Amendment 1

Media Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords am 5:19 pm ar 8 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Baroness Bull:

Moved by Baroness Bull

1: Clause 1, page 2, line 14, at end insert—“(c) which maintains the high general standards with respect to the programmes included in them, and in particular with respect to—(i) the contents of the programmes,(ii) the quality of programme making, and(iii) the professional skill and editorial integrity applied in the making of the programmes.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment seeks to reinstate the requirement in the Communications Act (2003) for public service broadcasters to maintain high standards in terms of content, programming making and professional skills in order to fulfil the public service remit.

Photo of Baroness Bull Baroness Bull Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 2, 3 and 7 in my name. I declare any relevant interests in the register, noting that while my own media interests have ceased, I retain many friends in the creative industries. I am grateful for the cross-House support of my cosignatories and to the Citizens’ Forum for Public Service Media and UK Music for supporting my amendments.

The Minister noted at Second Reading that PS broadcasters are governed by laws written over two decades ago. Clause 1 aims to update and simplify the framework by amending Section 264 of the Communications Act 2003 and replacing what the Minister described as

“14 overlapping purposes and objectives … with a new, modernised remit … intended to provide a much clearer sense of our public service broadcasters’ distinctive role

My four amendments share a common purpose, which is to reinstate some of the wording from the 2003 Act, precisely in order to protect the distinctiveness of our PSB content and the qualities that make it, to quote the Secretary of State, attractive to national and global audiences as well as a key driver of our creative economy.

I am not opposed to modernisation; indeed, it would be odd if something written 20 years ago could not benefit from a little updating. My concern is that the process has gone too far, stripping out obligations that are the essence of our public service broadcasting. Section 264(5) and (6) of the Communications Act is replaced by Clause 1(5) of the Media Bill, but aside from Clause 1(5)(a), which protects news and current affairs and references production quotas, very little survives. One paragraph is left to act as a near “catch-all” for what has gone, requiring

“content that reflects the lives and concerns of different communities and cultural interests and traditions within the United Kingdom, and locally in different parts of the United Kingdom”.

This is fine in itself, but reflecting “the lives and concerns” does not equate to the nuanced, if overlapping, requirements of the older Act. What we lose are vital obligations, covering quality, the Reithian principle, PSBs’ fundamental role in the success of the UK’s creative industries as well as the educative value of public service broadcasting—in essence, the very things that distinguish and define PSB.

Amendment 1 would reinstate the requirement to maintain high standards in content, quality of production and

“the professional skill and editorial integrity applied in the making of the programmes”.

These high standards have driven quality products, innovative formats and original programming, under- pinning the domestic success and, in turn, the global popularity of British media productions. The terms of trade paved the way for this success, but it is widely acknowledged that it is the high quality characterising the products of British PSBs that has made a difference in this story. Yet the Bill strips out a requirement for standards, quality and skills. The obligation that remains, to reflect

“the lives and concerns of different communities … interests and traditions” could be adequately met by a locked-off shot of a talking head, as long as that head talked about a diverse range of subjects and, occasionally, in Gaelic or Welsh.

Removing requirements for standards risks diminishing the experience for audiences and impacting public perception of PSBs. It also risks their global competitiveness and economic value. Of course, reducing production quality reduces the need for skilled creatives, thus further undermining a sector already under threat. It is directly counter to the intention of the Bill.

My Amendment 2 goes to the heart of public service broadcasting, reinstating the Reithian mission, to “inform, educate and entertain”. These three foundational elements are absent from the Bill, in effect limiting the definition of the public service remit to a narrow focus on news and current affairs, regional and children’s content, and original, regional and independent productions. By focusing on “market failure” content that commercial providers need not bother with, it fails to uphold the fundamental principle that the purpose of PSBs is to serve society in its broadest sense with culturally, democratically and socially valuable content across a wide range of subjects.

The Reithian principles have served for almost a century and they represent far more than an outdated belief that “Auntie knows best”. In the words of Professor David Hendy, the Reithian philosophy is a view of broadcasting

“as something that should strive to do more than simply reflect the present state of affairs: it was something that needed to imagine other ways of being in the world”.

Reith’s three little words are vital because they encompass the important possibility of television expanding the interests of audiences beyond their own lives and concerns and into those of others. This is education in its widest sense and, over the life course, it is what many people value about public service broadcasting. In this age of misinformation and disinformation, “inform” and “educate” are surely more relevant than ever.

I jump next to Amendment 7, as it leads directly from this point in that it would reinstate a requirement for PSBs to provide programmes on educational matters, of an educational nature and of educative value. Clause 1(5)(c) of the Bill replaces references to education with the same catch-all, referring to a range of content that

“reflects the lives and concerns of children and young people in the United Kingdom, and … helps them to understand the world around them”.

That is another laudable aim, but it is not the same as content intended to educate or have inherent educative value. The wording in my amendment, which is again lifted directly from the 2003 Act, is important for three reasons. First, it makes a distinction between programmes that reflect the lives and concerns of children and educational programming which might teach them something outside their life experience and beyond their concerns. Secondly, it encompasses the role of public service broadcasting in lifelong learning. Thirdly, it recognises the broader concept of educative value—sometimes concealed in entertainment—which is perhaps a defining feature of PSB content.

GK Chesterton famously noted:

“Humor can get in under the door while seriousness is still fumbling at the handle”.

