Joint Committee on The Draft Communications Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 77

Memorandum submitted by Community Media Association

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  A.  The Community Media Association is the UK membership association for community media. In this response we set out our preliminary views on the issues of concern for community media in the draft Communications Bill.

  B.  Community media have a significant contribution to make to the local communications environment, providing access to local information, encouraging citizens' participation, providing a platform for diverse cultures and viewpoints and offering a counterbalance to increasing concentration of media ownership and the current decline in local and regional programming.

  C.  OFCOM should adopt a strategic cross media approach to the regulation of community media including broad public service requirements where licensing is required and self regulation where appropriate. This should take account of convergence and the emergence of new interactive media.

  D.  There should be a dedicated Community Media Division within OFCOM to provide a clear focus for community media development.

  E.  The obligation on OFCOM to develop a range and diversity of community media should be embedded in primary legislation as an essential part of OFCOM's duty to citizens and society at large.

  F.  There should be statutory provision for the development of Community Radio with frequencies ring-fenced in the FM and AM wavebands, future provision in the digital environment and must carry rules on cable.

  G.  Local and community television should be given statutory provision and recognised as part of the public broadcasting system with a distinct dual category licensing framework in both the analogue and digital terrestrial environments and a must carry obligation on cable operators.

  H.  There should be a Community Media Fund at a level to support a wide range of community-based radio, television and new media services. The Fund should established on a statutory basis similar to Gaelic Broadcasting Committee with independent grant making powers.

  I.  Community media should not face any undue restrictions on their ability to raise funds from a variety of sources including advertising and sponsorship.

Annex

Memorandum to the Joint Committee on the draft Communications Bill

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The Community Media Association is the UK membership association, founded in 1983, for organisations working in the community media sector. It groups together local and community television operators, community radio stations and community based Internet projects. The CMA has over 600 members from throughout the UK. The CMA organises conferences and events; provides training, technical support and guidance; undertakes research and publishes a quarterly magazine, Airflash; operates grant and award making schemes; and represents the interests of the community media sector to Government, regulators, industry and the voluntary sector.

  2.  Community media have a significant contribution to make to the local communications environment, providing access to local information, encouraging citizens' participation, providing a platform for diverse cultures and viewpoints and offering a counterbalance to increasing concentration of media ownership and the current decline in local and regional programming. Community media can be instrumental in creating a sense of local identity, in giving voice to minorities and in enabling cultural expression and they have a vital role to play in neighbourhood renewal, local democracy and community access to information and communication technologies.

  3.  Community media groups are widespread in the UK, located in both urban and rural areas and serving a diverse range of communities. But they have been held back by inadequate access to channels and frequencies, the absence of a robust regulatory framework to support and encourage their development and the lack of a stable and structural financial base. Other countries have shown that, with the right policy and regulatory environment, community media can flourish. The Communications Bill is an opportunity to enable the sector not just to catch up with the experiences of many other countries around the world but to put in place the best possible environment for community media in the UK to now fulfil its considerable potential.

OFCOM AND COMMUNITY MEDIA

  4.  The CMA believes OFCOM should adopt a strategic cross media approach to the regulation of Community Media including broad public service requirements where licensing is required and self regulation where appropriate. While the Government's proposals appear to recognise the potential benefits of community media we consider the approach set out in the draft Communications Bill to be rather piecemeal and disappointingly tentative given the demonstrable and sustained demand from communities across the UK. A more robust and comprehensive approach is needed which should take account of the range of present and future platforms, the trend towards convergence and the emergence of new interactive media.

  5.  OFCOM should have a properly staffed Community Media Division to nurture and support the development throughout the UK of a wide range of community media including radio, television and new media. A Community Media Division in OFCOM would provide a clear focus for the implementation of the public interest in communications at the local level including linking early initiatives such as analogue community radio and television with a longer term view on broadband and the future local digital communications environment. A Community Media Division could benefit from guidance of a Community Media Committee of experts which might most appropriately be established as a sub-committee of the Content Board.

  6.  The obligation of OFCOM to develop a range and diversity of community media services should be embedded in primary legislation as an essential part of OFCOM's duty to citizens and to society at large. The draft Communications Bill provides secondary legislative powers to establish a tier of access radio services, to establish a fund for such services and to develop local digital television services. These are positive developments but they leave a range of related regulatory issues which are not properly addressed. Given the extensive and growing interest in community media this suggests a reluctance within Government to formulate a clear vision for the place of this sector in the future communications environment.

DEVELOPMENT OF COMMUNITY RADIO

  7.  In responding to the Communications White Paper the CMA argued:

    "Government should establish a new licence category for a third tier of radio, Community Radio, which would be locally owned and accountable to its audience, operating on public service principles for community benefit and being de facto and dejure non-profit distributing." (CMA Response to Communications White Paper, January 2001).

  The proposals for "access radio" in the draft Communications Bill (section 179) provide secondary powers, for the Secretary of State by Order to establish "access radio" services "to be provided primarily for the good of members of the public or a particular community, rather than for commercial reasons". Whilst we might wish to fine-tune the wording of definition the general principle is in line with what the CMA has proposed. Our main concern with the draft Communications Bill is that the basic framework and responsibility within OFCOM for this new sector should be underpinned by a clear and robust statutory provision.

  8.  We have not yet heard a reasonable argument as to why such services should not be called "community radio". This is the term by which they are widely described elsewhere in the English speaking world including in legislative and/or regulatory provision in the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia and South Africa and in a wide range of international declarations including several within the framework of the UN system. The term "access radio" is confusing as it is more commonly used to describe community access to mainstream commercial and BBC local radio services. "Community radio" is a much clearer description and it is also better understood by funding agencies whose support is of considerable importance to this sector.

