Can’t Beat Em, Regulate Em: Ofcom Set to Police Netflix to Protect the BBC

In this photo illustration a computer screen and mobile phone display the Netflix logo on March 31, 2020 in Arlington, Virginia. - According to Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, Netflix viewership is on the rise during the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP …
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Streaming services such as Netflix will be policed by Britain’s broadcasting regulator in a bid to level the playing field for legacy media giants such as the BBC, the Conservative government’s culture secretary has announced.

In a boon to the mainstream television media, the British government will look to clamp down on their main competitors including Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus by imposing the same censorship standards imposed on broadcasters by the government-backed Office of Communications (Ofcom).

“We need to level the playing field, and address one blatant disparity forcing traditional broadcasters to compete with one hand tied behind their backs. Every linear broadcaster — BBC, Sky, etc — has to comply with stringent content and audience protection standards,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden wrote in The Times.

“You might assume the same is true of video-on-demand services such as Amazon Prime and Disney+. You’d be wrong. Of course, some have done an admirable job of introducing their own procedures, such as Netflix’s voluntary age ratings partnership with the BBFC. But this is ad-hoc and inconsistent,” he added.

The imposition of Ofcom standards on streaming services would result in programmes featuring supposedly harmful or offensive content possibly being banned in Britain.

The regulations would also impose age rating systems as well as prohibiting the use of “surreptitious” product placement in tv shows.

An Ofcom complaint system would also be put into place, giving the regulatory body the power to judge if programmes have breached impartiality or inaccuracy rules.

The government is also planning to require smart TVs and other digital platforms to give preferential prominence to so-called public service broadcasters such as the BBC, ITV, and Channel 4.

The BBC has been struggling to keep pace with the likes of Netflix, with younger audiences moving to non-traditional platforms to get their content. At the same time, the BBC’s leftwards lurch in pushing a London-centric woke agenda has alienated its older viewership.

In a notable woke example, Countryfile presenter Ellie Harrison claimed that “the countryside is racist”, after the broadcaster’s social media pushed the idea that ethnic minorities believe the British countryside is an exclusively “white environment”.

A poll conducted in March for the Defund the BBC campaign by Savanta ComRes found that a majority of the British public (51 per cent) believed that the BBC is not good value for money, with a third saying that it is “very bad value”.

The broadcaster, which is funded through a mandatory tax on those watching live television, was also criticised for being too woke, with 34 per cent saying that the BBC focuses too heavily on ‘social justice’ left-wing issues.

In 2019, a poll from Norstat found that nearly two-thirds of the British public thought that the BBC was biased. Another poll from YouGov found that just 44 per cent of Britons had faith in journalists at the BBC to be truthful in their reporting, as opposed to 48 per cent who doubt the truthfulness of the broadcaster.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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