The same is true of education in the hands of skilled programme makers, insightful commissioners and public service broadcasters. Let us think of Channel 4’s “It’s a Sin”, the “I Am” series, ITV’s “Mr Bates vs The Post Office”, and seminal dramas such as “Cathy Come Home” or “I, Daniel Blake”. I would even point to the educative value of the gossip in soap opera pubs and cafés. When Sonia discussed Section 28 in the Albert Square caff all those years ago, we knew that the issue had moved into a different kind of mainstream. None of those programmes originated in an education department, but they have each been educative, shaping public discourse, dispelling myths, fostering intercultural understanding, changing attitudes and offering us new ways to consider the world and ourselves.

Of course, the responsibility for educational and educative content is distributed across the PSB landscape, with different channels assuming different responsibilities, as agreed in their operating licences. The amendment does not seek to mandate all PSBs to deliver “educational programmes” in any narrow sense, but it seeks to reinstate the fundamental educational purpose and educative value of PSB content. I find it hard to believe that the Government intended to remove any use of “educate” from this clause, and I hope the Minister might be able to reassure us when he speaks to this group.

Finally, Amendment 3 would reinstate the requirement for public service broadcasting to reflect, support and stimulate cultural activity, in all its diversity, in the UK. Since its inception, public service broadcasting has enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the cultural and creative industries, supporting—and being supported by—a thriving creative sector. This amendment, again lifted from the 2003 Act, enables three societal and sector impacts.

First, it ensures wider and more equitable access to the rich diversity of UK arts and culture by presenting drama, comedy, music, visual and performing arts on screen—a point articulated by UK Music, which supports this amendment. Secondly, it inspires active engagement in arts and culture, stimulating people from all backgrounds and across all ages to get involved as participants, audiences or as a career choice—I look forward to hearing the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, whose Amendment 33 addresses the important issue of workforce diversity in the sector.

Finally, the amendment enshrines a requirement to stimulate and support the development of the creative sector, of new ideas and new talent on and off screen. This has long been a key role of PSBs, which nurture creative talent—writers, actors, designers and composers —and help fill the sector’s skills gap through apprenticeships and training. This talent underpins the sector’s economic contribution to the UK and its commercial success globally.

The Government have put this sector at the heart of their plans for growth, yet, as your Lordships’ Communications and Digital Committee concluded, it is a sector at risk from “policy incoherence”, skills shortages and complacency in the face of international competition and technological change. The workforce has been hard hit by the financial challenges and new restrictions on mobility, with the Film and TV Charity reporting that 45% of respondents are struggling and 71% do not have enough work to stay afloat. The broader cultural sector is still below pre-pandemic levels, struggling to cope with increased energy costs and the loss of international touring.

I know that the Minister is alive to these challenges, and he has personally committed to the sector’s success. Given this, I hope he will agree that now is not the time to cut the creative and cultural sector loose from the protections of the existing legislation. This act of harm would diminish the creative industries and, in doing so, would diminish our public service broadcasters. I would be surprised if a department responsible for both the Bill and the success of the creative sector consciously intended to go down this route.

To conclude, my amendments seek to reinstate important obligations for quality, skills and editorial integrity, for education, for supporting and stimulating the cultural and creative industries, and—of course—the foundational principle that public service broadcasting should inform, educate and entertain. I know that none of the current PSBs would want to abandon these principles and obligations—indeed, they have all voiced support for my amendments—but this legislation needs to set the framework for the future and to recognise these societal and sector impacts as important elements of the PSB role. Without clarity in the legislation on what Parliament expects—and, indeed, what viewers want—neither Ofcom nor Parliament will be able to hold broadcasters to account for delivery.

I do not believe that in modernising the public service remit, government intended the baby to disappear so conclusively down the plughole. Twenty years on, there are surely ways to modernise, streamline and update, but the version before us goes too far, stripping out of legislation the very characteristics that have defined British television and given it the prominent position it holds in the world today.

I hope that the Minister might be persuaded by my arguments and those of other noble Lords, and that he might agree to work with us to find the right balance between baby and bathwater before Report. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie Ceidwadwyr 5:30, 8 Mai 2024

My Lords, I rise to support Amendments 1 to 3 and 7, to which I have added my name, and in doing so, I declare my interest as laid out in the register as a board member of Creative Scotland.

The Bill will set the standard for public service broadcasting and is much welcomed. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, has spotted that currently the Bill removes any overarching principles for public service broadcasting, which I believe is a glaring omission.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, has just excellently introduced, the Reithian principles to inform, educate and entertain have been at the foundation of our public service broadcasting for over 100 years. These overarching principles mean that the values, objectives and practices of public service broadcasters are very different from those in the private sector.

A 2022 report by the Ada Lovelace Institute highlighted the importance of the Reithian principles that guided public service broadcasters in what stories they chose to tell, how they were told and presented, and what programmes were commissioned. By extension, they reflect, support and stimulate the nation of the UK in all its diversity and creativity, and therefore support our world-leading creative industries.

Public service broadcasters already face criticism that they do not sufficiently reflect the public whom they serve, which is why the BBC and Channel 4 attempted to address that by moving parts of their workforce and commissioning outside London—but more of that in amendments to come. In contrast, private organisations such as Netflix are designed to maximise market share and shareholder revenue. They use recommendation systems to drive user engagement with their content. They may have some consideration of social values, but public service organisations are currently legally mandated to operate with a particular set of public interest values at their core. Without these amendments, we would lose that. PSBs are building their own recommendation systems to compete in this new digital age but, as the Ada Lovelace Institute report highlights, they will not work unless public service broadcasters are clear about their own identity and purpose.

