Media Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:23 pm ar 28 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) 4:23, 28 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to move the Second Reading of this Bill. I do so at a time when the UK’s media landscape faces enormous technological change, but in the face of which I am proud to say it is thriving. British-made programmes are watched and enjoyed by audiences at home and across the globe. Our public service broadcasters not only produce fantastic shows which keep audiences glued to their screens but inform and educate them, and project British values and the best of British creativity around the world.

Similarly, our radio environment is exceptionally rich and diverse—there is a radio station for everyone. UK radio stations provide an incredible service, again not just entertaining their listeners but disseminating local news and information throughout the country. That is something that we want to value and protect.

We should also celebrate the thousands of excellent and exciting job opportunities that the sector creates across the United Kingdom, and the billions of pounds that it adds to the economy. This is a pro-growth Bill. It will not only enable people to continue to watch and listen to the content that they love but help to grow our world-leading creative industries and maintain their status as world leaders.

It has been more than 20 years since the last major piece of broadcasting legislation reached the statute book. The world has changed significantly since then, as have the ways in which we consume media. The growth of the streaming giants, smart televisions and online radio has completely changed consumers’ demand and expectations. Our world-renowned media industry has embraced the challenge, adapting rapidly not just to survive but to thrive.

His Majesty’s Government have heard the passionate support for the Bill from the industry and from Members of both Houses of Parliament. I am delighted that it is now before your Lordships’ House, and I look forward to working with noble Lords from across the House to ensure that it delivers for our brilliant media sector and for viewers and listeners.

The Government are grateful to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in another place for its thorough examination of the Bill during pre-legislative scrutiny last year. We were pleased to accept the majority of the recommendations set out in the committee’s two reports; there is no doubt that those have improved the Bill before us. I also thank the Communications and Digital Committee of your Lordships’ House—under the expert chairmanship of my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston and, before her, of my noble friend Lord Gilbert of Panteg—for the work that it has carried out on the many areas relating to the Bill. Its reports on public service broadcasting and on the future of journalism and, most recently, its inquiry into the future of news have helped to shape the Bill and the Government’s wider work in this area.

The Bill has also benefited from extensive engagement with industry and with Members of both Houses. We have heard from public service broadcasters, commercial broadcasters, the radio and news media, radio and television selection services, on-demand streaming platforms and Ofcom throughout the drafting of the Bill, in its pre-legislative scrutiny and during its passage through another place. Together, that has helped to produce a Bill that incorporates their views and addresses their challenges, and one which we hope will work for everyone. We are very grateful for the time and effort that everyone has gone to while working with us on the Bill.

I thank Ofcom for the work that it has undertaken to get the Bill to this stage. Its research in this area and its close work in supporting the drafting of the Bill have been invaluable. It has already made clear its plans for implementation in the materials that it published earlier this week. The Government look forward to continuing to work with Ofcom on the remaining stages of the Bill and on the implementation of its provisions.

I turn to what the legislation does. The Bill supports our public service broadcasters to ensure that they are able to provide high-quality content to United Kingdom audiences for years to come. As it stands, our public service broadcasters are governed by laws written more than two decades ago. Part 1 of the Bill seeks to modernise the framework for public service television. This will ensure that our public service broadcasters are encouraged to focus on what makes them distinctive, while having the flexibility to serve audiences across the UK with high-quality programmes on a wider range of services.

Many noble Lords, like countless people beyond your Lordships’ House, are passionate sports fans. We want to make sure that fans are able to continue to watch the biggest sporting events that this country has to offer. That is why we are modernising the listed events regime to protect viewers’ access to the major sporting events that define our nation. We are extending the protections that the regime offers for live listed events coverage in line with where audiences choose to watch it. TV-like services providing live content to audiences in the UK via the internet will now need to comply with our rules. We are also making qualification a public service broadcaster benefit, recognising the role that these broadcasters play in delivering national sporting moments, and providing certainty in the future.

Part 2 of the Bill deals with prominence. We know that audiences value public service content. We want to make sure that it is always available and easily accessible for them. As is the case in linear broadcasting, the Bill ensures that public service content is made available and easy to find on modern platforms such as smart televisions, set-top boxes and streaming sticks. Not only will that improve the audience experience but it is a vital reform for the sustainability of our public service broadcasters.

