The Media Bill received its second reading debate in the House of Commons, coincidentally on World Television Day. The planned legislation is the first major change to broadcasting regulation in the United Kingdom since the Communications Act of 2003. Among its provisions will be requirements for the services and apps of public service broadcasters to appear prominently on television devices and displays.
The Media Bill was formally presented in a written statement on 8 November, hours after being introduced in the King’s Speech in a brief comment about supporting the creative industries. It follows the government Up Next White Paper on broadcasting published in April 2022.
Among the provisions in the Bill are the remit and programming of public service television, the sustainability of Channel 4, revisions to the listed events regime for sporting and other events of national interest, and the regulation of television selection service and radio selection services.
Lucy Frazer, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, appointed in February as the twelfth holder of that post in 13 years, opened the second reading debate. She said: “Technology has transformed every facet of our lives, and nowhere is that more evident than in the way we watch and consume television and listen to the radio. We have seen the rise of streaming giants and on-demand content, YouTube and smartphones, tablets and TikTok, and all those have combined to reshape our whole broadcasting landscape. Today, that landscape is unrecognisable in the context of what followed the last major reform of the rules that governed broadcasting in 2003.”
“We need to support the British media to enable them to compete and continue to serve their audiences with high-quality content,” the Secretary of State continued, saying the Bill is “designed to level the playing field for public service broadcasters such as the BBC, Channel 4, STV and ITV, among others, so that they can continue to provide first-class content and reach their audiences.”
Thangam Debbonaire, the even more recently appointed Labour Shadow Secretary of State, offered to work on a cross-party basis “to get the Bill into law as quickly as possible”. She expressed frustration at delays and diversions such as the abandoned plans to sell off Channel 4.
Members of parliament debated the Bill for three and half hours. The second reading is an opportunity to debate the general principles and themes of the Bill. It will now proceed to committee stage, where every clause and any proposed amendment will be reviewed in detail. It then returns to the House of Commons for its report stage, where it can be further debated and amended before a third reading, after which it goes through a similar process in the House of Lords. Both Houses must agree on the final working of the Bill before it can receive Royal Assent and become an Act of Parliament.
The proposed Media Bill is the first major change in broadcasting regulation since the Communications Act of 2003 that established the communications regulator Ofcom.
By coincidence, the Media Bill was debated on the World Television Day, first declared by the United Nations in 1996, following its first World Television Forum. The observance of 21 November as World Television Day is a reminder that television continues to be the largest single source of video viewing. Yet since it was first celebrated, there has been a dramatic change in the way the world now interacts with screens of all sizes.