  9.  Of particular importance to the development of Community Radio/Access Radio is the need for affordable access to frequencies on FM and AM and the future digital broadcasting platforms. Remaining frequencies in the FM and AM bands should now be reserved primarily for the development of Community Radio services throughout the UK operating a sufficient power to cover editorially recognisable neighbourhoods and communities. The Radio Authority have stated that they are:

    ". . . keenly aware that a widespread introduction of Access Radio would require significant access to residual capacity within the FM sub-bands, including those currently deployed for BBC national and local services. It seems likely to us that these will need to be supplemented by extensive use of AM". (Radio Authority Provisional AM Strategy, May 2002).

  We broadly concur with that assessment whilst we would stress that on both economic cost and quality of service grounds the FM waveband is almost invariably the medium of first choice for community radio broadcasters.

  10.  We anticipate future development of community radio will be increasingly multi-platform. While FM will be the primary medium for the foreseeable future, community radio stations will also wish to webcast on the Internet and to be carried on cable and other platforms. Presently access to cable is difficult because of the absence of must carry rules. OFCOM should be given enforceable powers to introduce must carry provision for local and community radio and television services. Community radio will also seek access to digital terrestrial broadcasting platforms and the provision for community radio in the Communications Bill should provide sufficient flexibility for the future licensing of digital community radio services.

LOCAL AND COMMUNITY TELEVISION

  11.  Community-based video production is very widespread in the UK but efforts in the past to broadcast local and community television have been limited by the high costs of production and only very limited access to cable systems with low levels of audience penetration. In recent years production costs have decreased substantially, cable has become much more widespread and there is a new generation of free to air local television services. The Communications Bill is a vital opportunity to consolidate the development of local and community television, however, the provision in the draft Communications Bill addresses the digital terrestrial environment only. It provides an insufficient framework to guarantee the emergence of local and community television as a distinctive part of the television landscape.

  12.  Local and community television should be explicitly recognised as a part of the public service broadcasting system and should be expected to adhere to broad public service requirements in terms of local content, ownership, accountability and access to facilities. Because local and community TV provides a unique service for a local audience, it should also enjoy the privileges of public service broadcasting including must carry rules on all appropriate platforms and a higher priority in frequency allocation.

  13.  Clear measures will also be needed to prevent excessive concentration in future ownership of local and community television and to promote diversity, innovation and a plurality of services. In particular we strongly support the establishment of two distinct licensing categories along the lines set out by the Independent Television Commission in their Consultation Paper on Restricted Service Licences (July 2001). In this proposal Category A licences would be reserved for not-for-profit organisations with clear rules to prevent transfer and accumulation of licences. Category B would be for commercially operated services. The proposals in the draft Communications Bill do not provide a sufficiently clear statutory framework within which such an approach could be developed.

  14.  Cable is emerging as a potential medium of considerable importance to the future of local and community television. The most important provision that is required to enable local and community programme services to access cable platforms is the inclusion of must carry rules. Such rules should be linked to a distinct licensing framework for local and community programme services and an enforceable obligation on cable operators to provide affordable access to such services. The inclusion of free to view local and community programme services in the digital cable environment would provide a vital counterbalance to the myriad of global channels available.

  15.  Whislt the draft Communications Bill does make welcome provision for local digital terrestrial television the present difficulties surrounding this platform and the uncertain timetable for analogue switch off is now holding back local and community television development. There has been a moratorium on the licensing of new analogue local television services and the existing services continue to face possible pre-emption by national digital channels. A higher priority should be given to the transitional development of local and community television in the analogue environment in addition to ensuring that sufficient frequencies are retained for the future development of digital local and community television services throughout the UK.


FUNDING COMMUNITY MEDIA

  16.  The draft Communications Bill provides OFCOM with powers to make grants to the providers of Access Radio services. We certainly welcome such provision however the fact that it provides only for support of Access Radio licensees is indicative of the absence of a strategic cross media approach to community media development and a lack of understanding of the reality of convergence in the community media sector. The CMA proposes that Government should establish a Community Media Fund at a level sufficient to support radio, television and new media services whether these are carried on terrestrial frequencies, cable or on broadband.

  17.  The Community Media Fund should be modelled along similar lines to the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee. In other words it should be at arms length from OFCOM with independent grant making powers set out in statute. There should be clear separation of the regulatory powers of OFCOM from the grant making powers of the Community Media Fund to ensure grant making decisions do not become part of the body of OFCOM enforcement powers. Revenue to the Community Media Fund should initially be derived from the revenues collected by OFCOM including a proportion of the cash bids and qualifying revenue paid by radio and television licensees. In the future revenue to the Community Media Fund could include a percentage of the television licence fee which is currently applied wholly to BBC services.

  18.  Advertising and sponsorship are a key part of the funding mix for many community media organisations although they are not generally anticipated to be the predominant source. The draft Communications Bill provides powers for the Secretary of State by Order to impose prohibitions or limitations on inclusion of advertisements or sponsorship of programmes. Government must ensure that community media do not face undue restriction in raising funds and are able to raise funds from a variety of sources including advertising and sponsorship. The onus must be on the commercial radio sector to demonstrate any probable harm and any such restrictions should be fair and proportionate. We have found no evidence from other countries that allowing community media organisations to access advertising and local sponsorship has had any detrimental effect on local commercial media companies and it may have the opposite effect in bringing new smaller enterprises into the broadcast advertising market.

June 2002


 
previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 5 August 2002