As part of an ongoing strategic review of the UK public service broadcasting system, the government will review the ownership model and remit of Channel 4 and consider tightening regulation of video-on-demand services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon
With a fast-evolving media landscape, increasing competition and changing audience habits posing imminent challenges, moving Channel 4 into private ownership and changing its remit could help secure its future as a
successful and sustainable public service broadcaster.
The government will also consult on whether the regulation of video-on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime need strengthening so they are subject to similar rules
as traditional "linear" broadcasters such as the BBC, ITV and Sky.
It will consider whether new rules are needed to protect viewers of video-on-demand services - such as changes to age ratings and addressing impartiality
and accuracy rules for documentaries and news content - alongside measures to level the playing field so public service broadcasters can compete with international rivals.
This will help ensure the country has a diverse, free and
pluralistic broadcasting landscape with high standards.
The reviews will come ahead of a broadcasting white paper due in the autumn. The white paper would consider the future of the country's broadcasting landscape with the
ultimate aim of making sure it serves listeners and viewers on all platforms and across the UK.
Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said:
Technology has transformed broadcasting but the rules
protecting viewers and helping our traditional channels compete are from an analogue age.
The time has come to look at how we can unleash the potential of our public service broadcasters while also making sure viewers and
listeners consuming content on new formats are served by a fair and well-functioning system.
So we'll now be looking at how we can help make sure Channel 4 keeps its place at the heart of British broadcasting and level the playing
field between broadcasters and video-on-demand services.
Video-on-demand services available in the UK are not regulated to the same level as "linear"
television channels and some services such as Netflix and Apple TV+ are not regulated in the UK at all.
Only content on the BBC iPlayer is subject to Ofcom's Broadcasting Code, which includes enhanced protections to audiences from
harmful or offensive material and rules on accuracy and impartiality.
Existing audience protections on UK-regulated video-on-demand services are primarily focused on children and rules preventing content which incites hatred. Some
services have introduced their own voluntary procedures - such as Netflix's voluntary age ratings partnership with the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).
The current landscape makes for an inconsistent, ad-hoc and
potentially harmful gap in regulation between video-on-demand services alongside a potential competitive disadvantage between UK broadcasters and their internationally-funded online counterparts.
It is also almost twenty years
since the UK broadcast sector's regulatory framework was introduced in the Communications Act 2003, which was designed before the arrival of online companies such as Apple+, Amazon Prime and Netflix in their current form.
government will also take forward existing commitments to legislate to strengthen public service broadcasters' "prominence" online so that their video-on-demand content can easily be found and accessed on smart TVs and other platforms and
Update: Now the censors are coming for Netflix
8th July 2021. See article from spiked-online.com The government
wants Ofcom to regulate streaming services. This is bad news for free expression.