124.In its recent consultation, Ofcom recommended that a new regulatory framework was needed “to support an effective transition to public service media (PSM)”. There is no doubt that public service broadcasters (PSBs) today do a lot more than broadcasting, and it is right that the regulator should recognise this and seek to adapt. Just as their competitors have proliferated, so too has the range of content PSBs produce. They continue to offer conventional linear broadcasting services, but PSBs also publish blogs and news articles, produce podcasts, make their content available on their video on demand players, and post content on a plethora of social media platforms.
125.In the past, if PSBs wanted to identify their competitors, they could simply look at the other names on the electronic programme guide. Today they find themselves in competition with other publishers, from newspapers now distributing video content to streaming services with programming budgets PSBs could only dream of. Alongside them are online platforms which may or may not produce content but do control the means of distribution which PSBs must access in order to reach key sections of their audiences.
126.We applaud Ofcom for seeking to get to grips with this ever more complex landscape. Its intention is the right one—to ensure that the societal benefits we rely on PSBs for endure, even as the nature of the arena in which they are operating evolves. At the beginning of this Report, we outlined the core principles of public service broadcasting: universality, trusted news, and freedom from political inference. These principles are every bit as important as when the Communications Act 2003 was passed but the effective regulation of public service media will require a scope for action beyond Ofcom’s current remit, taking in the wider landscape of streaming and online platforms. It is therefore vital that the Government itself considers how public service media can be allowed to thrive and acts accordingly, acknowledging the continuing importance of PSB institutions whose overriding mission is to provide public service media content.
127.The Digital Markets Unit is well placed to address these issues and should be instructed to do so, but ongoing uncertainty of what the future may or may not hold for PSBs is damaging. We hope that the Government will recognise that speedy decisions on some longstanding issues are needed: the implementation of Ofcom’s recommendations to secure prominence for PSBs in a digital age is long overdue, and continuing uncertainty regarding the Government’s intentions around decriminalisation of TV licence fee evasion is also a distraction. Dealing with such questions, as well as issues we have highlighted such as diversity and representation within broadcasting, would be a step in the right direction, and would allow Ministers and PSBs alike to concentrate on the more profound challenges that confront them if the public service benefits we all value are to be secured for future generations.
276 Ofcom, (8 December 2020), p 4