain supportive. However, at the moment, local television is not available through apps, so including it in the provisions for prominence was not appropriate, but we will of course keep the situation under review, should it evolve in future. The Government are consulting on the future of local television.

My hon. Friend Miriam Cates raised a specific point about the regulation of video-on-demand streaming services. The Government completely share her wish to see adequate protection for children. Having sufficient protections in place will be part of the new requirements on the major streaming services. She is right to praise the BBFC. I have worked with the BBFC for many years, going right back to James Ferman, who for 25 years was its director. It is absolutely true that the BBFC is recognised as expert in this field. I very much welcome that a number of streamers have chosen to adopt the BBFC to carry out their age ratings, including Netflix and Amazon.

The Government’s objective, however, is to ensure that protection is in place, rather than necessarily to specify that it has to be done by the BBFC. It will be left to Ofcom to oversee that, and it already has a lot of experience in this area. It enforces the broadcasting code, which also requires age-appropriate broadcasting. As my hon. Friend rightly said, that was traditionally via the watershed, although that is now changing with the move to on-demand TV. Ofcom also undertakes other protections such as parental controls and so on, so it is not just age rating. I entirely share her view that the BBFC does an excellent job, and I hope that all services will consider using it when reaching decisions, but the Government are not at the point of wishing to mandate that at this time.

Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price Conservative, Thurrock

I utterly appreciate what my right hon. Friend is saying, and I can see why the Government and Ofcom do not want to be overly prescriptive about how this regulation is done, as long as the content is well understood. Will he just reflect on the fact that this set of labels is well understood by the public? Everyone knows what a U is, and everyone knows what an 18 is. In that sense, it would be an effective vehicle to establish that people understand the content.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

In determining whether the requirements are met, Ofcom will have to take into account whether the rating is easily understood by viewers. Even if that is not necessarily the BBFC’s triangles and particular age ratings, it will nevertheless need to meet those requirements and ensure that viewers can easily see what is an appropriate age for that particular content. I am a viewer of Disney+ along with the other services, and I agree with my hon. Friend. Disney+ has some content that is highly appropriate for children, but it has other content that is perhaps less so.

I move on to the repeal of section 40, which is of concern to a number of Members. I very much welcome the contribution of my right hon. Friend Dr Coffey, who served with me on the Select Committee when we carried out the inquiries into phone hacking. I hope I am not being too immodest in saying that the Committee was responsible for exposing phone hacking, and none of the events that followed would have occurred had the Select Committee not persisted in our summoning of representatives of News International, as it was at that time, and pursuing that inquiry. It led to the police investigations and ultimately to the establishment of the Leveson inquiry.

My right hon. Friend George Eustice was right to set out the historical background to the establishment of the Leveson inquiry. However, the one thing that he did not cover, which I recall very well, is that the intention behind section 40 was to put pressure on one or two newspapers that might have been standing out against seeking the approval of the recognised regulator. What nobody anticipated when section 40 was established was that every single national publication would say that they were not willing to comply with that requirement. It was not just the tabloids or the red tops; it was The Guardian, The Independent and the Financial Times. No national newspaper was willing to comply with the Government’s proposals under the royal charter, and that did change things, because it made the system unworkable.

My hon. Friend Rob Butler —to whom I am grateful for taking over the APPG on media freedom—is right to point out that campaigning organisations for press freedom such as Reporters Without Borders were equally critical of the Government’s proposals on section 40 and have been campaigning for its repeal. The Government reached the conclusion that the system had not worked and should be repealed, and we therefore put that in the Conservative party manifesto of 2017. It was repeated in the Conservative party manifesto of 2019, and I am delighted that we will now put that commitment into effect by repealing section 40.

I have seldom agreed with Jeremy Corbyn, but on this occasion, I thought he made one or two extremely good points. He is absolutely right to highlight the digital divide. We are very conscious that as more and more people access TV content through streaming services and via the internet, there is a group who have not done so. Several Members asked whether the Government can make a commitment to the continuation of Freeview beyond 2034. The Government would not consider switching off digital terrestrial television unless we had reached the point where the overwhelming majority were no longer using it to access TV. We are very conscious of that group in the population who still rely on traditional Freeview, and that will be in our thoughts.

The right hon. Member was also right to pay tribute to news reporting from around the world and to point out that it does not get enough attention. I was delighted to be able to attend the Society of Editors’ media freedom awards recently, where Sky received two awards for its reporter Stuart Ramsay’s reports from Myanmar about the civil war raging there. That is a terrible conflict that does not get enough attention. The right hon. Member is right that it is important that both PSBs and other providers continue to bring us reports from right around the world about things that we would otherwise be unaware of.

Lastly, I welcome the right hon. Member’s stressing the importance of local newspapers. I have been deeply concerned about the decline of local newspapers for many years. I am delighted that the BBC’s local democracy reporting service, which was established following the last charter, continues to support local newspapers, and we continue to look for other ways to support them.

This has been an excellent debate. I look forward to working with all Members and the Opposition as we take the Bill into Committee. I am delighted to commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.