Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, I was happy to add my name to this, because it underlines the benefit of Channel 4. I am always a little worried that, if you leave gaps in behaviour, the bean-counters will take opportunities and the good intentions will take a back seat—so I am not afraid of asking for specifics.

It is important to remember—I hope that Channel 4 remembers this—that, when it was under threat not so very long ago, it was many of the people who have spoken today and previously during the passage of this Bill who were strongest in the belief that Channel 4 brings something special to our broadcasting. For me, one of its most special contributions has been seeking out creatives in the regions and giving them the opportunity to succeed. This amendment underpins that good record of Channel 4 so far and helps to see it into the future.

Baroness Benjamin Portrait Baroness Benjamin (LD)
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My Lords, I rise to speak on Amendment 8 in my name with a heavy heart, in the hope that someone out there is listening. I declare an interest as per the register.

The review amendment that I propose is intended not simply as an exercise in public service media management but as a vital contribution to the future well-being of children and young people in this country—that is, to their sense of worth, their understanding, their place in our society, their appreciation of the many and varied cultures of our society, and, in the final analysis, the future of public service media as a whole.

If millions of children and young people are no longer watching the television that is made for them on PSB channels—it is crafted, curated and considered age-appropriate and relevant to their lives as British kids—how can we hope that they will suddenly, on becoming adults, turn to the BBC for their news or even to other public service providers for information, entertainment or programmes for their children? They will not; they will have lost the habit of believing that powerful content that offers meaning to their lives as British people is provided for them by public service media.

I say this because research by the Children’s Media Foundation has found it to be the case. As Ofcom’s statistics prove, children have migrated away from watching linear television. Many are also unaware of the online platforms provided by the PSB broadcasters that this Bill seeks to bring into public service measurement and regulation.

Your Lordships may feel that young children—their grandchildren, perhaps—are still watching dedicated PSB channels, such as like CBeebies and Milkshake!. However, that is not the case for children over the age of seven. Many parents will tell you that their children are now in their bedrooms using mobile devices, phones and tablets to access their media choices, which opens them up to a world of content offered by YouTube and other providers. On demand and immediate, much of it is loud, frantic and attractive but little of it is made with the care that has been the hallmark of public service television for children since the 1950s.

I spoke to a head teacher just yesterday, who told me that many of the children in her school are speaking with American accents because they are influenced by what they watch on online platforms, which is not age appropriate. Despite the Online Safety Act addressing some of the most outrageous harms in these online spaces, nothing is being done to regulate the spaces for good content, which parents need to feel they can trust. Parents are looking to the Government to reassure them that this is happening. That is what public service media is about: it is there to regulate the broadcasters, to ensure that those who have captured the eyes and minds of British children, while being allowed to make a reasonable return on their investment, will always also give back something of meaning and purpose. That has worked since the 1950s, when commercial television started. It was made to work again when cable and satellite channels increased, and it can be made to work again in a new public service environment, which will definitely include shared video services such as YouTube, TikTok and others that may follow.

My amendment seeks to start a process where we can investigate the real future of public service broadcasting in this country, beyond the confines of the current Bill, through a review. It sets down a marker, like those in so many other countries around the world, that says: we are not prepared to carry on burying our heads in the sand; we will investigate the ways in which these devices can be regulated to offer prominence to public service content; and we will explore the feasibility of levies or incentives, to ensure that they share their advertising revenue with producers of content that is relevant, appropriate and local to the UK, and has the power—which all public service content has—to connect people with the world, rather than disconnect them from it.

All my amendment asks for is that we explore possible futures and are open to change. Change has already arrived for our children and young people, who, in ever greater numbers, are watching and being influenced by inappropriate and harmful videos, rather than material that speaks to their lives in positive ways. It is time for the Government and the entire country to wake up to the fact that the algorithms that push that content on our children are not regulated. They work entirely to increase revenue and profit, most of which is not distributed back to the children’s content producers. They do not take into account age relevance or the social value of what they push—and until we at least begin to discuss the potential for regulation, they will not do so. I simply ask the Minister: is that what we want our children to grow up with?

Supporting this amendment is the start of a new way of thinking about how we care for our children in an increasingly complex media landscape—one that, none the less, can be shaped to offer benefits, hope, joy and inclusion, if we are prepared to consider how that could be achieved. We have lost a generation of children and young people, who are not experiencing the high-quality, uplifting and fulfilling content of past generations. They are now meandering online on paths not beneficial to their mental and social well-being. Once again, I feel that it is my duty to plead with the Government, with tears in my eyes, to put children’s current viewing habits at the forefront of their decision-making process at this late stage, as it is already affecting and will continue to affect their future. As I always say, childhood lasts a lifetime. I hope that the Minister will commit to this review, and I look forward to his response.

Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 9 in my name. I apologise to the House and to the Minister for having been alerted to this issue only after Committee. I am grateful for briefings from That’s TV and the Local TV Network.

The Conservative Government introduced local TV in 2012. This allowed locally targeted TV services to be introduced using frequencies freed up by the digital switchover process—the switch-off of analogue TV. There are now 34 local TV services in the UK licensed by Ofcom to broadcast on Freeview. Over three-quarters of these services are for smaller towns or cities of under 500,000 homes. Many of these areas receive little or no regular news about their location from any other television service.

The Bill is intended to secure the future of public service broadcasters by giving them guaranteed access to smart TV sets for their digital players, with the terms of carriage and prominence regulated by Ofcom. Similarly, the Bill grants all Ofcom-licensed radio services guaranteed access to smart speakers such as Alexa. Local TV services are designated as public service channels under the Communications Act 2003. However, local TV services are not included in the definition that the Bill uses for public service channels, which means that Ofcom will have no power to secure carriage and prominence for local TV digital services on smart TV sets.

As Freeview viewing diminishes, this omission represents an existential threat to the future of local TV and risks denying viewers access to news about their own area on TV. The Irish language service TG4 currently has reserved carriage on Freeview in Northern Ireland, to secure the availability of its service across the island of Ireland, in accordance with the Good Friday agreement. However, as drafted, the Bill also fails to protect TG4’s access to internet TV platforms in Northern Ireland, or that of any other potential future PSB duly designated by Parliament under the SI process required by the Communications Act.

A cross-party group of MPs in the other place responded directly to the 2023 DCMS consultation on local TV, supporting the renewal of local TV Freeview licences and calling for local TV to be brought within the provisions of the Bill. Subsequently, on Report in the other place, Sir John Whittingdale tabled his own Amendment 78 to capture local TV. This was not adopted by the Government. However, the Commons Minister implied at that time that she would consider any amendment proposed in the Lords further.

The local TV sector is not asking for guaranteed carriage on smart TV sets today, but the sector is seeking support for a permissive amendment that will allow Ofcom, at its discretion, to secure this carriage for any public service channel defined consistently with the Communications Act 2003. Without an amendment, Ofcom will have no power to require any broadband TV platform to carry local TV services and any potential future public service channels on appropriate terms or with appropriate prominence. Powerful global TV manufacturers will be at liberty to refuse to carry the digital players of these services or to seek to demand premium rents.

This amendment is modest. It simply provides a framework that will allow the 2003 protection to continue into the future. It does not open the floodgates for unreliable news services but it allows Ofcom to make a determination as to whether a service is both willing and able to offer an internet programme service. If it does so determine, the service can be designated and obtain the protections afforded to other providers of public service content under the Bill. It also future-proofs the Bill for other potential public service providers.

With this amendment and cross-party support from the other place, I hope the Minister will take this as a signal of parliamentary interest and will explore options. If that does not happen, local TV news services may not be around for the next media Bill.