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  • Peers for the Planet

Science in broadcasting and the rise of misinformation

The framework for impartiality and accuracy for broadcasting has been in place since the 1950s, but in the past 10 years evidence from organisations including the WHO, Lancet, the World Economic Forum, the IPCC, Ofcom and the Commons Culture, Media Sport Committee has highlighted the exponential increase in levels of misinformation and disinformation in digital content.

This is including - but not only, in respect of science relating to public health and climate change, as well as growing evidence of the damage this causes to the public. The Lords Communication Committee has also been considering issues of misinformation as part of a review of the future of news.


In the final hours of this Parliament, Peers passed the Media Act 2024, an Act designed to update the regulatory framework governing public service broadcasting, on-demand programme services and commercial radio in the UK in light of rapid changes in technology and viewing habits, as well as other developments in the media landscape since the Communications Act 2003 became law.


The Act simplifies the remits of public service broadcasters and, when the (then) Bill was brought to the Lords from the Commons, Peers expressed concern about the removal of references to specific genres, including science, as well as the cross-cutting challenge of responding to the growth of misinformation and the potential impact on audiences. Two amendments were tabled to address these concerns, with support from across the parties and the scientific community, including the Royal Society.


With the time for further negotiation and debate curtailed by the announcement of a General Election, Peers’ concerns were not addressed in the final Act. Nevertheless, the debate served as an important opportunity to emphasise the importance of science in the UK’s cultural life. New provisions inserted in the Communications Act (278A) will allow the Secretary of State to create quotas for underserved content areas on Ofcom’s recommendation and Peers indicated their intent to monitor this under a future government. Further scrutiny on the wider issue of misinformation is also likely in the next Parliament.


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