Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Radio Authority


  1.  The Radio Authority welcomes this opportunity to place a memorandum before the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, in its investigation into the establishment of a new Office of Communications to oversee the regulation of telecommunications and broadcasting in the UK.

  2.  Our views in advance of this process were set out in our submission Radio Regulation for the 21st Century, June 2000, and our judgements now are very much informed by the thinking included in that paper. We will be happy to amplify this memorandum for the Committee, and to provide any further information which the Committee would find useful. The June 2000 document is available at If the Committee wishes it, we will be happy to provide printed copies of that as well. The Authority is also in the process of finalising its response to the Government's Consultation on Media Ownership and will forward a copy of its submission to the Committee when this is completed towards the end of January.

  3.  The Authority supports Government's intention to re-shape the regulation of broadcasting, spectrum management and telecommunications in the UK. We are participating actively in the complex and demanding transition process, preparing for OFCOM, while awaiting the detailed legislation to give effect to this planning. Our main concerns at this stage in the process are as follows:

    —  that OFCOM must be a world class regulator, and represents an improvement on what currently exists;

    —  that, in its operations, OFCOM must be flexible and non-bureaucratic, able to respond quickly to a rapidly changing technological environment, but without losing the qualities valued in the existing regulatory patterns;

    —  that OFCOM ensures that radio solutions are created for radio problems, and that the need for a degree of sector-specific regulation is reflected in OFCOM's internal structure;

    —  that OFCOM should have a role, where appropriate, in overseeing issues relating to the BBC;

    —  that momentum towards OFCOM coming into being is not impeded, or uncertainty injected, leading to stalling of progress and a consequent loss of morale and personnel.


    "In the year to September 2000 advertisers invested £522 million in commercial radio. This is an increase of 15.5 per cent on the previous full year and is leading commercial radio to a 6 per cent share of the advertising market in 2000 ... over the last year there has been a fall in the number of people relying on television as their primary source of news, and an increase in the number relying on radio".

  4.  The development of independent radio in the UK, under the Radio Authority's stewardship since 1991, has been a widely acknowledged success. From its launch in 1973, Independent Local Radio (ILR) enjoyed steady growth through the 1970s and 1980s. The Broadcasting Act 1990 heralded the creation of the Radio Authority to help ensure sufficient attention was given to the needs of independent radio, and permitted the introduction of Independent National Radio (INR).

  5.  Listening to commercial radio has increased more than 40 per cent since the Authority was founded at the start of 1991. By 1998, independent radio was estimated to account for about 50 per cent of listening in the UK. Radio was the fastest growing advertising medium over the last decade, with its share of the overall advertising "cake" growing from 2 per cent to 6 per cent. Today, there are 3 national analogue and one digital licences in operation, and at local level 255 analogue and 33 digital licences. It is this legacy—this success story, and one which sees the UK as a leader in the field of digital broadcasting—which we are determined should be protected and progressed under OFCOM.

World Class Regulator

  6.  It is important that OFCOM should represent an improvement on what exists currently from the five regulators (Broadcasting Standards Commission, Independent Television Commission, Office of Telecommunications, Radio Communications Agency and the Radio Authority). OFCOM must be much more than a sum of the parts. It must be—and be seen to be—a 21st century regulator.


  7.  In a rapidly changing technological environment, it will be important for OFCOM to ensure it is non-bureaucratic and quick on its feet in responding to change. We believe that government should delegate secondary legislative powers to OFCOM, subject to appropriate Ministerial clearance, to enable a swift response to change, and to avoid the delays in changing primary legislation which are inescapable, given the need to seek space in a crowded Parliamentary timetable.

Radio Problems/Solutions

  8.  The success of the Radio Authority in providing a focus for radio issues since its advent in 1991 has ensured that radio solutions are developed for radio problems, and radio is not seen as an adjunct of television. We are keen to ensure this position is maintained within OFCOM, and to that end have recommended the establishment of a Radio Group within the new structure. We are determined that radio shall not return to being a `Friday afternoon job' for a regulator concerned with the bigger battalions, and that radio is not subject to arbitrary regulation lacking the relevant expertise.


  9.  There seems little logic in excluding the BBC from OFCOM's remit. We believe there are areas, such as frequency planning, where there is a natural common interest in working under one roof and ensuring both an economy of scale and that decisions are made against a wider picture. Similarly, we question the need for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to decide on BBC's plans for digital radio. Instead it would seem more sensible for such issues to be handled by OFCOM. More widely, we see merit in OFCOM being empowered to amend by secondary legislation to ensure that it can act swiftly in response to a fast moving technological environment.


  10.  It will be important to ensure that momentum towards the creation and coming into being of OFCOM is maintained over the next couple of years, Assuming the OFCOM Paving Bill clears the Houses of Parliament in the coming months, and the main Communications Bill is published in April allowing time for pre-legislative scrutiny by both Houses, and then introduced in the autumn, OFCOM should come into being by the end of 2003.

  11.  Much detailed planning needs to be undertaken between now and then to make this happen and ensure an orderly transition from the existing five regulators to the new OFCOM. We are keen to ensure there are no unnecessary delays in this process to provide some certainty, to enable the five regulators to ensure "business as usual" until the new structures come into play, and to allow staff to make informed choices on their plans for the future.

10 January 2002

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