Small-Scale Radio in the UK - How Local Commercial & Community Radio Can Work Together

Radiocentre has now published a 50-odd page report on "Small-scale Radio In The UK" - How Local Commercial And Community Radio Can Co-exist"

https://www.radiocentre.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/SMALL-SCALE-RADIO-IN-THE-UK-ONLINE.pdf

A commentary on the report here:

We want to gather some initial thoughts about this report. You can add any comments to a Google Form

The main recommendations are:

IMPROVED COLLABORATION

The two sectors both play key roles in their communities – and this should be recognised. Ways should be examined to establish how, where appropriate, community gain can be jointly facilitated and achievements duly recognised.

At an operational level this will involve continuing to work together on small-scale DAB. However, this important collaboration could be undermined, unless DCMS reverses its plans to prevent many small commercial stations from participating as multiplex licence holders.

Separately, stations of all types should continue to work together on key campaigns such as the ‘Mental Health Minute’, broadcast across UK radio in 2018, or international emergency fundraisers. There may also be scope for liaison on training and diversity initiatives – and in ensuring the best community radio content and individuals are eligible for industry recognition in awards.

A FULL INDEPENDENT REPORT INTO ‘SOCIAL GAIN’
Ofcom should commission a full independent report into the ‘social gain’ produced by community radio. Such a project should comprise a deep analysis of the sector, with detailed scrutiny of a significant number of stations to establish the extent to which they are genuinely discharging their licence commitments on and off-air; and establish the nature and degree of societal gain from their work.

Such a report would rightly highlight the sector’s many successes, but also make clear where licensees are falling short, so remedial action may be speedily implemented and Ofcom’s approach to all licensing and regulatory matters be suitably informed.

PUBLIC FILE
Transparency is crucial for stations, particularly where public money is being spent – and community stations are rightly required to be ‘accountable’. To ensure that local communities can hold their community radio station to account, the stations should be required to maintain a comprehensive ‘public file’.

This should contain all relevant contact information, the Key Commitments for programming, and the most recent annual report submitted into the delivery of these commitments.

HEIGHTENED ECONOMIC SCRUTINY
Economic assessments of potential community stations should attach heightened and careful importance to the cases expressed by relevant small commercial radio stations; and consult with them routinely in every instance.

No further latitude should be given to community radio on the nature or level of commercial advertising revenues.

There should also be heightened scrutiny by Ofcom to ensure that revenue reporting is not being distorted by attribution to online services, websites, DAB or such things as cash payments, related companies or any direct payments to contributors, all of which might be used to circumvent current limits on advertising revenue.

COVERAGE ENHANCEMENTS
Ofcom should devote immediate resource to ensuring that the smaller commercial radio stations have access to the best possible coverage and frequencies available, insofar as legislation permits. This should precede any further work on community radio coverage enhancements or general development.

Furthermore, before granting an enhancement to the coverage of a community station, Ofcom should verify, by means of suitable evidence, the extent to which the community station conforms to the ‘characteristics of service’, in accordance with the conditions already set out by the regulator for such improvements. It should also consult routinely with all relevant commercial radio stations.

LICENCE RENEWAL
Smaller commercial radio stations should qualify for a licence renewal on committing to either a traditional local radio multiplex or a small-scale DAB multiplex. If necessary, the statute should be amended accordingly to reflect today’s DAB infrastructure.

PAUSE IN FURTHER COMMUNITY RADIO DEVELOPMENT
Ofcom should pause its community radio licensing. Once social gain has been fully examined, Ofcom should commission a full independent overall review of the sector and then inform Government of the ways in which audio generally – with all its new platforms - can best deliver ‘social gain’.

RE-DEFINING THE COMMUNITY RADIO FUND
Government should consider expanding the scope of the community radio fund so that small commercial radio stations and hospital radio or student stations may bid for funding for specific projects and further their efforts in the community.

COMMUNITY RADIO REPRESENTATION
Ofcom should require community radio licensees to represent their status and role accurately in their communities and, specifically, not to mis-represent audience figures.

COMPLIANCE AND ENFORCEMENT
Mindful of the generally worrying compliance record from community radio stations, there is a clear case for better oversight and enforcement. Ofcom should implement ways in which it can better regulate the ongoing content and activities of community radio operators, including the allocation of additional resource where warranted.

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