Amendment 45

Part of Media Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords am 6:30 pm ar 20 Mai 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) 6:30, 20 Mai 2024

My Lords, “miscellaneous” is certainly one of those words that we use in your Lordships’ House and mean all manner of things by it.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lansley for his Amendment 45, which probes the Bill by seeking to amend the Communications Act 2003 to require Ofcom to consult those interested in news content provided by broadcasters in any format before setting broadcasting standards. As he set out, this aims to reflect the shifts we have seen in recent years towards digital news consumption. However, the Government do not believe it is necessary to make changes such as these to the requirements on Ofcom, which would blur the lines between the regulation of television on the one hand and the regulation of the press on the other. That is because we do not intend to amend the regulation of the press or of broadcast news content.

We are committed to protecting media freedom and the invaluable role of a free press in our society and democracy. As part of this, we are committed to upholding independence of the press and taking steps to preserve the existing system of self-regulation. That is why we are repealing Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, and why we acted, through the Online Safety Act, to preserve the ability of readers to access recognised news publishers’ content online. The world of television is naturally different. For almost a century, what we have seen on the small screen has been underpinned by a clear set of broadcasting standards. This is something that UK audiences have come to know and value.

In a sense, this amendment addresses one potential boundary issue: the treatment of news websites, and in particular those run by broadcasters themselves—into which category are they to fall? Our considered view is that, in general, such websites are the digital extension not of television but of newspapers. A number of factors point towards this, not least that they are text-based and, in sharp contrast to teletext, rarely accessed from a television set. Viewed in this way, it is clearly inappropriate to apply the Broadcasting Code to them. I thank my noble friend for his probing amendment, but I hope I have reassured him why we do not need to add it to the Bill.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for Amendment 54A, and for starting an important debate on digital inclusion as it relates to television. I agree with them that it is essential that access to high-quality television is universal and should not be dependent on having a high level of digital skills. In previous debates on this Bill, we have already discussed the importance of ensuring that nobody is left behind. I hope I was able to reassure noble Lords that the Government have guaranteed the provision of digital terrestrial television until 2034 at least, and that to turn off this technology would require primary legislation. We know that a key benefit of this technology is how easy it is to use, and we will continue to protect the millions of households that rely on it.

At the same time, many people are choosing to watch some or all of their television via the internet as it allows them more choice and functionality than traditional ways of watching. Currently, almost 98% of premises across the UK have access to a superfast connection—over 30 megabits per second—which is normally sufficient to watch or listen online. Ofcom data suggests that almost three-quarters of us have chosen to take up such a service. In addition, 82% of homes now have access to gigabit broadband, and the Government’s target is to connect over 99% of the UK by 2030. We want to ensure that as many people as possible take up these broadband services, and we are glad to see increased take-up rates. We would expect to see more and more people take advantage of these speeds over time.

Our current work on the future of TV distribution has audiences at its heart, and will need carefully to consider the important issues the noble Lord and the noble Baroness raise through their amendment. I am glad to say that last week my honourable friend Julia Lopez, the Minister for Media, Tourism and the Creative Industries, announced an audience engagement project, which will directly engage audience members to understand what drives viewer decisions and any challenges they may have in accessing television. I will be happy to update your Lordships’ House on this work in due course.

This is an important debate, but given that it is ongoing, as is the work on it, I hope the noble Lord and noble Baroness will be content not to press their amendment. I thank them for sparking the debate with it.

I turn to the government amendments in my name in this miscellaneous group; namely, Amendments 52, 55, 56, 68 and 82. Again, this is a technical group of amendments. Amendments 52, 68 and 82 will ensure that general restrictions on disclosure of information can continue to function as intended in the Communications Act. These are three consequential amendments to ensure consistency across Section 393 of the Communications Act, which covers the general restrictions on disclosure of information relating to an individual business.

Government Amendments 55 and 56 correct references to S4C in relation to the digital terrestrial television and listed events regimes. In updating the way that S4C and its services are described better to reflect its position today, the Bill removes some definitions of S4C contained in the Broadcasting Act 1990 and the Communications Act 2003. The new amendments remove two cross-references to those definitions. That removal is necessary to ensure clarity and consistency across our legislative framework, and to remove any uncertainty. I hope noble Lords will support those amendments.