The Media Bill and critically-endangered genres

Henry Roberts
Henry Roberts 28th November 2023

The panel: (left to right) Simon Murphy, Tracy McVeigh, Tim Singleton, Sara Pantuliano, Patrick Gathara, Halima Begum and Mark Galloway.

The Media Bill will negatively impact critically-endangered genres across Public Service Media, including international coverage. Programmes on key global issues may disappear from our televisions unless there is urgent action to amend the legislation.

The International Broadcasting Trust has serious concerns regarding the Media Bill, as introduced to the House of Commons on the 8th November 2023. Our concerns are shared by all members of the Citizens’ Public Service Media Forum, see below.

1. Fighting for space

The Media Bill enables broadcasters to meet their obligations through either online or linear platforms. This leaves open the possibility that broadcasters will bury content that embraces public service values (international issues, documentary, science, arts, religion, politics) within their online services, whilst packing linear schedules with more commercially-viable programmes.

As the same commercial imperatives apply online, content that embraces public service values will face an impossible fight for space, prominence and promotion.

The government clearly recognises the risks as the Media Bill retains linear-only quotas for news and current affairs, presumably because it believes broadcasters would park this criticallyimportant content online, freeing up primetime schedules for commercial content. We are calling for this level of protection for all content that embraces public service values.

2. Transparency and accountability

There is a complete lack of transparency and accountability surrounding the use of algorithms by Public Service Broadcasters. Unlike linear schedules, Ofcom and other observers are unable to monitor how content is prioritised and promoted to audiences within personalised online environments.

It is impossible to know whether the values and principles of public service media are being adequately applied within the online world, which is predicted to grow ever further as the principal means of access.

Online platforms delivering public service media must ensure audiences are exposed to a wide variety of content, including genres that exemplify public service principles, to avoid reinforcing ‘filter bubbles’ and diminishing the societal value of diverse schedules that enable serendipity.

We believe broadcasters should be obliged to disclose their algorithm’s operating principles  how it serves and prioritises different content – to Ofcom, in return for public service status.

3. Oversimplification

We are pleased to see the government has responded to calls from IBT, and others from the Public Service Media Forum, to revisit the oversimplification of the PSB remit.

In its response (17th November 2023) to the CMS Select Committee’s report on the Media Bill, the government confirmed the Bill has been amended to specify that “the range of genres of audiovisual content made available by the public service broadcasters (taken together) constitutes an appropriate range of genres”. This is a significant improvement from the draft remit, which we welcome.

Nevertheless, we insist that genres exemplifying public service media need to be clearly set out in the legislation (as in the Communications Act 2003), and we reject any suggestion this would impede the government’s attempt to ‘streamline’ the remit.

IBT and fellow members of the Public Service Media Forum are calling for the government to take one step further, by including obligations on PSBs to provide education, entertainment, music, arts, science, sports, matters of international significance, religion and specialist interests.

Citizens’ Public Service Media Forum

The Citizens’ Public Service Media Forum is a unique collaboration of organisations dedicated to protecting and maintaining a vibrant and pluralistic public service media system in the UK.

Its members are: Voice of the Listener & Viewer (VLV), Campaign for the Arts, Sandford St Martin Trust, Children’s Media Foundation, Media Reform Coalition, Decentered Media, British Broadcasting Challenge, Grierson Trust, Better Media, and the UK Coalition for Cultural Diversity.

Contact IBT:

Gareth Benest (Director of Advocacy)

Mark Galloway (Executive Director)

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