The head of UK’s broadcast watchdog Ofcom has said it should regulate online services like Netflix, following a row over a joke by comedian Jimmy Carr.
Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes said there would be “real value” in extending the organization’s remit given the shift in the way people watch entertainment.
Mr Carr was widely criticized after making a joke about the Holocaust, in which he suggested that it was good that gypsies had been murdered by the Nazis.
But the comedian’s program was only available on online television service Netflix and so is not covered by Ofcom rules – meaning it cannot deal with complaints about the comments.
Speaking in an interview with Channel Four news on Monday evening Dame Melanie was asked whether Ofcom should be able to regulate such online-only shows.
“I can certainly see that there’ll be real value in that. Yes. And so we would welcome any chance to work on that,” she said.
She added: “I can really understand why a lot of people found that very offensive and as you say, we don’t regulate Netflix at the moment, they’re underneath the Dutch regulator.
“And I think that is a concern because it means that for viewers, it’s really confusing that they’ve got different standards applied, for example, to Channel 4 News than they have to YouTube and other services, including Netflix, that come streamed on to our TVs.”
Ofcom currently regulates broadcast television, radio, telecoms and the postal service. The regulator licenses TV and radio stations, and can revoke licenses in the case of a serious breach.
It also has the power to levy fines, such as last year when it lapped Russian state-backed channel RT £200,000 for breaching impartiality rules. Ofcom also has the power to sanction channels for causing harm of being grossly offensive.
But online streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime are beyond its reach.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has previously suggested that new laws in the government’s the Media Bill could hold to account streaming sites for airing jokes such as those made by Mr Carr.
Downing Street on Monday called the comedian’s comments “deeply disturbing”, but said it was a matter for Netflix whether the comedian’s show should remain online.