The UK government has announced its much awaited White Paper on broadcasting, which aims to “protect British content by giving public service broadcasters a more flexible remit for the programmes they produce and show”.

It says that reform is needed because rapid changes in technology, viewing habits and the emergence of global media giants have brought new challenges for UK broadcasters. According to Ofcom, the share of total viewing for ‘linear’ TV channels such as ITV and the BBC fell by more than 10% between 2017 and 2020. The share for subscription video-on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video rose from 6% to 9% over the same period.

The key points of the White Paper include:

  • Except for BBC iPlayer, on-demand services are not subject to Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code which sets standards for content including harmful or offensive material, accuracy, fairness and privacy. Therefore, the government proposes amending the regulation of video on demand services to bring them into line with linear services with the introduction of a Video On Demand code and fines for breaches of up to £250,000 or 5% of annual turnover.
  • A new remit for public service broadcasting. This will include a consultation about new rules to make sure public sector broadcasters commission “distinctively British” programming.
  • The privatisation of Channel 4.
  • Reform to the “listed event” regime (events such as the Grand national, World Cups, FA Cup, Wimbledon final) to include digital and on-demand services.
  • The government will update ‘prominence’ rules so popular online TV platforms are legally required to carry designated public sector broadcasting on-demand services and give them prominence, as determined by Ofcom, so they are easy to find on user interfaces in the future.
  • Supporting screen industries through creative sector tax reliefs

The government has also published its response to the Digital Radio and Audio Review. It says that it will continue to engage with the radio industry to gain a better understanding of the policies and practices of smart speaker platforms.

The government intends to legislate as soon as the parliamentary timetable allows.