Amendment 3 reinstates the role of PSBs in supporting our creative industries in all their diversity. The regional production of drama, comedy, music and other visual and performing arts programming plays a vital role in enabling new talent to be heard, local creative economies to be sustained and regional culture to be supported. The UK’s network of PSBs provides a platform for artists, musicians, songwriters, producers, composers and choreographers, enabling them to reach a wider audience and to gain exposure. For example, many people’s first experience of ballet is only through the Christmas Day ballet production. It is a two-way relationship: as government and funding bodies encourage live performing arts companies to make the most of digital viewing opportunities, it is in partnership with the broadcasters that those skills can be developed.

Amendment 7 recognises that education is not solely the preserve of children and children’s broadcasting. Education is a crucial part of the public service broad- casting requirements. Several of the statutory requirements set out in Section 264 of the Communications Act 2003 relate to educational objectives. The noble Baroness’s amendment picks up on them and ensures that PSBs continue to have a role in lifelong learning.

Engaging adults in lifelong learning, to ensure that we continue to invest in the development of crucial skills, is a theme that emerges from numerous Select Committee reports from your Lordships’ House. Lifelong learning is vital to the success of the UK economy. Broadcast media has a unique power and reach as a medium for inspiring adults to take advantage of learning opportunities and can engage unconfident learners who would not normally consider the possibility of lifelong learning. It is therefore essential that requirements are in place that encourage broadcasters to produce high-quality educational programmes and to give them sufficient prominence to attract viewers.

This is our opportunity to ensure that we clearly define public service values for the digital age. Public service broadcasters are already delivering against the Reithian principles and—as far as I understand from my conversations with some of them, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, said—we believe that they have no objections to these amendments. As a group, the amendments seek to ensure that PSBs continue to provide content considered of value to society, if not to the shareholders. I wholeheartedly support them and hope that the Minister will too.

Photo of The Bishop of Leeds The Bishop of Leeds Bishop

My Lords, I support the first four amendments in this group—Amendments 1 to 3 and 7—and will not repeat what has been said so far in the excellent two speeches. However, I support them for a different reason: I think that they lay the ground for later amendments, particularly Amendments 9, 13 and 32. I will make a serious point about those amendments now, partly because I may have to be on a train when the Committee gets to them.

If we take seriously the Reithian principles to inform, educate and entertain, it means doing what the inscription from George Orwell outside the BBC spells out: that people are enabled to be confronted by, or to hear and see things, that

“they do not want to hear”.

That is essential to public service broadcasting and democratic education. That is also why, when we get to Amendments 9, 13 and 32, it becomes so important to cite in the Bill some of the genres that need to be not just glossed over or assumed but recognised as essential to inform, educate and broadcast in an entertaining way. As was said earlier, not everything has to be serious; often we are informed and educated by being entertained. The reference to “EastEnders” was pertinent: we gauge the public conversation by what we see being conversed about in things such as soap operas.

That is why—I would say this, wouldn’t I?—portrayal of religion is so important and needs to be named, as well as children, the arts, science, and so on. These are often called minority interests but in fact, because something is of interest to minorities does not mean that the majority should not be aware of what those interests are. Whenever we talk about religious broadcasting —I refer to my previous interest as the chairman of the Sandford St Martin Trust for nine years—it is not about proselytism or propagating a particular world view; it is recognising that you cannot live in the world and understand it if you do not understand religion. That should be obvious, given what is going on in the world at the moment. We cannot understand the Sunni/Shia divide and how that impacts on politics in the United Kingdom if we do not get informed and educated about that. So it is not about proselytism; it is about education, social cohesion and so on.

That raises another question that I wish to put at this point. How is Ofcom supposed to be able to report on whether PSBs are fulfilling their remit if there are no metrics in the Bill to say what fulfilment of the remit might be? At Second Reading we were told that it will be left to “flexibility”. Flexibility is as flexible as you want it to be, but it is quite possible to go through a whole year and just have a subjective account of what constitutes, for example, religious broadcasting or children’s broadcasting, which puts it into a narrow silo and which, for example, counts out entertainment as a medium for these things. If there are no metrics, how are we and Ofcom to know whether the remit has been fulfilled? I have been told that it cannot be the number of hours you allot to a particular genre, or a percentage quota. I am very happy with that, but what are the metrics going to be? There have to be some; otherwise, it is totally subjective.

We can speak nobly about creative industries, the creative process and what ought to constitute public service broadcasting, but if we do not put some detail in and nail down those things, name the genres and say something about metrics other than flexibility, we cannot guarantee that the remit is being fulfilled.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I rise briefly to support all my noble friend Lady Bull’s amendments.

The world has changed somewhat since about a century ago. My great-grandfather, Stanley Baldwin, who was the then Prime Minister, would go round to Cowley Street, just around the corner, sit down with Sir John Reith, as he then was, and discuss in some detail exactly how best to use the radio to deliver what he wanted to deliver. He was the first Prime Minister to use public sector broadcasting as a means of mass communication to the electorate. Things have moved on somewhat since then, to the extent that I believe that in recent times certain members of the Cabinet have even refused to appear on the public sector broadcaster, which is a strange development, to put it mildly.

I did some research, and I do not think it is an accident that 43% of the 35 speakers at Second Reading referred directly to the issue we are talking about in this group of amendments. If one wants a metric for the depth, strength and breadth of feeling across the House about this set of principles, that is evidence enough.

