Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer has addressed the Russell Brand allegations for the first time, urging the UK TV industry not to become “synonymous with the scandals of #MeToo.”
Speaking at the RTS Cambridge Convention, Frazer wouldn’t go into detail on the allegations that emerged over the weekend but delivered a calling card to the wider industry to provide “places where people feel safe, where working cultures are responsible and accountable and don’t allow abuses of power.”
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“I would urge all of you as leaders in your industry to look hard at your culture and processes in your own organizations and lead change if change is needed,” she added.
“This is an industry that young people grew up dreaming of working in, one where the sky is the limit for talent. It is incumbent on all of us to make sure this industry is synonymous with talent, opportunity and inclusivity, not the scandals of #MeToo.”
Frazer described the allegations, which came from four women and range from rape to sexual assault, as “deeply shocking” and encouraged “anyone who believes they were victims of sexual offences to come forward.”
The BBC, Channel 4 and Big Brother producer Banijay have all launched investigations and Frazer called on all those “involved in [Brand’s] employment” to conduct “transparent investigations.”
Speaking to press after the keynote, Frazer revealed she has spoken to senior bosses at both the BBC and Channel 4 since the allegations emerged. She also talked up the soon-to-launch independent body CIISA, which will investigate bullying and harassment complaints and is backed by the broadcasters.
Brand’s representatives have not responded to repeated requests for comment. Brand published a video across his social media channels in which he preemptively denied the “litany” of allegations about his criminal behavior. “The relationships that I had were absolutely always consensual,” he said. “I was always transparent about that then, almost too transparent. And I’m being transparent about it now.”
“Best position to bounce back from strikes”
“We want to ensure that the UK is in the best possible position to bounce back once the strikes are resolved,” added Frazer of the ongoing labor action in the U.S., in a wide-ranging RTS keynote.
Frazer was telling the Convention how she wants to harness technological change to improve the UK TV sector, and she mentioned the long-running writer-actor strikes for the first time.
A recent survey from UK broadcasting union Bectu found that 80% of the freelance community have been impacted by the strikes, which has seen a number of shows and movies halted in the nation.
Frazer’s Culture, Media and Sport department, however, recently scotched the idea of an Income Replacement Scheme to help freelancers with lost earnings, an idea carried in a petition that has been signed more than 30,000 times. Frazer did point to a desire to “invest and spur growth across the UK.”
Earlier this week, Bectu penned an open letter to the AMPTP urging “financial support for UK crew” during the strikes.
“Unregulated” TV Channels
Elsewhere, almost 900 “unregulated” TV channels could be brought under Ofcom’s harmful content rules in a potentially vast expansion of the regulator’s code, unveiled by Frazer.
Streamers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are already preparing to have to abide by Ofcom rules once a Media Bill is passed and Frazer today said they could be joined by FAST channels including those dedicated to particular shows such as Come Dine with Me or MasterChef. Other examples provided by Frazer include networks World War TV or The Chat Show Channel.
Separate to the Media Bill, A consultation into these circa-900 channels has been launched.
Frazer’s Culture, Media and Sport department said three-quarters of UK households now have a smart TV, through which audiences can access a growing number of unregulated and mostly internet-based TV channels, with a particularly rapid increase in FAST, which stands for free ad-supported streaming television.
“We recognise that internet provided TV is growing… But while this shift is an exciting one, it’s our job to look at those channels that fall outside our existing regulations,” said Frazer. “That’s why we are going to consult on whether we need to extend regulation to these unregulated channels.”
She added that “any change to regulations must strike a balance between protecting people – particularly the young and vulnerable – while protecting freedom of speech, and not unduly burdening the TV industry.”
Regulating the streamers in this vein is a key plank of the government’s upcoming but much-delayed Media Bill. Netflix has already warned that the move could prove “unworkable” or risks a “chilling effect,” and the streamer has threatened to preemptively remove films and TV shows from its UK library to avoid falling foul of the regulations.
The Culture Secretary today reinforced the government’s commitment to bringing forward a Media Bill that will “expand opportunities for public service broadcasters to take advantage of the digital age.”
Frazer also vowed to protect the traditional TV viewer in the face of major technological shifts. She said “new ways of consuming TV should not come at the expense of those who still enjoy terrestrial television,” coming a few days after the British broadcasters unveiled a collaboration on a free TV service delivered over broadband.
Frazer has also launched a “major research and engagement programme looking at how UK audiences will get their TV in the decades to come.”
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