Part 3 contains measures specifically designed to support the sustainability of Channel 4. The Government are clear in our intent to support Channel 4 in continuing to make ground-breaking, unique and distinctively British content for years to come. Some of the means to do that can be found in the Bill, such as the measures to strengthen the broadcaster’s governance arrangements and allowing it to make more of its own programmes. Others can be found in the memorandum of understanding undertaken between the Government and Channel 4 when the Bill was introduced in another place on 8 November last year.

The Government have also worked closely with Sianel Pedwar CymruS4C—to make sure that it has the tools it needs to continue to provide Welsh language content. I am pleased to say that the Bill will implement in statute recommendations from Euryn Ogwen Williams’s 2018 independent review into the future of the broadcaster. This includes allowing S4C to broaden its reach and offer its contents on new platforms across the United Kingdom and beyond, and updating its public service remit to include digital and online services. S4C will be able more easily to adapt to market change, maximising the benefits to its audiences, and to continue to deliver high-quality content.

The ways in which we watch television have changed a great deal in recent decades. Watching several episodes of “Coronation Street” back to back was once possible only during an omnibus on Sunday afternoons; now people can do it with a few clicks on ITVX, any day of the week and any time they choose. The growth of video on demand services has been extraordinary, but we know that audiences would like to see these services held to the same standards that are required of normal television services. That is why we are introducing a new video on demand code, drafted by Ofcom, by which the streaming giants will be required to abide. Noble Lords will, I know, be pleased to hear that this code will better protect children and uphold the standards that we see on our linear services. In addition, Ofcom will have a new duty to review and ensure that all on-demand services’ audience protection measures are effective and fit for purpose. We are also making sure that streamers provide greater access to their programmes by increasing the amount of subtitled, audio-described and signed content available on their services.

Turning to the radio industry, I am sure that noble Lords will welcome the provisions for radio in Part 5 of the Bill. These seek to boost the growth of our fantastic radio industry by reducing regulatory burdens and costs on commercial radio stations, and supporting investment by broadcasters in content and the long-term sustainability of the sector, while also strengthening protections for the provision of local news and information. As with television, we have seen a shift in how people enjoy the radio. While traditional broadcast methods remain popular, recent years have seen rapid growth in listening via devices such as smart speakers, too. The Government want to encourage innovation in the growth of new technology, but we also recognise the need for protections for radio and the huge public value that it provides, as noble Lords have often raised in our exchanges in this House. Again, we are grateful to the radio industry and to technology companies for their engagement on these measures.

Finally, in Part 7, and fulfilling a manifesto commitment, the Bill will remove a threat to the freedom of the press by repealing Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. That section has not been commenced; if it were, it could force publishers to pay the legal costs of people who sue them, even if they win. Members of your Lordships’ House, along with Members of another place, have taken a strong interest in the practices and culture of our free press over recent years. There now exists a strengthened, independent self-regulatory system for the press. But, as the manifesto on which the Government were elected makes clear, we will make sure that the heavy-handed measures of Section 40 are not able to stifle the independence or threaten the sustainability of the British press.

I am mindful that my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean has tabled a regret amendment to the Second Reading. I will listen to his reasons for doing so when he rises shortly. Let me pre-empt his comments, if I may, by assuring him that the Government take this issue seriously.

Under the Enterprise Act 2002, the Secretary of State has powers to intervene in media mergers on certain public interest grounds, including where there are concerns about media freedom and freedom of expression. The Government also already have tough powers, including through the National Security and Investment Act 2021, to address foreign interference and to scrutinise—and, if necessary, intervene in— acquisitions on grounds of national security. The Bill before us has only one clause pertaining to the press: the repeal of Section 40, which I have just mentioned. It is concerned with the removal of burdensome obligations on news media outlets and not press ownership, which is beyond the scope of the Bill. As my noble friend will be aware, there are ongoing discussions and amendments to the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill on this issue.

I am grateful to noble Lords for their involvement in and support for the Bill as it has made its way to your Lordships’ House. I look forward to the debates ahead and the scrutiny that we will give it, and I beg to move.