General election 2024: Media industry calls for urgent bill passage and party manifestos

General election 2024: Media industry calls for urgent bill passage and party manifestos

Editor’s note: The Media Bill passed on Friday morning and the article has been updated to reflect this development.

With prime minister Rishi Sunak calling for a general election on 4 July, leaders have urged the outgoing parliament to move swiftly on bills related to the media industry.

“The general election has come a bit earlier than most people were expecting, so I suspect many media organisations are now rapidly bringing forward their election plans,” Matt Payton, CEO of commercial radio industry body Radiocentre, told The Media Leader.

A number of media-related bills have been advancing over the course of several years under the current government, including regarding the sustainability of public broadcasting, fair competition in digital markets and data privacy. The sudden call for an election has resulted in a renewed sense of urgency to pass them.

“I don’t think anyone was predicting July,” one trade body representative told The Media Leader.

Now in the “wash-up” period, lobbyists and industry figures are jockeying to ensure key legislation will be prioritised before parliament is dissolved on 30 May.

This is especially true as, with Labour’s consistent polling lead, a new party may well be in charge come July, with potentially different priorities.

Media Bill passes

The Media Bill includes key measures to support “due prominence” of UK public-service broadcasters (PSBs) in the streaming era, as well as UK radio on voice-activated devices. It was passed on Friday morning.

Payton called the approval of the bill a “seminal moment”, adding: “Radio’s unique value will now be recognised formally in law, with powers to ensure it remains freely available and accessible on voice activated platforms like smart speakers. In addition, outdated commercial radio regulation will be removed, while local news provision will be secured for the future.”

Before its passing, CEOs from the across the UK broadcasting industry released a joint statement on Thursday urging parliament to approve the bill. Signatories include BBC director-general Tim Davie, ITV CEO Dame Carolyn McCall, Sky CEO Dana Strong, Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon, Channel 5 president Sarah Rose, outgoing STV CEO Simon Pitts, S4C interim CEO Sioned Wiliam, MG Alba CEO Domhnall Campbell and ITN CEO Rachel Corp.

The statement reads: “As leading CEOs from the UK broadcasting industry, we call on politicians across parliament not to let the opportunity to modernise the rules that govern our sector pass. The Media Bill as currently drafted is widely supported across industry and parliament itself, and has undergone parliamentary scrutiny in the select committee and both Houses of Parliament, having completed second reading and committee stage in both houses.

“The reforms proposed in the bill will update key aspects of media legislation for the online TV era to ensure audiences continue to benefit from the highest-quality UK-originated content from the PSBs and help the UK’s content sector thrive for years to come.”

Earlier this week, multiple individuals working close to the Media Bill had told The Media Leader that they anticipated the bill to pass by the end of the week.

DCMS Media Bill aims to ‘level playing field with streaming giants’

Addressing the digital economy

Another major bill that has passed during the wash-up period is the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill (DMCC), which is now awaiting royal assent, like the Media Bill.

News Media Association (NMA) CEO Owen Meredith said the DMCC’s passage “marks a very important milestone in addressing market failure in the digital economy and ultimately delivering a level playing field between publishers and platforms”.

The bill grants the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) the ability to directly enforce consumer protection laws and fine companies up to 10% of their global turnover for breaches. It would also allow the CMA’s Digital Markets Unit to compel Big Tech to pay for news content that appears on their platforms.

“The CMA must prioritise designation of firms and services where harms have the greatest societal impact, and the new regime must empower news publishers to reap fair reward for their investment in news — helping to secure a sustainable future for trusted independent UK journalism for many years to come,” Meredith continued.

DCMS Media Bill aims to ‘level playing field with streaming giants’

Lingering concerns over DPDI

A number of other bills related to the industry are still awaiting passage.

There is somewhat less clarity on whether the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill (DPDI) will proceed. The Media Leader understands that, based on conversations with stakeholders, both Conservative and Labour are broadly supportive of the bill, but Labour has lingering (albeit “not overly contentious”) concerns that could hold up its passage.

Data & Marketing Association (DMA) CEO Chris Combemale urged the government to make passing the DPDI “its number one priority” before parliament is dissolved.

“After three years of consultation, many aspects of the bill have support across the political spectrum,” he said, adding that the DMA calls on the government “to make the necessary compromises on controversial issues to ensure the bill passes before the election”.

HFSS clarity needed

One piece of legislation that The Media Leader understands is of particular importance to Isba is the secondary legislation to the Health and Care Act involving advertising for foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS).

“For months, we have been urging the current government to pass the secondary legislation required to finish the introduction of new food and drink advertising regulations,” Stuart Macnaughtan, ISBA’s head of public affairs, told The Media Leader. “Advertisers are desperate for clarity and certainty on what products, categories and media are in or out of scope of the new regulations.

“Business wants to play its part in tackling obesity and health problems facing the UK. However, these new rules will come into force in October 2025 and many brands are already having to plan ad campaigns for 2025 without the finalised rules and guidance that the government said it would provide.

“If the secondary legislation is not passed in the wash-up of this parliament, then we hope it will be at the top of the in-tray of the next government. These regulations need to be finalised as soon as possible to give industry the certainty it needs to plan and invest for the future.”

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A potential Labour government

The sense of urgency is caused in part by a lack of clarity over what the incoming government would immediately prioritise.

For example, it is possible that a Labour government would not prioritise media-related bills in the immediate period if it won the election, as the party may look to focus on other issues facing the country. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer last week laid out six key policies that it would prioritise in the event of a victory, covering the NHS, teaching, border security, policing, clean energy and “economic stability”.

Still, Labour has signalled a degree of friendliness to the media and advertising industry and an interest in engaging with issues around AI and data privacy. For example, shadow creative industries minister Chris Bryant expressed the importance of this sector at February’s LEAD conference and highlighted the need to “take artificial intelligence seriously”.

“We need to ensure artists and authors are able to exercise their economic and moral rights over their work before they’re scraped [by AI crawlers],” he said.

OOH will be a key battleground in this general election

One industry trade body representative said Bryant has been “keen and proactive” in engaging with the business community in collaboration with Labour’s broader policy priorities.

Meanwhile, Lisa Hayley-Jones, director of policy and government affairs at the Advertising Association, said the organisation “look[s] forward to the publication of the party manifestos”.

She added: “We need the next government to prioritise policies which improve creative education and skills, investment in the creative industries across the nations and regions, and long-term economic security and growth. We also need regulatory certainty and continued support for the ASA [Advertising Standards Authority] and the broader self-regulatory system.

“Whatever the outcome of the general election, we will continue our close engagement with the new government and parliament, highlighting the strength and importance of our industry in driving responsible growth for the UK.”

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