The UK Government has acknowledged it cannot prevent the European Union limiting the amount of British films and TV shows available in the bloc, but called for “good sense to prevail”.
Content produced in the UK risks falling foul of the EU’s audiovisual media services directive, which requires 30% of content on video-on-demand services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime to be European.
Lord Frost said the UK had attempted to include film and TV content within the terms of the Brexit trade deal – but blamed the French for blocking it.
The Guardian reported that an EU document tabled with diplomats on June 8 said: “The high availability of UK content in video on demand services, as well as the privileges granted by the qualification as European works, can result in a disproportionate presence of UK content within the European video on demand quota and hinder a larger variety of European works (including from smaller countries or less spoken languages).”
The newspaper said the European Commission has been tasked with launching an impact study on the risk to the EU’s “cultural diversity” from British programming, which could be a first step towards action to limit the privileges granted to UK content.
At the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Lord Frost said any such move was still a long way from becoming EU policy.
“As I understand it, all that’s happened is that a questionnaire has gone round asking for views on this question so in terms of EU policy there is a long way to go yet on this,” he told MPs.
“We are not in favour of that, we are in favour of free circulation of audiovisual goods as of other goods.
“But obviously if the EU choose to harm themselves and their viewers by excluding some categories of UK content we can’t stop them, but.. I’m sure good sense will prevail and we won’t be in that position.”
Challenged by Labour MP Chris Bryant that the potential dispute showed the Trade and Co-operation Agreement was “not all that good a deal”, Lord Frost said: “It’s a traditional position of France, which takes some shaking, that audiovisual arrangements are not part of free-trade agreements.
“Although we started off with a more expansive position I don’t think there was every any realistic chance of coming out of this negotiation in a different place.”
Lord Frost also insisted that intensive diplomatic work was being carried out to reduce the bureaucracy and cost facing musicians and other artists seeking to tour in the EU.
“We put forward proposals that we believe would have dealt with this problem but they couldn’t be agreed and so be it, we are where we are,” he said.
Mr Bryant said the music industry, which is a massive earner for the UK, “has rather been left to one side”.
But Lord Frost said: “There is quite a lot of urgency and embassies have been talking to their host governments.”
Efforts were being focused on the 10 countries with the most restrictive processes, he said, but blamed the EU for failing to agree a more relaxed approach.
“We would much rather be in a better position but it takes two to agree a constructive outcome and unfortunately we are not there.”