John Whittingdale, the media minister, said that international platforms may be required to obtain a special licence to operate in the UK, to ensure they abide by minimum standards.
There is a “glaring difference” between the strict rules for broadcasters including the BBC and ITV and the light-touch regime under which streaming services operate, he said.
UK broadcasters must comply with the broadcasting code, enforced by the watchdog Ofcom, which contains detailed regulations around offence, accuracy, impartiality and fairness.
Streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are covered by a weaker EU-wide regime, known as the audio visual media services directive. Netflix is registered with the Commissariaat voor de Media, a little-known Dutch regulator, which as of last year had not investigated a single complaint from a British viewer about the streaming service.
Mr Whittingdale said that if The Crown had aired on the BBC he would have encouraged viewers who object to fabrications to contact Ofcom, but this is not available for Netflix, what has been described as a standards lottery.
“UK traditional broadcasters are subject to quite stringent requirements in terms of the broadcasting licence they hold, in terms of some of the obligations placed on them,” he told the Commons culture select committee yesterday.
“Then you have the video-on-demand (VOD) services which are really subject to virtually no regulation or requirements at all. That is something which is quite a stark difference. Whether or not we would look at having some kind of basic requirements on the VOD services is something which I think that the government might well think about.”
Netflix employs more than 400 people at its European office in Amsterdam. Julian Knight, the Tory MP who is chairman of the committee, accused Netflix of using the base as a “flag of convenience” to escape regulation.
Netflix declined to comment, but sources stressed that it abides by all Dutch media authority regulations, and is directly answerable to its UK members through the feedback and complaints section of its website.
It rejected an appeal from Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, to add a disclaimer before episodes of The Crown to make clear that it is a drama inspired by real events. Last week Josh O’Connor, who plays Prince Charles in the show, said Mr Dowden’s intervention was “outrageous”, accusing him of a “low blow” to the arts.
Mr Whittingdale said he backed Mr Dowden’s call to ensure that audiences are not misled. “These are events which are still quite raw and controversial, and they involve people such as the existing Prince of Wales and his sons,” he said. “It does no harm . . . to remind people that this is not based on any insider knowledge but is a dramatisation of somebody’s speculation and imagination.”
In his appearance before MPs he said that his department had cooled on plans, backed by Dominic Cummings during his time in No 10, to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee. The government is due to publish results of the consultation shortly.
News Source: The Times