UK government to regulate streaming services and privatize Channel 4

A new White Paper policy document put out by the United Kingdom’s Conservative government revealed plans to regulate streaming services such as Netflix, Disney Plus, and Amazon Prime Video, as well as privatize the public service broadcaster Channel 4.

The policy will allow Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, to create and enforce additional guidelines for streaming services, with the main stated goal being to protect audiences from “harmful material,” including misinformation and pseudoscience. It’s unclear if such examples are the extent of what the UK government considers harmful or offensive.

The proposal also purports to allow public service broadcasters, such as Channel 4, greater freedom to succeed in filling their service quotas by updating regulations that have not been changed since 2003. Such freedoms include granting public service broadcasters the ability to create and sell its own, original content while still being required to commission a portion of content from independent content producers, and allowing them to publish their content on a wider variety of available channels, thereby reaching more viewers.

Furthermore, the policy will require public service broadcasters to prioritize content that reflects British culture – with Doctor Who and Downton Abbey as suggested examples of this. The goal, it seems, is to make British programming particularly distinguishable from non-British programming, to both increase its relevancy for British viewers and create a larger presence for British programming in a world of global, on-demand broadcasting. Although this has been criticized, with some suggesting this may cause a step backwards for diverse television in the UK.

The privatization of public service broadcasters has been met with apprehension and criticism, with the threat of financially influenced coverage from the broadcasters among the chief concerns, as well as the suppression of free speech.

Conservative MP Damian Green is particularly critical of the move, saying

The sale of Channel 4 is politicians and civil servants thinking they know more about how to run a business than the people who run it. Very unconservative.

Additionally, streaming services that violate these policies could pay a fine of up to £250,000, or a fine equal to 5% of their revenue, depending on which penalty would be harsher.