Speech to the BSAC

British Screen Advisory Council Speech – 13.06.2019 

 

 

 

 

Good afternoon everyone. 

Well – what a week it’s been. 

Our politics has been in crisis for months, but even by those standards, this week has been remarkable. 

We’ve seen ten Tory leadership candidates launch their campaigns, scrambling to promise competing tax cuts to win over their Party membership. 

And it’s been a big week for the screen sector too, with the long-awaited announcement of changes to the TV licence fee concession for over-75s. 

Now, Labour’s position on this has been clear. 

The BBC is not the DWP. It’s a broadcaster, not a branch of Government, so it should never have been made responsible for assessing or delivering welfare policy. 

And now, because of this Government’s outsourcing, millions of older people will lose out, ending up poorer and more isolated than before. 

We’ve had robust debate about TV licences this week, and we will continue to push the issue in the coming weeks and months. We want to see the Government stick to their promise to older people. 

Because television matters. 

It matters to the 400,000 over-75s who can go a week without seeing or speaking to friends or family. 

It provides company and community to those who need it most. 

And it matters to our whole society. 

TV, film, and video games all help us to see the world from someone else’s perspective, and let us see our own stories reflected on the screen. 

The work you do brings people together. 

That’s why, in a tough week, it’s a real pleasure to be here with you today, so thank you for having me. 

 

The screen sector is the pride of Britain. 

Just look at our film industry, with films like The Favourite picking up awards on both sides of the Atlantic, and Widows and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri achieving huge commercial success. 

We have some of the very best film talent in the world, both in front of and behind the camera, from star actors to sound engineers.  

 

And the UK video games industry has created tens of thousands of jobs across the country.  

As a gamer myself I’m excited about the new innovations coming through.  

Motion capture and rendering technology have advanced so that now blockbuster games can attract A-list acting talent.  

And indie companies are using gaming’s immersive potential to challenge how we deal with important social issues like mental health and grief.  

 

And our British TV content is broadcast all over the world – just look at the ground-breaking success of Killing Eve. 

Our broadcasting industry is the envy of Governments right across the globe. 

This is because, I think, we’ve got the balance right. 

We have a mixed ecology of vibrant commercial broadcasters, Public Service Broadcasters, and a firm and fair regulator that commands the industry’s respect. 

Elsewhere in my Shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport brief, we are taking on some of the world’s largest corporations – I’m sure you can guess which ones - that are trying their absolute hardest to avoid any reasonable regulation or enforcement. 

But the tide is turning – they won’t win that battle, but more on that later. 

Success stories like the broadcasting industry show us that it’s possible to strike a balance between innovation and the public interest. 

They can complement each other, sharpen each other, to help produce programs that reflect the richness of our society, like Channel 4’s Chewing Gum and Netflix’s Sex Education. 

We have a positive centre of gravity, and brilliant television that the public feel proud of. 

That’s important, because everyone has the right to see their story on screen. 

 

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t things we could improve. 

 

Earlier this year, I set out my challenge to the gaming industry to tackle the blurred line between video games and gambling.  

There is a growing concern over loot boxes; the collectible, virtual items like enhanced guns and knives that are sold across platforms, often attracting very high prices.  

Some are worried that games are creating a culture of addiction by design.  

So in February I launched a consultation to understand more about the effect of gambling in gaming, looking at loot boxes in particular, and to gather views from gamers themselves. 

 

Others of you here will know about our plans to improve representation in the film and High End TV industries, both on and off screen. 

Our policy consultation on how a Labour Government could use the creative industry tax reliefs to improve inclusion and diversity is currently ongoing, and we would welcome your contributions. 

 I understand my colleague Kevin Brennan MP, who is leading on this work, will be speaking to some of you further about this next month. 

 

Today I’d like to set out some of our plans to improve diversity on TV. 

 

The screen industries are at their best when they showcase all the best of British talent. 

Both the Women’s World Cup Final and the Paralympics are crown jewel events, but at the moment they don’t have equal status with other sporting events that are included in the listed events regime. 

The list of key events that should be broadcast free-to-air has not been updated for 20 years. It’s out of date, so we will review the list and look to diversify the events included. 

This will be an important step towards parity and putting women and men’s sports on equal footing. 

6.1 million viewers tuned in last week to watch the England and Scotland play in the Women’s World Cup. 

And it’s positive that pay TV broadcasters are showing interest is women’s sport. But we must also look to the future. 

It is time we give events like the Women’s World Cup Final and the Paralympics the status, recognition, and protection they deserve. 

Great sporting moments inspire us. They show us what hard work, dedication, and talent can achieve.  

Every child deserves to be able to turn on the TV and see that they could do that too.   

 

We will also put structures in place to improve inclusion across the sector. 

I met recently with Lenny Henry for an interview on diversity with Broadcast magazine. 

Lenny made the point to me that Ofcom has got advisory boards on almost every issue – except for diversity and inclusion. And the people who sit on the current committees are not representative of the true diversity of the UK. 

I promised that I would look into it further, and I have. 

Lenny is right, so in office Labour will ask Ofcom to set up a new diversity and inclusion board to make sure that Britain’s broadcast sector represents the whole of Britain, not just part of it. 

