Draft Media Bill has “sinister” omissions, says Rupa Huq

Image above: Rupa Huq MP

Rupa Huq MP scrutinises the Draft Media Bill in Parliament

Dr Rupa Huq, Member of Parliament for Ealing Central and Acton, has expressed her concerns about the draft Media Bill and its potential impact on public service broadcasting.

Addressing the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in Parliament on Monday (3 July), which included representatives from Sky UK and Netflix, Dr Huq highlighted her worries about the lack of emphasis on cultural diversity, experimentation, and innovation in the draft bill.

She pointed out that Clause One, which defines the remit of public service broadcasting, omitted crucial elements outlined in the Communications Act 2003, such as the reflection of cultural activity through drama, comedy, and music.

This deletion raised concerns among those who believe that the bill might jeopardise cultural activities, as well as merge on-demand services with public services.

She highlighted the “dangerous” watering down of public service broadcasting and questioned the vanishing regional diversity within the proposed legislation.

Above: Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee footage; via Rupa Huq MP on Twitter

Dr Huq fears public service and on-demand service broadcasting merging

Questioning a representative from Sky UK, Dr Huq said:

“I know that some of the people that have approached me over this Draft Bill are worried that cultural diversity, experimentation, innovation could potentially suffer by bits that aren’t mentioned in here.

“…Clause One sort of defines the remit of public service broadcasting and it takes the old section 264 in the communications act 2003 that went on about how cultural activity in the United Kingdom should be reflected with drama, comedy and music and all this stuff has been deleted in the current, new clause one of this draft bill

“I know you’re not exactly public service broadcasters, but Sky News has some aspects of that because it is sort of free for everyone and you have shown some sport events for free. I just wondered if you had any comment, because some people think this is quite sinister that all these cultural activities have been deleted… Does it mean that on demand services and public services are merging into the same thing?”

Responding to Dr Huq’s queries, the representative acknowledged that although Sky News is not a public service broadcaster, it provides aspects of public service broadcasting by being accessible to everyone and offering free sports events.

The representative emphasised Sky’s commitment to delivering “challenging and culturally reflective” programming through initiatives like Sky Arts, which has reached around five million people since becoming free-to-air in 2020. Additionally, the representative highlighted the significant investment made by Sky in original UK productions, amounting to nearly £500 million last year, which he said demonstrated the broadcaster’s dedication to meeting audience’s cultural expectations.

Above: Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee footage; via Rupa Huq MP on Twitter

Fears for local news

Dr Huq further raised concerns about the absence of national, regional, and local news coverage in the draft bill, prompting her to inquire whether Sky News would continue to provide such content.

In response, the Sky News representative noted that Sky News operates independently and cannot speak directly for the channel. The representative did mention that both BBC News and ITV News currently provide local services on a subsidised basis, which poses challenges for other players in the market. The representative also assured that Sky News has commitments, arising from the Comcast purchase in 2018, to maintain the current level of service with increasing budgets until 2028.

Seeking clarity, Dr Huq questioned whether documentaries, such as those aired on Sky Arts, would continue to be produced. The Sky News representative confirmed that Sky Arts had been a significant investment due to the identified gap in the market. The 24/7 arts channel, offered free-to-air, is considered a unique offering and aligns with both commercial viability and the broadcaster’s commitment to fulfilling societal needs.

Monday was the Committee’s fourth and final session on the Bill. The Evidence Session on will take place Tuesday (4 July).

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