British Government Releases White Paper on U.K. Broadcasting Regulations

The British government has laid out its plans to reshape the country’s broadcasting landscape with a broad ranging set of proposals, contained in a White Paper published Thursday. These include confirmation that Channel 4 will be privatized and the BBC funding model will be reviewed.

The proposals were previewed to the media on Wednesday, and covered in depth by Variety here.

Secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Nadine Dorries, said: “Rapid changes in technology, viewing habits and the entrance of global players have introduced new challenges for British broadcasters. Against that backdrop of rapid change, we need to take action to support British broadcasters in meeting the most pressing of those challenges, to protect our mixed ecology, and ensure public service broadcasters remain at the heart of our plans.”

In the White Paper, the government proposes to bring larger TV-like video-on-demand providers – in other words, the streamers – under the jurisdiction of media regulator Ofcom.

Ofcom will be given powers to draft and enforce a new Video-on-Demand Code, similar to the Broadcasting Code, which “sets out appropriate standards for content including harmful or offensive material, accuracy, fairness and privacy.” This will “ensure TV-like content, no matter how audiences choose to watch it, will be subject to similar standards.” Fines for breaches of the code could be up to £250,000 ($311,000) or 5% of annual revenue.

These changes will mean U.K. audiences will be “better protected from harmful material and better able to complain to Ofcom if they see something they are concerned about.”

Dorries confirmed that the government would privatize Channel 4, while maintaining its status as a public service broadcaster. Under private ownership, the government will remove a restriction on the broadcaster which effectively prohibits it from producing and selling its own content.

Dorries also said the government would:
– Freeze the price of the TV license – which is the BBC’s principal source of income – at £159 ($198) for two years.
– Review the BBC’s license fee funding model.
– Increase the BBC’s commercial borrowing limit from £350 million ($436) to £750 million ($934 million).
– Replace the set of 14 overlapping “purposes” and “objectives” that the public service broadcasters must contribute to with a new, shorter remit.
– Give the public service broadcasters greater flexibility in how they deliver their remits.
– Protect the U.K.’s terms of trade regime – which governs the ownerships of TV rights – while “simultaneously updating it to reflect changes in technology and the way viewers are watching content from our PSBs.”

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