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Broadcasting: Public Sector Content

Volume 795: debated on Monday 4 February 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to introduce legislation to ensure that public sector content continues to be easily discoverable by viewers, regardless of how they are accessing broadcasting content.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question on the Order Paper, and declare an interest as per the register.

My Lords, Ofcom has consulted on proposed changes to the linear EPG code and on how the prominence regime may need to change to ensure that public service content remains accessible, regardless of how consumers access it. That consultation closed in October 2018 and we look forward to receiving its findings in due course. If Ofcom makes it clear that there is a problem which needs fixing by legislation, we will look to bring that forward.

My Lords, children are being increasingly exposed to inappropriate content on social media, and public service broadcasting plays an important role in providing parents with a safe, trusted space where children can access high-quality, entertaining educational content—especially now that the new BFI contestable funding will be available to programme makers. However, it is difficult to find these PSB channels because no two electronic programme guides are the same. They are confusing and very frustrating. Does the Minister agree that it is essential we update the EPG rules as a matter of urgency, to ensure that viewers can easily access this excellent PSB content?

I agree that PSB content is important—in fact, 83% of people think that children’s provision by public service broadcasters is important. Ofcom’s consultation on the rules for prominence and proposed changes to the linear EPG includes a proposal for prominence for children’s PSB channels. Ofcom already has the powers to review and revise the code, so any final decision on changes to the linear prominence regime is a matter for it.

My Lords, it is unusual for both of my questions, carefully prepared, to have been answered before I put them, but that will not stop me asking the Minister to repeat the assurance he gave that, if the Ofcom report suggests that legislation is necessary, the Government will do it.

I can do better than that. I will repeat what the Secretary of State said to the DCMS shadow Secretary of State:

“The Government has made clear that if the Ofcom report concludes that there is a problem with the current prominence regime that needs fixing with the legislation, then we will look to bring that forward”.

My Lords, does public sector content include “Songs of Praise”, which the BBC insists on moving about to different times on Sunday, presumably with the ambition that it should eventually lose its audience altogether?

My Lords, the Sky Q box prioritises access to its services over PSB catch-up services. Many television manufacturers have partnered with Netflix to prioritise its services on their channel controllers. Is the Minister not concerned that the PSB digital channels, paid for with public money, are losing out in the battle for channel prominence to the video-on-demand giants?

My Lords, I recognise that most of what we have talked about today is for linear services. Of course, a change is taking place: people now have subscriptions for watching on-demand programmes on their internet browsers. This creates a number of challenges and we have agreed that, if Ofcom makes suggestions that take that into account, we will bring legislation forward when the time arises.

My Lords, I fear I will ask the Minister to repeat, yet again, what he has said. Does he not agree that prominence is not a perk for PSBs but a fair and essential exchange? I do not know how many of you listened this morning to Radio 4’s “Start the Week”—a really quite frightening public service broadcast programme about the tech titans’ struggle for our individual attention. Will the Government commit to supporting the urgently needed updating of prominence rules through legislation?

My Lords, I think I have done that—twice. We are aware that the technology is changing, and noble Lords might be interested to hear an example. More UK households now own a voice-activated smart speaker than own Britain’s third most popular pet: a rabbit.