Public sector broadcasting, which, in a sense, had its birthplace here, has evolved in various forms around the world. The Reithian principles of “inform, educate and entertain” have broadened into a definition that is more generally recognised around the world, and which we can rightly take some credit for. The key principles are, essentially, universality of availability and appeal; provision for minorities, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out; education of the public, as stressed so forcefully by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull; distance from vested interests, which is particularly important in this day and age of mounting disinformation; quality programming standards, which would seem a no-brainer but is not adhered to by all sides; and the fostering of national culture and the public sphere, which is particularly important, not least in an election year.

In his Royal Television Society address in March, the director-general of the BBC highlighted three particular aims he has for the BBC during his tenure. The first is to pursue truth with no agenda, the second is to back British storytelling, and the third is to bring people together. It would be hard to disagree with any of those.

We live in a world where our current Government have, for the last few years, frequently stood at the Dispatch Box and talked—usually when they were slightly on the back foot—about how we are world-leading, world-beating, et cetera. In all my experience of giving praise, praise is at its most effective when it is given to us by other parties. If you go around the world and ask people what they think about our public sector broadcasters, they say they are genuinely world-beating and set the pace for the world. For once, can we accept praise and believe what the rest of the world is telling us, rather than thinking that we can reinvent truth—and do it in a way that may lose what we have? I quoted Joni Mitchell at Second Reading. She did not talk about the baby going out with the bath-water—they use showers in California—but you get my point.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench 5:45, 8 Mai 2024

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, primarily as chair of Peers for the Planet. I rise to speak to Amendment 8 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, who very much regrets that she cannot be here this afternoon.

After listening to the contributions on the first four amendments in this group, I hope—it does not always happen in Committee—that my comments on Amendment 8 will continue the conversation that has been started about overarching principles. This amendment reflects two of the enduring principles which have underpinned our world-class—my noble friend used the phrase “world-beating”—PSB regime: discoverability and trust. Ensuring prominence for public service broadcasters in a digital world is a welcome reform in this Bill. In ensuring that PSB content is discoverable, we need to do what we can to maintain and strengthen public trust in the content that is discovered. I am particularly grateful to the Royal Society for its support for Amendment 8. Its briefing recognises the importance of science and scientific credibility in our national broadcasting framework. It also recognises the risks posed by concerning trends in misinformation.

Amendment 8 would amend the Communications Act 2003 to require Ofcom, in carrying out its functions, to report on the provision by public service broadcasters of accurate and timely science-based public information, and of countering misinformation, including—but not exclusively—on matters such as public health, climate and the environment, which reflect key existential threats of our time.

The effect of Amendment 8 is cross-cutting; it is not genre specific—that is a debate we will have later in Committee. It emphasises the important of good science and the need to tackle misinformation across the totality of PSB output, a theme that has already emerged. It sits alongside a number of other strategic objectives in Clause 1(5) of the Bill, which encapsulate important outputs of the PSB regime, such as “facilitating … well-informed debate”, reflecting diverse cultural concerns and traditions, and the concerns of children and young people, as well as original and regional production.

The need for this amendment is well documented. In its recent report Trusted Voices, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee notes the rise of information on public health issues such as Covid-19, water fluoridation and 5G, alongside climate change. It states:

“The Covid-19 pandemic made clear just how vital it is to be able to access authoritative information. In February 2020, the World Health Organisation warned that, alongside the outbreak of COVID-19, the world faced an ‘infodemic’, an unprecedented overabundance of information—both accurate and false—that prevented people from accessing authoritative, reliable guidance about the virus”.

In this context, the committee emphasised the importance of trusted voices from the scientific community and the role of the media in providing those trusted voices. Recent research from Ofcom further underlines why those trusted voices matter: it found that adults and children “overestimate” their ability to spot misinformation, with “only two in 10” adults being

“able to correctly identify the tell-tale signs of a genuine” social media post. Worryingly, there is a similar pattern among children.

The damage caused by misinformation in relation to health issues is also well documented. A 2022 study covered in the bulletin of the World Health Organization found that:

“Incorrect interpretations of health information, which increase during outbreaks and disasters, often negatively impact people’s mental health and increase vaccine hesitancy, and can delay the provision of health care”.

This year, a Lancet study indicates that infodemics create damage beyond the negative outcomes for any specific health epidemic,

“such as reduction of public trust in health institutions and economic burden due to increased morbidity and mortality, including costs that take away resources from other public health activities”.

Damage caused by misinformation on climate change is similarly concerning. The Global Risks Report 2024 by the World Economic Forum ranked misinformation as the biggest short-term risk to human society, and extreme weather events as the top long-term risk. Those two findings underline that one of the greatest risks to society is obscuring the facts on climate change. The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report in 2022 was very clear:

“Rhetoric and misinformation on climate change and the deliberate undermining of science have contributed to misperceptions of the scientific consensus, uncertainty, disregarded risk and urgency, and dissent”.

It also found that misinformation, in turn, is impacting on climate policy decisions.

Everyone agrees that, since the PSB regime was last reviewed, the world has changed. We are now, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, said, to look to the future and the effects of that infodemic. The evidence on the level of, and the damage caused by, scientific misinformation is deeply troubling. Some of it can be measured in data, but much of it is much more insidious. Surely the roles of the media regulator and the PSBs in the coming years become more, rather than less, important in responding to this challenge.

