I understand that there are concerns regarding reports about the future of Channel 4. While I completely agree that access to a wide variety of channels for news and entertainment is an important feature of our broadcasting landscape, I also recognise that in recent years that landscape has completely changed.
As you might be aware, Channel 4 is entirely commercially funded, but it has been publicly owned since it began broadcasting in 1982. The main reason it was set up as a publicly owned, commercially run station was to provide greater choice. Four decades later, however, the broadcasting landscape is unrecognisable, which is why I believe it is crucial that a future ownership model (whereby Channel 4 keeps its public service remit) is considered to ensure more content, more jobs, and a more sustainable future for the broadcaster.
I warmly welcome that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has now launched a public consultation on the future ownership of Channel 4 as part of the Government’s review of public service broadcasting. The consultation will consider both the ownership and remit of Channel 4, ensuring its future success and sustainability. For further information on the consultation, which will close on 14 September 2021, and guidance on how to respond, please search:
I have also been assured that the review will come ahead of the broadcasting white paper, due to be published in the autumn. The white paper will consider the future of the country’s broadcasting landscape with the aim of making sure it serves listeners and viewers on all platforms and across the entire UK.
The Football Index
I share my constituent’s concern regarding this incident, and I would like to offer my deepest sympathies for those who have been affected. I have been informed that the Gambling Commission has suspended the operator’s licence while it carries out an investigation and has made clear it expects the operator to focus on treating customers fairly.
It is my understanding that when the Gambling Commission licenses an operator, they consider suitability, including their financial circumstances, and they do not oversee their businesses on a day-to-day basis or monitor the financial health of operators directly in real time. I do, however, recognise the distress caused by the financial affairs of Football Index, and I am pleased that the Minister for Media and Data, John Whittingdale, and the Secretary of State, Oliver Dowden, have met with the Gambling Commission on multiple occasions to receive urgent reports. I will be closely following this matter and it is my hope that an appropriate resolution can be found.
Alongside the review being carried out by the Gambling Commission, I warmly welcome the fact that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has announced that an independent expert will conduct a review of the regulation of the Football Index gambling product, up to the point where its operator's licence was suspended in March, and to make recommendations to Government and the regulators. This independent review is separate to the investigation being carried out by the Gambling Commission and will be carried out and report in a way which will not compromise it. The findings will also form part of the evidence informing the Government's Review of the Gambling Act 2005.
In December 2020, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced a major and wide-ranging review of gambling laws to ensure they are fit for purpose. This review will look in detail at how gambling has changed in the last 15 years, examining gambling advertising as well as the Gambling Commission’s role and powers. The findings will then be used to inform any changes to the Gambling Act 2005 to ensure customer protection is at the heart of the regulations, while giving those that gamble safely the freedom to do so.
Regulation of the Press
The majority of national newspapers are members of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), the independent regulator for most of the newspaper and magazine industry in the UK. IPSO has made continued improvements over the years by incorporating steps recommended by the Leveson Inquiry. This was confirmed in Sir Joseph Pilling’s 2016 review, which found IPSO had made important achievements in demonstrating it was an independent and effective regulator.
In the years since the Leveson Inquiry, many publishers have introduced comprehensive guidance on topics including accuracy and harassment. Where participating publishers fall short of their legal standards, IPSO offers support to victims of libel, slander or malicious falsehood in the form of low-cost arbitration, which offers quick access to fair and independent redress. IPSO can also take action against publishers that do not comply with the Editors’ Code of Practice, as it has done on many occasions.
In 2018 the Government announced that it would not bring forward Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry. I have been assured that the original inquiry and subsequent police investigations were comprehensive, with more than 300 people coming forward to give evidence resulting in the conviction of over 40 people during three major investigations. In addition, the media landscape has changed significantly since Part 1 of the inquiry. Reopening the inquiry would be terribly costly, and I firmly believe that it is no longer appropriate, proportionate, or in the public interest to do so. There have been extensive reforms to police practices, as well as significant changes to press self-regulation.
Privacy and the Press
I believe that a vibrant, open and free press which holds the powerful to account is vital to our democracy. Balanced against this, it is not unreasonable to expect the press to act with understanding in relation to sensitive personal stories. Press freedom comes with a responsibility to ensure it is not abused.
