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Brexit: Media Hubs

Volume 792: debated on Monday 9 July 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have considered how broadcasters based in the United Kingdom will be able to maintain their United Kingdom media hubs if Brexit happens; and what discussions they are having about this within the framework of the Brexit negotiations.

My Lords, the United Kingdom is an important broadcasting hub due to its favourable regulatory and economic environment, access to top talent, and cultural factors such as language. Leaving the EU will not change this. As we have said publicly, we seek to strike a bespoke deal with the EU that will allow for continued cross-border broadcasting post EU exit. This would enable international broadcasting businesses to maintain their UK bases. We have been working with the broadcasting sector to understand its needs and concerns and will work hard to negotiate the right future relationship with the EU over the coming months.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. I am a bit reassured by what he said, but the broadcasting sector is affected by the same problems of uncertainty as businesses such as Airbus. We are already seeing a number of channels based in this country actively looking to relocate. Can he be a bit more precise on what the Government are doing about the potentially serious matter of country of origin, to which he referred? If the UK loses that, we lose our leadership position as a world-class, international broadcaster. We will also lose a large number of jobs.

I do not necessarily agree with those two assertions. As I said, we have cultural and economic reasons for remaining an audio-visual world hub. We hope to have a mutually agreeable deal with the EU, but we understand that the country of origin principle itself will not apply—there will have to be a negotiated deal. If that does not apply, we are making contingency plans to help not just the broadcasting sector but the wider production sector linked to it.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that EU funds and EU co-productions have been a great bonus to the UK film industry—though sadly most of the results seem to have been Ken Loach films? Will he ensure that, were we to leave the European Union itself, we will continue to benefit from co-production funds?

We have already said that, subject to negotiation, we would like to remain part of Creative Europe and that any deal done with it will be guaranteed until the end of the multi-annual financial framework. We agree that the new Creative Europe is useful for the UK, not so much in terms of money, but in terms of partnership and the way we can co-operate with creative producers in Europe.

My Lords, we are talking about an industry which represents 5% of our GDP and has huge potential to grow and be at the forefront of our economic recovery. It seems strange that the Government are taking a laissez-faire approach to this, if I read the Minister correctly. Country of origin means that any broadcaster licensed in this country can operate without further regulation across the whole of Europe. Will he specifically reassure the House that that issue alone will be at the top of the agenda when it comes to negotiating the special deal that he talked about?

It will not be country of origin in the way we have it now, because we will not be part of the audio-visual and media services directive. However, we would certainly like to retain the principle that we can broadcast to the EU. There are reasons why that is of mutual benefit. We have the best and most well-resourced regulator in the whole of Europe; we lead broadcasting regulation. On average, 45% of channels in EU countries come from abroad. It is therefore essential for them to have a regulator they can have confidence in.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there are few things like broadcasts to bring a nation together? Twenty million of us gathered round the television on Saturday to watch England. Will he encourage everybody to get round the set on Wednesday night to support our English lions? We should declare “Waistcoat Wednesday” to support England against Croatia.

I am very pleased to move seamlessly from the digital part of my brief to sport, and of course I agree with everything my noble friend said.

My Lords, the Minister has put a brave face on it but is it not a fact that, once the Prime Minister had ruled out membership of the digital single market in her Mansion House speech, the chances of reaching an agreement on country of origin principle with a single UK regulator were nil? Does that not mean that it is a question of when—not if—these broadcasters will move their licences, particularly as the Government can give absolutely no certainty, which is what they need?

It is a good thing that the noble Lord is not in charge of our negotiations if he goes in with that attitude. As I tried to point out, there are good reasons for us to continue with a bespoke deal that is to our mutual advantage. I pointed out the fact that our regulation is widely supported around the EU. He asked for certainty; of course there is not 100% certainty, but you never go into a negotiation with that. As we have said, we are preparing a contingency position, just in case the country of origin principle or equivalent is not negotiated.

Does the Minister agree that an effective relationship with the EU in the broadcasting context, as in so many other contexts, will in practice depend on this country accepting the judgments of the European Court of Justice?

I am not sure I accept that. The principle we have in broadcasting is that there is a licensing arrangement: if we are licensed in this country, other countries are prepared to accept that. We delegate that to an independent organisation, Ofcom. I hate to disagree on matters of law with the noble Lord, but I am not sure that that applies. However, of course I will look at what he said, because he knows more about the law than I do.