The story of community radio in the United Kingdom is one of success. From the humble origins of fifteen Access radio stations in the early 2000s, there are now over 270 licensed community radio stations across the whole of the UK. These stations serve many diverse communities: rural and urban, faith-based and language-based, old and young, creative and project-led.
Community radio has one consistent theme - empowerment. Community radio is one of the few opportunities for volunteers from ordinary backgrounds, without professional experience, to take part in and access their local media service.
Community radio’s first priority is to promote social gain which all community radio stations are required to deliver as a condition of their licence. Community radio gives volunteers the opportunity to take part in radio programme making, discuss topics of local civic concern, tell their stories and report on issues that matter to them and the people they live with in their neighbourhoods.
Lucinda Guy, Chair of the Community Media Association says:
“Every day around the UK, community radio studios are opening their doors to all kinds of users, offering a welcoming space where people can speak in their own languages, bring their babies and dogs along, get support for mental health problems, and broadcast deep meaningful discussions about the things that affect their lives. This tiring, complex work is undervalued, underpaid and immensely fulfilling.
“In a changing world of media, where listeners can access the music they love via online platforms, communities are taking radio down a path little explored in previous generations, but absolutely in tune with current concerns about loneliness, media ownership, misinformation and the importance of vibrant and sustainable local economies.”
Yesterday Radiocentre published its report ‘Small-scale Radio in The UK - How Local Commercial and Community Radio Can Co-exist’ . This report offered an unusual perspective on the way that community radio in the United Kingdom is perceived to operate that few people in the community radio sector would recognise.
The Community Media Association (CMA) welcomes any opportunity to work with commercial organisations, public service media providers, and all levels of Government, that have an interest in civic engagement, social value investment, and democratic participation in the life of our communities.
The CMA’s mission is to promote learning and understanding about the ethos of community media. This is defined in our Charter as the civic right of access to media platforms, self-defined media practices, and social programming for the public good. Licensed community radio groups across the United Kingdom are largely made up of volunteers, who devote their time and energy to providing a public service that is not for profit, and which serves a specific social need in each neighbourhood in which Ofcom has licensed them.
Funding for community radio stations, however, largely comes from grant funding for social-impact project work, participation-based training, volunteers’ contributions and in-kind services that are exchanged between partners and collaborators.
Most community radio stations are limited by law to earn up to 50% of their income through on-air commercial activity. A smaller number of stations are limited to earning a maximum of £15,000 in advertising and sponsorship where they might overlap with small, independently run commercial stations, and many do not carry advertising at all because they choose to rigorously pursue a non-commercial model of community broadcasting.
The CMA recognises that there are many different ways of delivering community radio services; similarly, there are many different issues affecting all forms of radio in the UK, and at all levels - both national and local. For example, Ofcom recently announced that it will be relaxing the localness guidelines for commercial radio stations . This will reduce the number of hours that programmes have to be originated from a local station if they are part of a network.
Commercial radio stations are also able to access the BBC Local News Partnership (LNP), which provides £8m per year funding from the television licence fee, for local civic news . This platform is open to commercial radio stations, as well as newspapers and local television. The LNP is supported by a network of 150 Local Democracy News Reporters that provide content that can be used for local news reporting.
The Government also announced on the 19th October that it will be funding the commission and broadcast of public service programme production with the Audio Content Fund . With over £3m available during a three-year pilot phase for commercial radio stations to support their public service programming, the Audio Content Fund will be administered by Radiocentre and AudioUK.
The Community Radio Fund, administered by Ofcom, is the only dedicated fund available to community radio stations, was set at £400,000 by the Department for Digital Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) for the financial year 2018/19 . The level of the Community Radio Fund is not index-linked to inflation and has not been increased in line with the number of community radio stations which means that now 270 stations are accessing a total funding pot of £400,000 the size of which has been static for a number of years.
The CMA recognises, however, that the challenge of producing media content in a climate of advanced technological change is problematic for many socially-focussed organisations and businesses alike. As online social media technologies are radically transforming our shopping habits and our high streets, they are also changing our media habits and the many ways that we access information and media content.
Ofcom reports that changes in expectations of personal choice, in the way that media can now be accessed via the Internet, make it more challenging for all business-led or community-led organisations to maintain regulated and familiar models of economic investment.
Ofcom also notes that the Internet has created fragmented and uneven opportunities for people to consume media . The importance that is placed on expanding digital access to our public services using these changing technologies, applies equally to traditional forms of media as it does to new forms of digital interactive media technology.
The CMA welcomes, therefore, any discussion with all parties to address the challenges of a changing media landscape. This discussion, however, must be based on trust and mutual respect and has to be founded on evidence that fairly and accurately represents the challenges faced by voluntary, civic and not-for-profit community media groups, as well as those faced by commercial and public service organisations.
The CMA regularly seeks to encompass a wide range of views and interests in relation to community radio and community media, not just those with the deepest pockets, the loudest voices or a sense of entitlement about their seat at the table.
The CMA will continue, therefore, to champion the right for all members of our communities, in all parts of the country, to be able to access local platforms of self-representation and media participation, in ways that are affordable, sustainable, inclusive and serve the public good.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
The Community Media Association (CMA) champions access to community radio and local television for all to change lives, build diverse participation in social dialogue and give even the smallest communities a voice.
A non-profit membership organisation formed in 1983, the CMA leads advocacy for and governance of the UK’s movement of community broadcasters, which grew rapidly following a successful CMA campaign to establish community radio FM licences in 2004.
The CMA champions its members to uphold the Community Media Charter of best practice and celebrates members’ achievement with the annual Community Media Conference, regional networking events, a monthly Community Media Newsletter, an informative online discussion forum, and supports Internet radio through its flagship media streaming service, Canstream.