Following the publication of the Leveson Inquiry in 2012, we have seen great improvements in press regulation with the formation of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) and Impress, which have the power to hold publications to account, including ordering prominent corrections. Both regulators are independent of the Government and enforce Codes of Practice, which include provisions on privacy and intrusion. They both operate free complaints handling systems and low-cost arbitration schemes.
Around 95% of national newspapers are now overseen by IPSO, and members are required to follow the Editors’ Code, which requires journalists to respect people’s right to privacy, stop approaches when asked to do so and to ensure reports are accurate.
I know that some people feel that the Government should intervene to limit the press in the interests of personal privacy, but I am satisfied that there has been such sufficient progress made since 2012 that this is not necessary. I am assured that in cases relating to privacy, the individuals affected can complain to IPSO, who will investigate vigorously and sanction the publication in question if appropriate.
These are unprecedented times, and as such I believe that the Government has taken the necessary actions to reduce the spread of Covid-19. While I recognise that this has had a major impact on those who rely on local cinema, I am delighted that the Chancellor has introduced a major package of support for businesses and individuals, including artists and other self-employed people.
I warmly welcome the rescue package that has been announced to help Britain’s globally renowned arts, culture and heritage industries weather the impact of Covid-19. Originally worth £1.57billion, the Chancellor has recently announced that the fund will receive an additional £300million. Thousands of organisations across a range of sectors including independent cinema will be able to access emergency grants and loans. The money, which represents the biggest ever one-off investment in UK culture, will provide a lifeline to vital cultural and heritage organisations across the country hit hard by the pandemic and will also benefit those who work in the sector.
The establishment of Cultural Renewal Taskforce, which is made up of experts from the creative, tech and sporting worlds, is also welcome for local cinemas. The Taskforce is led by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and is working on how to help the cultural and leisure sectors of our economy bounce back.
Lockdown Restrictions for Golf in England
This period is incredibly challenging for us all, and I thank everyone for their efforts in complying with the restrictions imposed over the last few months. While it is regrettable that further measures need to come into force, the simple reason for this is that a rapid rise in infections, hospital admissions and case rates across the country means our hospitals are now under more pressure than at any other point throughout the pandemic.
The reason behind the restrictions surrounding golf in England are based around unavoidable interactions in public spaces such as the clubhouse and carpark. The Prime Minister has said that, ‘as was the case last spring, our emergence from the lockdown cocoon will be not a big bang but a gradual unwrapping’. As golf is a primarily an outdoors and naturally socially distanced activity, I would anticipate it to be in one of the first categories to have restrictions eased.
Support the BBC
The BBC is operationally, editorially and managerially independent of Government. Quite rightly, there is no provision for the Government to intervene in the corporation's day-to-day operations. I do support and cherish the BBC, it is unique in the way it operates and is funded and provides tax payers and the world with some truly outstanding content.
The BBC Charter, which came into force in January 2017, created a new unitary board for the BBC which is collectively responsible for ensuring that the BBC acts in the public interest and meets its wider Charter obligations. It therefore has overall responsibility for governance of the BBC. Along with other duties, it measures the BBC’s performance, including in relation to programmes, services and standards. It is also required to investigate issues relating to excessive management layers and overall staffing levels, which could deliver significant further efficiency savings.
In an age of fake news and self-reinforcing algorithms, the need for genuine impartiality is greater than ever. I therefore welcome the fact that the Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, has set out ensuring impartiality as one of the key tests for the BBC as part of the remit of the recently announced Public Service Broadcasting Advisory Panel. The need for impartiality also extends to BBC reporters’ statements on social media, and I am pleased that the BBC has launched a review into how the corporation can maintain impartiality on these platforms.
Thank you for contacting me about your broadband.
Upon election I made it one of my main priorities to address broadband issues in North Devon.
We have had some good news recently from both Openreach and Airband where they are now starting to install Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) to some areas. While I welcome this, I recognise that this only addresses a small number of constituents and it is only a start.
