Media Bill Confirmed in King's Speach

The Media Bill has been confirmed in today’s King’s Speech. The Politico website rates the level of controversy associated with the Bill as 2/10, suggesting that it will go through unopposed.

The Osborne-Clarke summary of the main issues that the Bill covers is a useful overview. Typically, radio doesn’t get a much of a mention.

The Media Reform Coalition have issued a statement, saying: “Taken together the government’s plans will undermine the public value of PSB, create a something-for-nothing regime for commercial broadcasters, needlessly weaken the independent production sector, and further diminish the UK’s already dilapidated local media.”

I’m following up with the Voice of the Listener and Viewer, who are leading on the lobbying process that now starts when the Bill is published and introduced to the Commons. If there are any specific points we should note, in addition to the points already raised, any input will be very welcome.

Here’s the summary of what we’ve notes as proposed in the Media Bill so far:

  1. It is agreed that radio is entering a post-scarcity age and does not need the same form and level of regulation as required in the past when spectrum was scarce.
  2. A digital switchover of analogue to digital platforms should be abandoned, and a pluralistic policy of multiple platforms, including the resilient legacy platforms, should be embraced that utilises all broadcast and web technologies.
  3. AM and FM broadcasting licence allocation should be modernised to maximise spectrum use, replacing the frequency segregation standards adopted in the 1940s, and the reduction of national and international services on these wavebands.
  4. The deregulation of commercial radio in the UK must be met with the elimination of any potentially anti-competitive practices, such as platform blocking, simulcasting, automatic licence renewals, etc.
  5. Increased support for local service origination, and provision for control of independent radio platforms/services needs to be mandated, with Ofcom obliged to administer an on-demand licencing system prioritising place of origination.
  6. The social gain and access principles of community radio should be strengthened to protect the interests of minority and underserved people and their communities and places, and greater support given to the only broadcast sector that enables citizens to run and manage their own broadcast services.
  7. The Broadcast Code must be strengthened as the primary form of content regulation.

The aim is to enable greater capacity, and to reduce the barriers to access, thus enabling more services to start-up, community or independent commercial. Given that the combined increase in capacity across digital and analogue broadcasting will be eclipsed by IP audio capacity, the focus will shift from platform regulation to content provision. There should be a clear distinction between for-profit and not-for-profit provision, with no subsidies, hidden or otherwise, given to commercial providers.

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