Netflix could be required to have a broadcasting licence if it provides content to UK customers, an MP has suggested.
John Whittingdale OBE was speaking to the Commons Digitial Select Committee on Tuesday about the issues of regulating Netflix and other video on demand services in the UK, when they are not based in the country.
At the moment, Ofcom regulates broadcasters who work within the UK, but because Netflix is based in Holland, it does not need to have a UK licence.
Regulation of the streaming giant has been in particular focus since the latest series of The Crown was released in November. Allegations of unfair portrayals of royals like Prince Charles and made up conversations have plagued the latest season.
Cast members have been drawn into the debate over whether Netflix should have added a disclaimer to the season - with Helena Bonham Carter suggesting they should have, but Josh O’Connor objecting.
In a committee meeting on Tuesday, chairman Julian Knight said Ofcom was “completely powerless” when it came to Netflix.
He said: “It’s (Netflix is) something that’s playing an increasingly important role. We’ve seen this with the controversy in recent days over The Crown’s depiction of the royal family.
“Effectively Netflix (which is based in Holland) is not regulated at all within the UK and you have to hope they will be good citizens.”
Watch: Is The Crown a true story?
Whittingdale, who is minister for media and data, explained: “Video on Demand are subject to virtually no regulations or requirements at all. If they are UK based, then they would require a broadcasting license, if they are EU based they come under AVMSD [Audiovisual Media Services Directive] but if they are outside Europe they are not subject to anything at all.
“That is something that is a stark difference.
“Whether or not we would want to look at having some kind of basic requirement on the Video On Demand service, is something the government might well think about
“There is a glaring difference between a strongly regulated sector and those not subject to any at all.”
Asked if Ofcom, which regulate UK broadcasters, should have more access to Video On Demand services, Whittingdale added: “It would require a much greater regulation intervention. there is an argument that you could require all services providing content to UK customers to have some kind of licence.
“That goes a lot further that we are at present, and is not something we have decided - but it’s something one could look at.”
Whittingdale, who served in Margaret Thatcher’s government, was also pressed on The Crown, including whether he had watched it and if he felt it was necessary to ask them to add a disclaimer.
Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, received some criticism for raising the matter with Netflix. The streaming service declined his request to add a disclaimer.
Mr Whittingdale said that “most people are aware that dramatised accounts of real life events inevitably require some speculation.
“These are events which are still quite raw and controversial, they involve people such as the existing Prince of Wales and his sons.
“It does no harm, particularly because those events did generate strong views and emotions on both sides.
“It’s not unhelpful to remind people… a reminder that this is not based on any insider knowledge but is a dramatisation of somebody’s speculation or imagination as to what might have happened.”
He was also asked what the government could have done if the series had been broadcast on the BBC rather than Netflix.
He said: “The government doesn’t issue threats, I’ve been extremely clear the independence of the BBC is important element of democracy.
“What I would have done is say that the BBC is subject to requirements of broadcasting code and would have encouraged people who felt strongly that the BBC should have made clear that these events were a dramatisation rather than an entirely accurate portrayal, [and people] should complain to the BBC and if they remain dissatisfied take it to Ofcom.
“Because Netflix is outside [the remit], that is not available.”
Netflix has been contacted for comment.
Watch: These titles are leaving Netflix in December