Amendment 8 is a proportionate and workable amendment to future-proof the PSB regime. It provides a clear strategic steer on the responsibility of the media sector and its regulator, without being overly prescriptive. The crucial role of science in our cultural and public discourse is something on which most of us agree. If we want a powerful regulator such as Ofcom to take into account the importance of science, and the clear dangers of scientific misinformation, we need to tell it to do so, and we need our public service broadcasters to support trusted voices and be trusted themselves.

I hope the Government will give this amendment serious consideration.

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

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 33 in my name. I start by apologising for not being able to speak at Second Reading.

Despite good will, good intention and lots of work by activists, the UK’s creative and cultural workforce still does not reflect the diversity of the UK population. Ofcom already undertakes monitoring for PSBs in this area, and this amendment updates the legislative framework accordingly to ensure that this continues. Its own report on diversity and inclusion in broadcasting, published last year, notes that well-intentioned policies are not always actioned. It also draws attention to the fact that there is often a lack of diversity at senior management level in broadcasting organisations across the board. If PSBs are to represent all sectors of the UK’s population, then the workforce should be representative at every level.

Speaking as someone who comes from a television background, I know that diversity is not just about on-screen representation, but those behind the scenes: researchers, technicians, producers, directors, commissioners, and director-generals—there has not been a single woman or person of colour yet in 100 years. Women and people from minority ethnic groups and those with disability,

“remain underrepresented at senior management level: in TV 42% and in radio 36% of senior managers are women, while in TV 13% and in radio 7% are from minority ethnic groups”.

These figures matter, not just because a diverse senior management demonstrates to the workforce a real commitment to diversity at every level, but because a senior management team dictates the culture and practice of the organisations that they run. The more diverse that team, the more it will understand and promote diverse values in their workforce and diversity on-screen.

Despite the positive fact that a higher proportion of people from underrepresented groups are being recruited, broadcasters continue to struggle to retain these staff, with women, disabled workers and people from minority ethnic backgrounds leaving in disproportionate numbers. Ofcom itself has recognised that those broadcasters

“with advanced data collection practices tend to have more representative workforces”.

This amendment will further empower it to specify what kinds of data companies should be required to monitor and publish.

I turn to the other amendments in this group. From these Benches, I congratulate all who have already spoken and the Government on bringing this Bill forward. It is much-needed, and I welcome it, with the caveats already addressed today.

The Government talk about streamlining and simplification. There are advantages to this approach—all of us dealing with bureaucracy and form-filling know that—but there can be oversimplification, and this is what has happened here. These amendments are to ensure that, while we both update and future-proof our incredibly valuable broadcasting media, we do not lose the principles that have made it so unique and internationally renowned. They address the need, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds said, for specific genres; I know we will come on to that in greater detail. In particular, they reinstate the Reithian principles—to inform, educate and entertain.

The wording in the Bill as drafted limits the definition of the public service remit and fails to capture the full range of objectives and benefits currently delivered by the PSB system, as well as dismissing what has been a founding principle of public service broadcasting in the UK for more than 100 years, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser, mentioned.

At Second Reading, the Minister referred to addressing the concerns of the DCMS committee’s report in its pre-leg scrutiny. The report recommended that the Government should retain obligations on PSBs to provide specific genres of content. The Bill does not. In other words, the Minister has not addressed the concerns —but we do, as set out in the amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bull, Lady Boycott and Lady Hayman, with support, as we have heard, from around the House.

I end up where I began, with Reith and “educate” in Amendment 7, as highlighted by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bull and Lady Fraser. During lockdown, the BBC supplied a lifeline via Bitesize for those who were home schooling. But equally important is shared fun, programmes that entertain children as well as educate them, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, mentioned. Just go on a stroll anywhere with my noble friend Lady Benjamin—Floella—and her “Play School” babies flock, united in shared memories. This is true. It is so important for our children, particularly today, that they come together outside the echo chamber that is social media.

Amendment 3 is on “entertain”, in particular the support and stimulation of cultural activity. PSBs, led by the BBC, are the backbone of our world-beating creative industries. The origin of the word “broadcast” is to “sow seed widely”. That is what our PSBs have done. They are pivotal in supporting our creative industries through innovation, skills and training, although, as mentioned in my amendment, work needs be done on diversity. PSB remains essential to UK media. Losing it would leave UK society and democracy worse off. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, said, do not harm it.

Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 6:00, 8 Mai 2024

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 33 in the name of my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter—I thank her for the name check—which I have put my name to in support. I also support the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, in everything she said in her speech. I declare my interests as set out in the register.

When I started my career in television, more than 50 years ago, diversity and inclusion was not a priority for public service broadcasters. I personally had to break down so many barriers to get diversity on the agenda to where we are today. Thankfully, enormous strides have been taken and the diversity landscape has been transformed, both in front of and behind the camera. Although we have not yet reached what I call “diversity nirvana”, we are well on the way. Broadcasters such as ITV have made huge progress with their diversity and inclusion strategy and should be applauded.

But, talking to people across the industry, the big concern is the redundancies that are sweeping throughout the industry, combined with the slowdown in commissioning, which in turn will lead to many production companies going out of business and will therefore have a negative effect on all the diversity gains over the past few years. As ITV and Channel 4 look for new financial models and tighten their belts, they need to make sure that they do not take their eye off the ball when it comes to diversity and inclusion, because most TV workers are freelancers and work for independent production companies. So perhaps some programme-level data is necessary in order for us to properly see how many of the PSBs’ full-time staff are from under- represented backgrounds and how much of their programming is made by diverse talent from the freelance community.

