13 reasons why shou;d have been regulated under OFCOM in 2017

OFCOM is set to regulate streamers for the first time – but isn’t that a good thing?

Streamers are up in arms at the new Draft Media Bill’s threat to put them under OFCOM’s remit, but isn’t this one change that’s long overdue?

Looks like the government are at it again. The latest draft of the department for culture, media and sport’s Media Bill was published yesterday, and streamers aren’t very happy. For the first time, independent broadcast regulator OFCOM is set to bring streaming services under its purview.

Netflix, in response, have joined a cavalcade of streamers protesting against the bill, threatening to purge shows from their UK platform rather than effectively police them to avoid falling foul of OFCOM’s censors.

It’s not hard to see why the streamers are so annoyed – the bill, if properly implemented, would mean a lot more work for them to make sure their content is up to snuff. But in its current form it’s very difficult to see what about this section of the new bill is actually that objectionable.

Helpfully, the only section of OFCOM’s new role the bill clarifies explicitly will now apply to non-UK streamers demands a review into each platform’s audience protection measures (age rating, content warnings, parental controls etc.). Fair enough, I reckon. When the very first page of OFCOM’s remit cites its responsibility to protect children from harmful content, it’s absurd that the method most young people use to watch films and TV has escaped regulation for this long.

Whenever government makes new moves to police the media, it’s very easy to immediately get het-up about it. But OFCOM, on the whole, is a bit of a unique beast. Here in the UK, it’s helped stave off the horrific partisanship of the US TV landscape, largely without controversy. As regulatory bodies go, we’re pretty lucky to have it – and it arguably should have been involved in streaming services’ business long ago.

13 reasons why

13 Reasons Why caused controversy in 2017 due to a graphic reenactment of a girl’s suicide

When Netflix’s YA juggernaut 13 Reasons Why debuted back in 2017, a lot of people were justifiably concerned about the graphic suicide carried out in its final episode. For a show specifically, some would say exploitatively, targeted at the very teens vulnerable to this sort of content, the demonstration in full the method Hannah Baker used to take her own life was at best irresponsible – at worst, it was genuinely dangerous. At the time, under the weight of public pressure only afforded by dint of the show’s lightning in a bottle popularity, Netflix caved and added a content warning to the start of the series.

The court of public opinion might work for the most popular content on the platform, but what about the hundreds of other shows and feature films shovelled onto streamers on a daily basis? When the audience for a show is measured in the thousands rather than the millions, what systems are currently in place to monitor the stuff these companies put out?

At less than four pages of a 148-page bill, if the new regulations have one problem, it’s that they’re not particularly well-defined. With shows like 13 Reasons Why, the impact of audience protection measures is obvious. If the rest of OFCOM’s remit is extended to the online space, it’s possible documentaries like last year’s Alien Apocalypse – which got in a bit of hot water for presenting weirdo conspiracy theories as plausible science – could see streamers fined for materially misleading the audience.

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As for the ‘harm and offence’ section of OFCOM’s guidelines, this is where things get slightly stickier. Netflix’s stand-up specials have come under fire in the past for airing transphobic material from Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais – could that result in a fine under OFCOM?

Even ignoring the fact that, again, this doesn’t seem to apply in the bill as written, that seems unlikely. As recently as last year, OFCOM rejected over 1500 complaints regarding Jordan Gray’s stand-up special on Channel 4, which ended with the comedian stripping naked for her closing number. It’s possible that Gervais, Chappelle and their ilk could come under fire for spreading hate speech – but if so, isn’t that something that should face some kind of regulation?

Streamers can complain about the new bill as much as they like. But at the end of the day, it seems handing OFCOM the keys to the streaming revolution might not be such a bad thing.

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