 

I’d also like to talk a bit today about regulation.  

 

 

First, I’d want to take the opportunity to address the protections we have in place for people appearing on reality TV. 

In light of recent, tragic events, we need to evaluate and improve our protections and  

It is right the ITV and Ofcom investigate what happened with the Jeremy Kyle show. 

But we also need to have a broader conversation about the support systems we have in place, and whether they are really fit for purpose. 

The DCMS Select Committee’s consultation into reality TV closes in a matter of hours, and I’m sure that many in this room have already submitted their responses. 

And I was pleased to hear that Ofcom will introduce tougher, draft guidance before the Summer. 

We want to see a robust code of conduct included in the broadcasting standards, one that is developed alongside mental health experts, with a particular focus on aftercare. 

We need strong safeguards, and strong sanctions. 

Reality TV programmes that exploit vulnerable people have no place in our society. 

 

Second, I know that some of you here will be concerned about the watershed ban on junk food advertising.  

I’ve made no bones of my opposition to the junk food giants feeding sugar to our children.  

But I also know that while a watershed TV junk food advertising ban may be part of the solution, it certainly doesn’t solve the whole problem.  

We don’t want corporations moving these adverts all online, where regulation is far, far weaker.  

Because there is a fundamental regulatory imbalance here.  

I said earlier that I think that in broadcasting, we’ve got the balance right.  

We need to do the same online.  

 

In the information age, the digital data monopolies have all the power; they know our opinions and our hopes, our fears and our doubts, which is then monetised to make make billions from targeted advertising. 

We don’t even fully understand what data they hold or who has access to it. 

That’s why I’ve written to the Competition and Markets Authority asking for an urgent market study focusing on the digital market.  

We need to challenge the monopolies and push for fair competition.  

And we must hold online platforms accountable, in the same way we do with other industries. 

Labour wants a regulator with teeth to clamp down on the harms, the hate, and the fake news, with big fines for hate speech like in the German NetzDG model. 

The Government’s plans to block the worst offending platforms are already being undermined by new encrypted browsers developed by companies in California.  

For far too long, digital giants have thought themselves untouchable and above the law. That has got to change.  

 

 

Now, those are my challenges to the industrywould also like to talk about the issue we’re all facing at the moment, whether we like it or not.  

In these remarkable times, we rarely go a day without hearing about Brexit, so I apologise for bringing it up again, especially if you were hoping you’d gotten away it - but we’ve got to face the challenge head on. 
 

I wish I could offer you some clarity today – but I can’t. 

It’s no secret what I’d like Labour’s policy on leaving the EU to be. 

And with the battle to become the next Tory Prime Minister thoroughly underway, there’s no telling exactly where Government’s policy on Brexit will end up. None of the options offer the country what we need. 

But what I can tell you is that the next Prime Minister’s Brexit policy will not be designed to serve the wider public, but devised to win the support of a tiny proportion of the population: Tory MPs and Tory Party members.   

The red lines won’t be based on what’s best for your sector, but on what is likely to attract this small section of society. 

That’s why I want you to know that we in the Labour Party understand the importance of EU membership and the benefits that it brings you. 

I also want you to know that whoever wins the Conservative leadership contest, we will do everything in our power to fight a narrow-minded, self-serving Brexit that throws our economy under the big red bus.  

 

Because there is so much to lose.  

The gaming and animation industries rely on access to talent, with around a third of the UK animation workforce coming from the EU.  

Creative Europe has contributed to the distribution of over 100 UK films across Europe.  

All the creative industries depend on ease of travel across borders for talent, crew, and equipment. 

And when we discuss Brexit and the creative industries, it’s never long before someone mentions the Audiovisual Media Services Directive.  

 

And rightly so. 

We still have received no assurance of whether it would be included in a trade deal, and we were meant to leave the EU 3 months ago. 

In fact the signs coming from France are deeply negative 

It’s crucial that we get movement on this, because the knock-on effects of losing the Directive would be disastrous. 

I am seriouslyconcerned about the huge number of commercial broadcasters that are based in the UK but broadcast primarily to the EU.  

These channels are worth over 1 billion to the British economy, and support jobs and livelihoods across the UK.  

Without the Directive, they’ll need to be licensed from within the EU and many will consider relocation 

Discovery have already confirmed that they’re applying for licenses in the Netherlands, and even the BBC are considering their options in Brussels. 

The never ending uncertainty is putting companies in an impossible situation. 

As the Shadow DCMS Team, we will work our hardest to make your case to Government and to the public 

Because the UK screen sector is a national success story.  

You contribute hugely to our economy, to our cultural lives and to our social fabric.  

That brings me to my final point.  

I said earlier in this speech that the work you do brings people together, and I hope our proposals today can push that agenda along a little further.  

Because in these divided days of Brexit, your work is more important than ever: 

TV shows can let us walk in someone else’s shoes for an hour. 

Films can take us to places we’ve never been and experienced things we’d never dreamed of.  

Games can open up whole new realms and perspectives on the world. 

Good content can help us feel empathy, and compassion, and we could all do with a little more of those these days. 

So thank you, for all you do.