Adeel Amini, a series producer and the founder of The TV Mindset, said, “While PSBs have certainly been saying all the right things regarding diversity, their impact on the ground level and on the wider industry structure as a whole has been harder to see. In fact, many people from underrepresented backgrounds feel like the industry has gone backwards. Given the current crisis, they feel they are being squeezed out quicker than ever before. This particularly applies to roles at mid and senior level, with not enough representation at decision-making level. It’s important that diversity is seen not as a box-ticking exercise, but something that demands accountability if we are to change the fabric of this industry and make it truly welcoming and inclusive to all”.

Amendment 33 is very much the start of making this process a reality.

Photo of Lord Vaizey of Didcot Lord Vaizey of Didcot Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I shall just slip in on the back of the excellent speech on diversity from the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, because this is a subject very close to my heart. I think Amendment 33, put down by the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, is very telling in calling for public service broadcasters to put forward a diversity strategy.

But I would go behind the amendment and say that, in my experience, it is often the case that public service broadcasters can hide behind a strategy, and a strategy can often be an excuse for inaction. I remember that when I first got involved in the diversity in broadcasting debate, which is now more than a decade ago, I was very struck by the fact that, when we had a meeting with the broadcasters—there were three main broadcasters in play: ITV, BBC and Sky—the BBC came in and said, “We totally get what you’re saying and we’re going to produce a strategy”. ITV came in and said something in between. Sky came in and said “We’re just going to go for 20%”—and it did go for it, in terms of people both in front of and behind the camera. So it is very important that the Minister himself gets very engaged with the broadcasters, because if they simply put strategic documents on his desk, nothing will change.

The other important part of any strategy that is legislated for in this Bill is that it brings forward proper, in-depth statistics about what is happening in broadcasting in terms of diversity and equality. On that point, I would like the Minister to update me on the Diamond network, which was the measurement standard put in place in the mid-2010s in which broadcasters had to report for every production. It gradually included the independent producers, because that was another thing that we discovered made life more difficult, because you then had to go to all the independent production companies and bring them within the system. What has happened to the Diamond system? What kind of statistics is it throwing up that reveal what is actually happening in broadcasting?

I am fully aware that, when one talks about diversity, there may be a small element of the public—perhaps a Venn diagram overlapping with Garrick Club members—who regard talking about diversity as some sort of woke totemic point. But the point is that we live in an extremely diverse country. It is so important—and it really emphasises why this Bill and broadcasting are still so important, no matter how diverse and fragmented broadcasting has become in terms of platforms—that people in this country are able to tell their stories and see themselves represented. Equally, to echo the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, it is not just the people in front of the camera; it is the people making the programmes and making the decisions about what is commissioned. You can have as many diverse people as you like appearing in a television programme but, to be blunt with the Committee, if the people commissioning the programmes are all white, those are the stories that will get told.

As far as the other amendments are concerned, since I am on my feet, I am obviously very much in favour of the principle that the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, put forward about putting back the Reithian principles into broadcasting. But I simply say at the beginning of what will be a mammoth session of days and days of scrutiny of this Bill that I am also very deregulatory minded. It is important for the Committee to be aware as much as possible that broadcasters sit under a plethora of regulations and there must also be a mindset as we debate this Bill that we do not simply put every single issue and principle that we care passionately about—albeit I am now massively contradicting everything I have just said—into the Bill, because technology is changing rapidly, costs are rising, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, hinted, and putting a lot of people under pressure, and people need flexibility. To a certain extent we need to trust our broadcasters, for whom quality programme making is to a certain extent embedded.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Shadow Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate, capped by a single show of dichotomy from the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey. I am sure that most of us found it both entertaining and enlightening, in line with true Reithian values.

As we draw this debate to a close, we should congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, on tabling her amendments in this group. As we have heard, they broadly relate to the Reithian principles that have under- pinned public service broadcasting for much of the last century. We on the Labour Benches have co-signed Amendments 1 to 3 and 7. Additionally, we support Amendment 8 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, so ably spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. We also support Amendment 33 on diversity. On reflection, having spoken to my colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, I feel that we should have had a separate debate on the whole issue of diversity. It is merited in the context of the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, underlined the importance of workplace diversity, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter. There is much to think through about what we see and how it is measured to ensure that our public service broadcasters reflect the diversity of our great nation.

I turn to the Reithian principles. My honourable friend Stephanie Peacock in another place said that she welcomed the attempts to simplify the remit of PSBs. I made a similar observation at Second Reading. As we have heard, a number of commentators have argued that this may have the unintended consequence of leading to rather more restricted content. The Communications Act 2003, which this part of the Bill seeks to update, gave a fair expression of the PSBs’ Reithian principles. Over time, these have become partly enshrined in particular genres. These amendments attempt to take the debate beyond genres and to talk to the issue of the fundamental purpose of public service broadcasting, in particular the purpose of broadcasting in a multimedia world now tackling the challenges of the digital age and digital content.

At Second Reading I said that, while the Bill was very welcome—it continues to be very welcome—and for the most part highly supportable, it seemed to lack an overarching purpose and principle: an abiding vision, if you like. As we have heard, Lord Reith believed that PSBs should “inform, educate and entertain”. The 2003 Act sought to flesh out what that meant. Labour enshrined those principles in legislation. In that regard, it did a more than serviceable job. This new legislation seeks to do it slightly more flexibly. Flexibility is one thing, but I think we need firm statements of principle and purpose. These amendments move to set Reithian standards and values in a more modern context.

