Media Bill receives Royal Assent

June 6, 2024

The Media Act 2024 received Royal Assent on 24 May.  It was fast-tracked through the UK Parliament as part of the “wash-up” period before parliament was dissolved in anticipation of the General Election in July.  It had been introduced to Parliament on 8 November 2023.

The Act aims to update media regulation for the digital age and makes various key changes to broadcast regulation. It provides for greater regulation on newer services, such as on-demand streaming services.  This aims to change the balance of power between public sector broadcasting and large international streaming services.

Broadcasters will be able to meet their public service remit through a wider range of services including on-demand services. The Act also grants Ofcom the power to designate an internet programme service as a service that could be subject to prominence and availability requirements.

In addition, the Act introduces provisions to improve the sustainability of Channel 4 and allows the Welsh language channel S4C to be broadcast across the UK, not just in Wales.

It also provides that Ofcom can establish a standards code like those in the Broadcasting Code for larger “tier 1” on-demand programme services, which are not currently regulated in the UK.

Following a consultation back in 2027, the Act updates the regulatory framework for commercial radio. In particular, it aims to reduce regulatory burdens on commercial radio stations, allowing them more flexibility to update or adapt their services without needing to ask for consent from Ofcom. It also contains provisions to protect UK radio’s availability on voice-activated smart speakers (known as radio selection services).  These rules provide that stations cannot be charged for the provision of their live service to listeners and that stations are findable in response to a listener request.

Finally, it removes section 40 from the Crime and Courts Act 2013 to remove section 40. Section 40 has never been commenced. In theory it required publishers to pay the costs in certain litigation if they were not a member of the approved regulator, notwithstanding the outcome of the court proceedings.

In February, Ofcom set out its roadmap to implementing the new legislation.