Broadcasting: Public Sector Content - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:06 pm on 4th February 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat 3:06 pm, 4th February 2019

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to introduce legislation to ensure that public sector content continues to be easily discoverable by viewers, regardless of how they are accessing broadcasting content.

Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question on the Order Paper, and declare an interest as per the register.

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

My Lords, Ofcom has consulted on proposed changes to the linear EPG code and on how the prominence regime may need to change to ensure that public service content remains accessible, regardless of how consumers access it. That consultation closed in October 2018 and we look forward to receiving its findings in due course. If Ofcom makes it clear that there is a problem which needs fixing by legislation, we will look to bring that forward.

Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat

My Lords, children are being increasingly exposed to inappropriate content on social media, and public service broadcasting plays an important role in providing parents with a safe, trusted space where children can access high-quality, entertaining educational content—especially now that the new BFI contestable funding will be available to programme makers. However, it is difficult to find these PSB channels because no two electronic programme guides are the same. They are confusing and very frustrating. Does the Minister agree that it is essential we update the EPG rules as a matter of urgency, to ensure that viewers can easily access this excellent PSB content?

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I agree that PSB content is important—in fact, 83% of people think that children’s provision by public service broadcasters is important. Ofcom’s consultation on the rules for prominence and proposed changes to the linear EPG includes a proposal for prominence for children’s PSB channels. Ofcom already has the powers to review and revise the code, so any final decision on changes to the linear prominence regime is a matter for it.

Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales)

My Lords, it is unusual for both of my questions, carefully prepared, to have been answered before I put them, but that will not stop me asking the Minister to repeat the assurance he gave that, if the Ofcom report suggests that legislation is necessary, the Government will do it.

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I can do better than that. I will repeat what the Secretary of State said to the DCMS shadow Secretary of State:

“The Government has made clear that if the Ofcom report concludes that there is a problem with the current prominence regime that needs fixing with the legislation, then we will look to bring that forward.”

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

My Lords, does public sector content include “Songs of Praise”, which the BBC insists on moving about to different times on Sunday, presumably with the ambition that it should eventually lose its audience altogether?

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

As my noble friend knows well, editorial decisions are for the BBC, not the Government.

Photo of Viscount Colville of Culross Viscount Colville of Culross Crossbench

My Lords, the Sky Q box prioritises access to its services over PSB catch-up services. Many television manufacturers have partnered with Netflix to prioritise its services on their channel controllers. Is the Minister not concerned that the PSB digital channels, paid for with public money, are losing out in the battle for channel prominence to the video-on-demand giants?

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

My Lords, I recognise that most of what we have talked about today is for linear services. Of course, a change is taking place: people now have subscriptions for watching on-demand programmes on their internet browsers. This creates a number of challenges and we have agreed that, if Ofcom makes suggestions that takes that into account, we will bring legislation forward when the time arises.

Photo of Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, I fear I will ask the Minister to repeat, yet again, what he has said. Does he not agree that prominence is not a perk for PSBs but a fair and essential exchange? I do not know how many of you listened this morning to Radio 4’s “Start the Week”—a really quite frightening public service broadcast programme about the tech titans’ struggle for our individual attention. Will the Government commit to supporting the urgently needed updating of prominence rules through legislation?

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

My Lords, I think I have done that—twice. We are aware that the technology is changing, and noble Lords might be interested to hear an example. More UK households now own a voice-activated smart speaker than own Britain’s third most popular pet: a rabbit.