We want public service broadcasters to retain high standards of content. We want them to maintain high- quality production and editorial integrity, as referenced in Amendment 1. We want to see content that meets the Reithian dictum of informing, educating and entertaining, while recognising the role of the sector in stimulating, reflecting and supporting the cultural and creative industries.

Finally, these amendments take us to the educative purpose of public service broadcasters and help promote a culture that values learning as a lifelong activity to serve all. Together, one could paraphrase a sort of John Prescott-ism and place old-style Reithian values in a modern setting. For that, and for the other reasons I have set out, we are very happy indeed to support this group of amendments. We hope to receive some words of encouragement from the Minister. I do not think public service broadcasters will object at all to this renewed obligation. It does much that will help Ofcom in its periodic reporting on this aspect of the public broadcasters’ remit.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, for starting our deliberations in Committee in such a careful and considered way. We have already had allusions to Chesterton, Orwell and Sonia from “EastEnders”, so we are off to a good start.

Before I turn to the amendments to which other noble Lords have spoken, perhaps I should say a little on the two government amendments in my name in this group. Amendments 18 and 35 are minor and technical. Amendment 18 provides additional clarity that, for the purpose of calculating the maximum financial penalty to which a public service broadcaster may be subject, the qualifying revenue of the non-UK-based on-demand programme services it provides should be determined with regard to the same provisions as its UK-based on-demand programme services. Amendment 35 changes Clause 27 to make clear that Schedule 2 contains amendments relevant not only to public service broadcasters but to Part 1 in general.

I turn to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and others. Let me start by addressing the legacy of the late noble Lord, Lord Reith, which was referred to a number of times. As we have heard, in an act of great foresight, Lord Reith developed the principles that still guide the BBC today, through its mission to produce high-quality and impartial content that informs, educates and entertains. These remain fine principles and, as a mission statement for the BBC, they continue to work very well indeed. As the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, noted, much has changed in the 100 years since Lord Reith came up with his famous formulation. The BBC is no longer a monopoly provider, and the public service broadcasters are subject to competition for audiences from other television channels and the new streaming giants. This expansion of choice represents an amazing triumph of UK broadcasting, but it dramatically changes the meaning of public service broadcasting and the best way to legislate for it.

We want a Bill that will also stand the test of time. Let me briefly set out how our drafting has aimed to achieve that. At present, Section 264 of the Communications Act sets the purposes of public service broadcasting, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said. This includes broad commitments to concepts such as quality, range and diversity. It goes on to set out a series of objectives. This is a shopping list of very worthy types of content, but it does not represent a clear statement of what we want to be distinctive about our public service broadcasters. In practice, the breadth of the list gives the regulator little guidance about the priorities on which it should focus its assessment of that important public service delivery.

By contrast, the new streamlined remit in the Bill puts audiences at its heart by directly linking the remit to their needs. It focuses on what it means to be public service broadcasters, which will make it easier for Ofcom to work with them to achieve this. Of course, that does not mean that the Bill does not recognise the importance of content that informs, educates and entertains. Indeed, there are already specific provisions in the Bill that directly require the BBC and other public service broadcasters to take action in these areas. For example, the Bill prioritises the provision of news content designed to inform—both by putting this directly in the remit and by retaining Section 279 of the Communications Act, which allows Ofcom to set quotas for news and current affairs content for each licensed public service broadcaster.

With regard to education, the focus of Amendment 7 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, there are similar, broadcaster-specific requirements to include educational content. The Bill strengthens the education requirement on Channel 4, and the BBC’s royal charter requires it to support learning for people of all ages, as my noble friend Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie rightly pointed out. Educational and factual programming is well represented among the output of our public service broadcasters. Ofcom’s Communications Market Report found that the BBC and Channel 4 collectively provided more than 180 hours of educational programming, as well as more than 17,000 hours of programming across the various factual genres.

Finally, the need for public service broadcasters to entertain us, while not directly legislated for in the Bill as it stands, is fundamental to their very model and we would expect audiences to vote with their feet if they were not entertained. However, it is worth pondering whether we need to put that in the remit and say that it should be a priority for our public service broadcasters. I take the point that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds and others made that it is through being entertained that we can also be informed and educated. This is a question worth pondering further, and I am happy to ponder it with the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, the right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords who have raised it today.

Let me now consider the naming of specific genres, which is covered by Amendments 3 and 8. As I have already set out, it is essential that the public service remit speaks directly to what it is to be a public service broadcaster, and we want to avoid diluting this. His Majesty’s Government have already carefully considered the issue of genres, both in drawing up the Bill and as part of its pre-legislative scrutiny. We have added a new subsection (6) in response to this, which makes it clear that public service broadcasters must together produce a range of genres in order to fulfil the public service remit.

Noble Lords raised a particular concern about how this will be reported on. There are two mechanisms. First, Clause 1 of the Bill requires Ofcom to report at least every five years on the extent to which the public service remit is being fulfilled. Given that the remit can be fulfilled only when a range of genres is produced, we expect that this would continue to include reporting on different genres. Secondly, we have retained the specific obligation on Ofcom in Section 358 of the Communications Act to collect and report statistics annually on the principal genres made available on television and radio services. Furthermore, should Ofcom’s reporting on the remit or licence renewal demonstrate that a particular genre is being underserved, this Bill gives the Government the power to take action.

