UK government fires warning shot at Netflix as ‘baby reindeer’ safeguarding scandal rages

London: The British government has fired a warning shot at Netflix amid the Baby Reindeer safeguarding scandal, saying it will be held to “high standards” under new streaming laws.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) reminded Netflix that the UK Media Bill will hand regulator Ofcom world-leading powers to police content on streaming services.

Asked if the legislation would empower Ofcom to pursue concerns over Baby Reindeer, a government spokesperson told Deadline: “UK broadcasters are subject to appropriate rules to ensure protections for audiences, contributors and other affected individuals. Our Media Bill will make mainstream video-on-demand services subject to similar high standards.”

Ofcom will draft and enforce a new Video-on-Demand Code, allowing viewers, contributors, and others to complain about accuracy issues and potentially harmful content.

One regulatory expert told Deadline that under the new laws, Richard Gadd’s alleged stalker, Fiona Harvey, would be able to make a fairness and privacy complaint against Netflix after she was identified online.

The Media Bill is at the House of Lords Committee stage of its legislative journey, with Ofcom’s Video-on-Demand Code not expected to be completed until next year. So-called Tier 1 streamers like Netflix will also have an additional 12-month grace period before they must be “in full compliance.”

The government’s intervention over Baby Reindeer comes as Netflix has faced growing questions about its compliance standards after Gadd’s series sparked an internet guessing game about the real-life identities of the characters featured.

Gadd’s eight-part drama is billed as a “true story” about his experience with an alleged stalker, named in the show as Martha (played by Jessica Gunning). Within days of Baby Reindeer’s premiere last month, the real-life Martha was identified by online detectives.

Martha has now been named as Harvey, a Scottish lawyer. She gave an interview to Piers Morgan on Thursday in which she denied stalking allegations and threatened to sue Netflix over its duty of care procedures.

Harvey revealed that Netflix did not contact her before Baby Reindeer debuted and said that the show had exposed her to death threats and phone calls from strangers. The interview has been viewed more than 7M times on YouTube.

Prominent UK industry figures have echoed Harvey’s concerns. Richard Osman, a former TV producer whose Thursday Murder Club book is being adapted into a Netflix film, said Baby Reindeer would be the “patient zero” of Netflix compliance. Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies said the BBC would have been “much stricter” with duty of care than Netflix.

Deadline asked Netflix a series of questions about its safeguarding standards and whether it was in contact with Harvey following the alleged threats to her life. The streaming service did not respond, raising further questions about how seriously it is taking the concerns.

Baby Reindeer was greenlit in 2020 by Netflix UK boss Anne Mensah, but it is not known how comprehensive the company’s editorial compliance setup is in Britain.

During an appearance in UK Parliament on Wednesday, the streamer’s UK public policy director Benjamin King defended the show and said appropriate steps had been taken to protect identities. King declined to comment on safeguarding standards.

Baby Reindeer is in many ways a British success story. Made by Clerkenwell Films, it exploded on the streamer, amassing nearly 54M views since debuting on April 11. It has been Netflix’s top English-language series for three consecutive weeks.

The DCMS spokesperson hailed Netflix’s investment in the UK. “Netflix and other streaming services produce some brilliant content and invest significantly in the UK’s world-leading creative industries. We want this to continue,” they said.