I welcome the commitments that this Government has made but it is action we want to see, and I want to assure you that there is still a lot more to do and I intend to continue the fight.
In the meantime, there are several things that you can do to help improve your current connection.
You could request an upgrade through your current broadband provider or look to a non-traditional supplier such as a satellite broadband provider https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/broadband-deals/article/what-is-broadband/what-is-satellite-broadband or you could look to a 4G or a wireless provider such as Airband who have a contract with Connecting Devon and Somerset across North Devon. Last year Airband identified over 3,000 properties across North Devon that they had already upgraded that could access a wireless system that had not yet done so. You can check on your availability here https://www.connectingdevonandsomerset.co.uk/
You may have a reasonable service but still have problems. If there is significant loss of signal within your home, this could be addressed through the purchase of Wi-Fi extenders/boosters. It may also help to upgrade your router from an ADSL to be either ADSL2 or ADSL2+ compatible. There is a lot of advice here from Ofcom that may be of some use:
Long term I want all of North Devon to have FTTP and one of the ways that we can start achieving this is through Community Fibre Partnerships (CFPs).
I am delighted that the Kings Nympton CFP is moving forward and I want to encourage other parishes and communities to do the same. I will soon be producing a ‘How to’ guide for Parish Clerks across North Devon with the help of Openreach and with the guidance of those involved with the Kings Nympton project.
We should not underestimate the problems that we have in upgrading everyone. Even if we did have all the money needed to make these upgrades there are not enough engineers to enable this to happen any time soon. Openreach have been one of the biggest Engineering Apprenticeship providers in the UK over the last few years and have made significant investments in skills right here in North Devon. They have been preparing, and while it may seem like we have been waiting for a long time for promised Government investments to be realised, we are now, hopefully, ready to take action.
Support for Local Newspapers
I know that Ministers share your desire to help independent publications through this period of hardship and they are in regular dialogue with publishers to ensure that the Government response to the challenges they are facing is as effective as possible.
A variety of support has been made available to local newspapers. Importantly, this includes the designating of journalists and ancillary staff as 'key workers', meaning they have been able to keep working and have access to childcare and education for their families.
A major coronavirus public information campaign has been launched, through which Ministers have sought to maximise advertising opportunities for news outlets. Worth up to £35 million in advertising revenue, this campaign brings together over 600 national, regional and local titles across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to reach 49 million people a month. As with any media planning approach, titles have been selected on their ability to engage with audiences and to ensure value for money, reach and targeting efficacy. It is my understanding that the vast majority of titles involved are local papers and additional titles have been selected in order to further reach priority audiences including BAME and older men.
The Chancellor also brought forward the zero rating of VAT on all e-publications to the 1st May - seven months ahead of schedule. The Government expects the tax relief to be passed on to consumers in the form of reduced prices, and publishers should benefit from increased sales. Independent publishers may also benefit from several measures included in an unprecedented business support package, such as the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, Job Retention Scheme, Bounce Back Loans, VAT deferrals, and coverage of statutory sick pay costs.
The internet has become an integral part of our lives. Whilst being online can be a hugely positive experience for children, we have to be alive to the dangers. I believe it is vital that we do all we can to protect our children from the negative impacts the online world can have, so that we make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.
I know the Government fully recognises the importance of tackling online harms, including harmful content to children on the Internet. That is why the Online Harms White Paper, jointly published by the Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in April 2019, sets out plans for world-leading legislation in this area.
As championed by the NSPCC, the Bill will establish a new duty of care on companies towards their users, which will be overseen by an independent regulator. This will make companies take more responsibility for the safety of their users and tackle harm caused by content or activity on their services. The regulator will have a suite of powers to take effective enforcement action against companies that have breached their statutory duty of care. The regulator will take a risk-based approach, prioritising action to tackle activity or content where there is the greatest evidence or threat of harm, or where children or other vulnerable users are at risk.
I also welcome that, as set out in the Online Harms White Paper, the Government will be developing an online media literacy strategy. This strategy will lead to a coordinated and strategic approach to online media literacy education and awareness for children, young people and adults. Online media and digital literacy can equip users with the skills they need to spot dangers online, critically appraise information and take steps to keep themselves and others safe online.