Against this backdrop, Amendments 3 and 8 seek to add references to specific types of content to the remit. The content to which the amendments refer—drama, comedy, music and science-based public information—are all most certainly valuable and I am entirely sympathetic to the aims of the amendments. But the provision of these genres is already monitored, at least at a high level, by Ofcom and we would be concerned that further legislative granularity would serve only to complicate Ofcom’s role in regulating an area over which it already has oversight. At the same time, the nature of the remit means that, far from strengthening it, these amendments would in fact risk diluting it, reducing clarity for public service broadcasters.

On Amendment 1, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, I am glad to echo what is rightly said by people all around the world, not just by Ministers at this Dispatch Box: that our public service broadcasters produce world-class content. I understand the desire of noble Lords who have put forward proposal to protect and promote this very important feature of UK broadcasting, and I hope that I can reassure your Lordships that the Bill already does just that.

I have spoken already about the importance of the remit being streamlined and the need to focus on ensuring that Ofcom can hold public service broadcasters to the standards set out in it. This amendment would reintroduce the commitment to quality in the current purposes and objectives in Section 264 of the Communications Act. However, the current regime has demonstrated the challenges of attempting to measure and enforce quality. The issue is not a significant focus in Ofcom’s reports on the current public service broadcaster purposes and objectives, and understandably so.

The “quality” of a programme is difficult to measure and somewhat subjective. This requirement asks Ofcom to do something even more complicated: to assess the quality not just of a television programme but of the public service broadcasting system as a whole. We would be concerned that that is not a realistic regulatory goal. Instead, we believe that quality is best assessed with regard to each individual public service broadcaster. That is why we retained the commitment to quality in the remit of individual licensed public service broadcasters, in Section 265 of the Communications Act. A similar requirement to provide high-quality output is in the BBC’s mission statement.

The single best protection we have against a decline in standards is competition. That is why, for all the challenges it brings, the explosion in choice available to viewers in the UK has driven up and will continue to drive up the quality of programme-making, particularly high-end drama and film. What we now see on our small screen would not, I think, have looked out of place on the big screen just 20 or 30 years ago. But the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, is right to raise the important question of the quality of our television, and she right to point to the Government’s commitment to the creative industries and the link this has to them. She knows that the creative industries are one of the five priority areas of our economy, as identified by the Chancellor. We want to ensure that we are helping them to grow even more.

The noble Baroness has shown a great commitment to the creative industries through her work here in your Lordships’ House, and the work that she and others are doing with my department and the Department for Education to help the latter deliver on its White Paper commitment to a new cultural education plan. I very grateful to her for raising this issue as we begin Committee today. I am certainly happy to continue to reflect on it and to make sure that we have the balance between baby and bath-water right in this Bill. I hope I have provided her and other noble Lords with some reassurance today that the Bill maintains the commitment to quality, and that, for now, she will be content to withdraw her amendment on that basis.

I turn now to Amendment 33 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, which relates to the promotion of diversity and equality within our public service broadcasters. The Government remain committed to ensuring that our public service broadcasting system offers equality of opportunity to people of all backgrounds. Ofcom already has a duty under the Communications Act to promote diversity and equality of opportunity in the broadcasting sector. As part of this, public service broadcasters are required to report on the composition of their workforce, on which Ofcom itself reports annually. Although we recognise their independence, we welcome the work our public service broadcasters are already doing to improve representation in their workforce. That includes, for example, ITV’s diversity acceleration plan and its diversity commissioning fund, which continues to invest in content that supports diversity both on-screen and off-screen—a point that noble Lords rightly raised. Meanwhile, Channel 4’s diversity and inclusion strategy has committed to ensuring that at least 20% of its workforce is composed of people from different ethnic minority groups, and that its top 100 paid positions are split 50:50 by sex.

I take what my noble friend Lord Vaizey of Didcot says about the difference between strategies and action and, indeed, the need for Ministers to be engaged, although I remind him that, in this instance, it is a case of the Minister taking action herself, whether that is my honourable friend Julia Lopez or my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. He asked about project Diamond. We welcome that and other broadcaster-led initiatives in this area. Given that there are already well-established processes in place to collect diversity data across our public service broadcasters, and a clear statutory role for Ofcom to monitor and track progress against that, while I welcome the sentiment behind the noble Baroness’s amendment and thank those who have spoken in favour of it, I do not think it is necessary and invite her not to press it.

Photo of Baroness Bull Baroness Bull Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 6:15, 8 Mai 2024

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his, as ever, thoughtful and considered response. I am not sure that I completely share his view that broadcaster-specific agreements are the place to house such fundamental principles; I would imagine that they should be there in an overarching sense. He says that the current regime demonstrates the challenges of measuring, but it also demonstrates the opportunities of succeeding, because it is indeed the high quality and innovation of UK productions that has led to global success, as has been well evidenced over the last two decades. It is a long evening ahead for the Minister, so I will not dally, but I will certainly accept his invitation to ponder and reflect, and take that as an opening to continue to discuss some of these amendments.

If I may, I will say very briefly that the point of Amendment 3 in my name is absolutely not to reinsert a list of activities; it is that cultural activity is stimulated, supported and reflected. That is a slightly different point; it is achieved by presenting those services, but that is not the end in itself. I know that my noble friend here will be talking a lot about that in a moment.

So, in accepting the Minister’s invitation to ponder and reflect together, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendments 2 and 3 not moved.