“Freedom Of Expression” Will Be Priority For UK Streaming Regulation, Says Ofcom Boss

“Freedom of expression” will be front and center of Ofcom’s thinking when the UK regulator draws up the new code governing the streamers, according to chief Melanie Dawes.

The Ofcom boss used her appearance at yesterday’s Deloitte & Enders Media and Telecoms 2023 & Beyond Conference to allay fears that the new code, which is part of the landmark Media Bill currently making its way through parliament, will be overly stringent on the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.

One of the Media Bill’s catchier elements has been bringing the streamers in line with broadcasters in areas such as harmful content and impartiality, but Dawes stressed that the code for the streamers will be different to the one that has ruled over the linear broadcasters for decades.

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“[The government] will give us a requirement to produce a code for Video on Demand and I think it will differ from the one that we use at the moment, the Broadcasting Code,” she said. “We will have to work that through.”

For example, given that they don’t have linear channels, the streamers won’t require a 9 p.m. watershed ruling, Dawes explained.

With regards the new code, she said “we will do what we have always done, which is absolutely to place freedom of expression at the heart of what we do.”

Dawes was speaking a few weeks after Netflix UK policy boss Benjamin King said the move to regulate the streamers could “prove unworkable or risk a chilling effect.” He cited the impact a new code may have on Netflix’s appetite to make UK documentaries, which would be concerned they would break impartiality rules per the new code.

In a Deadline op-ed when the Bill was confirmed, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said the code would bring the streamers “in line with traditional broadcasters” but Ofcom confirmed that the Bill had always stipulated the new code would be “similar” to the current one, “ensuring TV-like content, no matter how audiences choose to watch it, will be subject to similar standards.”

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