Joint Committee on Draft Communications Bill Report


310. The draft Bill contains proposals in Clause 179 to place on a firm statutory footing the "third tier" of radio in the form of "access radio". There is already provision for community-based, non-profit-making radio stations, but these have hitherto been restricted in licence duration or coverage or been on a pilot basis only.[594] The Government sees the potential of such radio stations to help increase active local community involvement, provide a nursery for future broadcasters and satisfy demand for access to broadcasting resources from specific communities, whether based on locality, ethnic or cultural background or other common interests.[595]

311. The Community Media Association has welcomed the general principles underlying the framework established in Clause 179.[596] Three practical issues will need to be tackled if a significant access radio sector is to develop. First, OFCOM will need to ensure that adequate FM frequencies are available.[597] Second, access radio must develop in ways that maintain its distinctiveness from the commercial radio sector, which itself often serves very small communities.[598] Third, a funding regime for access radio must be established that enables it to complement rather than compete directly with commercial radio. Clause 236 permits OFCOM to make grants to access radio providers, but the sources of funding for such grants remain uncertain, as does the extent to which commercial funding for access radio is compatible with its distinctiveness from commercial radio and would not undermine that sector.[599] We welcome the provisions in the draft Bill to enable the structured development of a not-for-profit access radio sector, which has the potential to enrich both broadcasting and community development. It will be of paramount importance for OFCOM and the Secretary of State to ensure that these powers are exercised in a way that ensures the development of access radio that serves parts of society that commercial radio fails presently to address.

312. Just as there is potential for access radio to enhance the range of broadcasting services in the United Kingdom, so there may be an opportunity for local television services to widen the availability of distinct types of programming. At present, local television is constrained by the nature of restricted service licences, the costs of production and the limited access to cable systems.[600] Clause 167 gives the Secretary of State power to provide for the development of local television on digital terrestrial television. Channel M, a Manchester-based local television service, argued that there was a need to allow for the extension of existing restricted service licences to cover more of the period before widespread or universal availability of digital terrestrial television.[601] Contributors to our online forum also advanced the case for greater priority to be given to community television in spectrum allocation.[602] Both Channel M and the Community Media Association argued for extending to local television services the "must-carry" privileges on all digital networks available to public service television broadcasters.[603] Although we welcome the provision in Clause 167 to support the development of local digital terrestrial television services, we recommend that the Government and the existing regulators give early consideration to means of fostering the development of local television services before analogue switch-off, in order that further provision may be made in the final Communications Bill if necessary.

594   HC (2000-01) 161-I, paras 107-111; Ev 20, para 3(d). Back

595   Policy, para Back

596   Ev 574, para 7. Back

597   Ev 20, para 3(d); Ev 574, para 9; Q 71; contributions to online forum by Mary Dowson (Bradford Community Broadcasting) and Peter Grace. Back

598   QQ 729-730. Back

599   QQ 71, 729; Ev 574, paras 16-18; Ev 251, paras 4.7-4.8; Ev 247, paras 34-35. Back

600   Policy, para; Ev 574, para 11. Back

601   Ev 530. Back

602   Dave Rushton (Channel Six Dundee), Graham Mole (MyTV Network). Back

603   Ev 452; Ev 574, paras 10-15. Back

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Prepared 31 July 2002