The Media Act

The Government’s Media Bill was rushed through Parliament during ‘wash up’, following the announcement of the General Election in May 2024, and was passed into law on May 24th 2024. 

Since 2022 VLV has worked hard to ensure that citizens’ interests were represented in the debate around this new legislation. On the final day of debates, before Parliament was prorogued, the Government accepted an amendment suggested by VLV and the PSM Forum, sponsored by Baroness Bull in the Lords, which reintroduced the ‘Reithian’ principles into the Bill that PSB should educate, inform and entertain. 

The Media Act’s new provisions include:

  • Ensuring that the apps of public service broadcasters (BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) are easy to find on smart TVs and other streaming devices
  • Requiring video-on-demand services such as Netflix to be covered by the Ofcom content code
  • The repeal of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, removing what many see as the threat of Government-backed press regulation
  • The listed events regime is updated to ensure major sporting events such as the Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup and Wimbledon remain free to air via a public service broadcaster
  • New rules to ensure the BBC, commercial and community radio stations are available via smart speakers

While VLV supports many of the provisions in the Act, we are concerned that the range and volume of high quality broadcasting which benefits citizens in the UK could decline as a result of the new legislation. The Act no longer requires the Public Service Broadcasters to provide what has traditionally been considered societally valuable content, such as arts, religion, education and science programming. The Government did introduce new wording to say that an ‘appropriate range of genres’ should be provided by the PSBs, but what ‘appropriate’ means is down to Ofcom’s discretion which concerns us. 

It also allows Ofcom significant discretion in deciding what ‘appropriate’ means in the context of PSB prominence on on-demand platforms and the range of genres provided by the PSBs. 

You can read a full Briefing Note on VLV concerns by clicking on the button below.

VLV’s Policy Advisor, Sophie Chalk, appeared on the Roger Bolton BeebWatch podcast during the passage of the Bill through Parliament to discuss how it will impact on listeners and viewers. You listen to the recording by clicking on the image below. 

The DCMS Select Committee made recommendations on the draft Bill which were not implemented by the Government. These included that obligations on the PSBs to provide specific PSB programming should be retained and that the PSBs should be given ‘significant’ rather than ‘appropriate’ prominence on connected devices, so that public service content is always carried and easy to find.

VLV’s concerns about the Bill during its passage through Parliament were highlighted in its written and oral evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee as part of its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. 

You can view a video of the session by clicking on the photo and you can read a transcript of the session here. You can read VLV’s full written submission to the Committee by clicking on the button below. 

To ensure effective representation of citizen issues in the debate around the Bill, VLV established the Citizens Forum for Public Service Media with the support of the JRCT for which we were most grateful. The Forum is a coalition of civil society organisations with an interest in democracy and broadcasting. You can find out more about the Forum by clicking on the image below. 

VLV’s policy advisor, Sophie Chalk, also spoke about the Bill at an event held by the Orwell Festival in 2023 about the future of public service broadcasting alongside broadcaster Jon Sopel and Kevin Brennan MP, member of the Culture Media and Sport Committee. The session was chaired by Professor Jean Seaton of the University of Westminster. You can view a video of this event by clicking on the photo.  

VLV ran a session on the draft Bill at its Spring Conference on the draft Media Bill which featured Professor Steven Barnett, Lord McNally, Sophie Chalk of VLV and Anna McNamee of the Sandford St Martin Trust.  The event was chaired by Tim Suter. You can view a video of the session by clicking on the photo. 

VLV’s has concerns about the effectiveness of impartiality regulation. We believed the Media Bill provided an opportunity to update  and improve impartiality regulation. Our recommendations were picked up by Parliamentarians but no Amendments to update it were passed during the passage of the Bill. We have prepared a briefing on this issue which you can download below. 

VLV will continue to proactively work with Parliamentarians and the Government to ensure they are aware of our concerns.