Netflix and other streaming giants to face Ofcom regulation in UK

Services like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime could face tighter regulation in the UK under new government proposals, according to a report by the BBC

The streaming giants have long experienced the freedom of not having to comply with Ofcoms broadcasting code, unlike broadcasters such as ITV and the BBC. The code covers issues such as harm, offence, accuracy, and impartiality. If the rules of the code are broken, Ofcom can issue fines and suspend licenses.

Currently the only streaming platform that must also adhere to the code is the BBC iPlayer, while the likes of Netflix and Amazon do not fall under its remit, because their headquarters are not located in the United Kingdom.

However, in an announcement on Wednesday the government said there was currently an “inconsistent, ad-hoc and potentially harmful gap in regulation”.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the proposed regulation would prevent traditional broadcasters like the BBC from having to “compete with one hand behind their backs”.

In a quote carried by both The Telegraph and The Times, Mr Dowden said UK broadcasters were “holding their own” but added: “Our broadcasters cant do it alone and they certainly cant compete in a digital world while operating under analogue rules.

“This summer we will consult on whether its time to set the same basic rules for video-on-demand services as we do for traditional broadcasters.” He added that the government hoped to “level the playing field”.

Dowden has previously criticised Netflix over its drama series The Crown, saying that it should carry a fiction warning.

Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime have not commented on the government review, but a Netflix source said the company supported the intentions behind it.

Ministers have also confirmed a consultation into whether to privatise Channel 4, which is currently publicly owned. 

Culture minister John Whittingdale, who previously rejected privatisation in 1996, told BBC Radio 4s Today programme the government “want to make sure Channel 4 had a long-term successful future”.

However, Channel 4 executives warned that privatisation could make it less likely to make shows that are not commercially appealing, whereas the current priority for its programmes is “not about the bottom line”.

Changes to streaming regulation and Channel 4s ownership could both be included in a new media law that is expected to be unveiled in a white paper this autumn.