The UK government is planning tighter regulation of streaming platforms such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video with its new draft Media Bill.

The platforms are to be brought under the purview of regulator Ofcom, along with traditional broadcasters, with the aim of leveling the playing field.

They will be subject to a new content code, aimed at protecting audiences from a wider range of harmful material, such as misleading health claims.

Viewers will be able to formally complain to regulator Ofcom, which will have stronger powers to investigate and take action, including issuing fines of up to £250,000 and – in the most serious and repeated cases – restricting a service’s availability in the UK.

Global TV companies will be required to make it easier for video on demand viewers to find public service broadcast services such as BBC iPlayer and ITVX on smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks.

Meanwhile, streaming services will have to provide subtitles on 80 per cent of their programs, while 10 per cent must have audio description and five per cent signed interpretation.

“Technology has revolutionized the way people enjoy TV and radio. The battle to attract and retain audiences has never been more fierce. British content and production is world leading but changes to viewing habits have put traditional broadcasters under unprecedented pressure,” says culture secretary Lucy Frazer.

“These new laws will level the playing field with global streaming giants, ensuring they meet the same high standards we expect from public service broadcasters and that services like iPlayer and ITVX are easy to find, however you watch TV.”


The bill also has implications for newspapers, with the proposed repeal of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. This was designed to protect newspapers from SLAPPs – strategic lawsuits against public participation – designed to silence investigative reporting by bringing meritless claims.

Newspapers would have been protected from having to pay claimants’ costs in claims brought against them, where the claimant could instead have used low-cost arbitration.

“Repeal of section 40 will be welcomed by the corrupt and the powerful, who would have feared the impact of the provision on their ability to intimidate smaller publishers with expensive legal actions,” says Nathan Sparkes, CEO of the Hacked Off campaign.

“Over 200 news outlets are independently regulated and would stand to benefit from costs protection under the provision, but are now set to be deprived of this crucial protection.”

The bill also has implications for smart speaker platforms such as Google and Amazon, which will be required by law to ensure access to all licensed UK radio stations, from major national stations to the smallest community stations.

They’ll be banned from charging stations for being hosted on their services or overlaying their own adverts over the top of those stations’ programs.

“With more radio listening than ever now taking place online and on smart speakers, it’s only sensible that the Government introduces safeguards for the future that will guarantee consumer choice and support the public value provided by UK radio services,” says Matt Payton, CEO of Radiocentre.


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