Memorandum submitted by The Radio Authority
Technical considerations mean coverage
of Scottish news and current affairs by the three national commercial
radio stations is largely governed by editorial judgement of their
interest to a UK-wide audience.
Local and regional commercial radio
stations operate within a Promise of Performance or Format and
the Radio Authority's Codes concerning news and current affairs
Stations cover Scottish debates and
issues of particular interest to each audience, which has lead
to substantial coverage of Scottish specific news and current
Since devolution interest in the
affairs of Westminster and how they affect Scottish issues has
remained and there is also fair coverage of the Scottish Parliament.
The Radio Authority always looks
sympathetically on any request by operators to extend news and
current affairs broadcasting.
The introduction of Digital Radio
offers great opportunities for improved reception and additional
programme and data services but its success will depend upon consumer
take-up which is difficult to forecast. A positive decision to
cater for possible "splitting" of national digital stations
was made by the Radio Authority in 1994 via allocation of separate
frequency blocks. Again, take-up and financial considerations
make this a long-term proposition.
There have been awarded Local Digital
Radio Multiplexes for Glasgow, Edinburgh, Central Scotland, Aberdeen,
Ayr and Dundee & Perth. Radio Authority plans for Local Digital
Radio Multiplexes include services for the Inverness area.
The Radio Authority is happy to co-operate
with the Scottish Parliament if it chooses to find ways of articulating
an interest in broadcasting matters.
The Radio Authority was set up by the Broadcasting
Act 1990. It took responsibility for the regulation and licensing
of Independent Radio throughout the UK in succession to the former
Independent Broadcasting Authority. The Radio Authority's tasks
are threefold: (i) to plan and allocate frequencies for radio
broadcasts within the spectrum assigned by Government; (ii) to
select and appoint licensees to operate radio services on those
frequencies, and to supervise matters such as the statutory ownership
rules affecting inter alia who may hold licences and how
many licences may be in single ownership; and (iii) to regulate
the programming and advertising output on the basis of a series
of statutory Codes established by the Authority under the broadcasting
legislation. The 1996 Broadcasting Act gave the Authority additional
responsibility to establish Digital Radio (using Digital Audio
Broadcasting technology) in the independent sector.
The Authority has currently issued 255 Independent
Local Radio licences (ILR), three Independent National Radio licences
(INR) and is currently awarding new ILR licences at the rate of
about one a month. The Authority also has 24 cable radio licensees
and 71 satellite radio licensees as well as licensing one additional
service for data, which operates within a sub-carrier of the INR
FM frequency allocation. In addition, the Authority issues between
400 and 500 Restricted Service Licences (RSLs) each year. These
are mostly of not more than 28 days duration and are run either
as trial services or for the coverage of special events.
The Authority was set up to be a "light-touch"
regulator. It does not prescribe, either generally or in detail,
the range of programming to be provided by licensees. However,
the programming proposals of a successful applicant are encapsulated
in a "Promise of Performance" (a more detailed document
used for the station's first six months on-air) or a "Format",
from which the licensee must not deviate (though variations can
be negotiated). The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and
Sport appoints the Chairman and Members of the Authority. There
is a permanent staff of 48. Together they are responsible for
regulating more than 40,000 hours of programming each week.
RA licensees broadcasting to all or part of
Scotland are listed in the Annex, with a brief indication of area
covered and programming style.
They comprise the three INR (ie all-UK) services, and local/regional
services. With the exception of talkSPORT (one of the INRs) and
the regional Scot FM service, these are all music-based stations.
However, all local/regional services include in their programming
some local/regional news and other information. Additionally,
talkSPORT may broadcast a sports show targeted at Scotland for
a maximum of three hours (1600 to 1900) weekdays (this arrangement
will be re-assessed by the Authority after the expiration of the
first rights arrangements, having particular regard to the technical
aspects of the "split"). Stations whose output includes
some Gaelic language are noted in the Annex.
As regards news and current affairs coverage
in Scotland generally:
(i) The three all-UK services do not, largely
for technical reasons, "split" programming (apart from
the sports show on talkSPORT as aforementioned) so as to provide
output different in Scotland from elsewhere in the UK. It follows
that coverage by these stations of Scottish affairs is likely
to be mainly governed by editorial judgement of their interest
to the UK-wide audience.
(ii) The local/regional stations give substantial
coverage to Scottish specific matters as part of their commitment
to provide local news and other speech-based material likely to
appeal to the local audience. How, and how much, they do this
is primarily up to them, within the individual Promises of Performance/Format
and the requirements of the Authority's Codes. Comments from the
industry suggest that this was the case before, and is the case
after, devolution. In the years before devolved government, broadcasting
in Scotland reflected much on the affairs of Westminster and how
they affected Scottish issues. Since devolution it would appear
that there is still great interest in the issues emanating from
Westminster, but there is also now fair coverage of the business
of the Scottish Parliament.
(iii) In the main, local commercial stations
have not shifted away from local news coverage since devolution,
but have continued to look for local angles from the wider news
stories. A comment made to us purports that news and current affairs
coverage post devolution has not heightened an overall interest
in Scottish issues with listeners. This could be due to the fact
that stories tend to focus more on personal issues rather than
pragmatic ones (it was not stated whether this was the case pre
devolution) and this was particularly true with regard to the
Scottish Parliament and its members.
(iv) Rules and advice concerning news and
current affairs coverage are contained within the Radio Authority's
News and Current Affairs Code, Advertising and Sponsorship Code,
and Programme Code. The latest revision of the Authority's News
and Current Affairs Code and Programme Code is to be published
in January 2002. It is the first revision since devolution and
includes both cross-referencing and advice concerning relevant
Scottish legislation (such as libel etc) within the UK wide legislative
picture. If a station wished to devote more time to news and current
affairs than its current Promise of Performance/Format envisaged,
the Radio Authority would be sympathetic to any request for variation.
(v) Because most of the local and regional
Scottish stations are music-based (with the exception of Scot
FM), with modest-sized newsrooms, it seems unlikely that they
would be offering news and current affairs coverage that is more
extensive than any other UK commercial radio station. However,
as already noted, experience of ILR coverage suggests that efforts
would be made to cover debates and other events of salient interest
Under the 1996 Broadcasting Act the Radio Authority
has responsibility for facilitating the introduction of commercial
Digital Radio multiplexes to provide both national and local services.
Digital Radio offers significant advantages to the listener in
terms of a higher quality of reception of all services, including
mobile services, robust signal reception and greater ease of tuning.
The opportunity exists to introduce many more new services within
the UK, perhaps doubling the existing analogue numbers, and to
provide data transmitted with the digital audio signal giving
information related to programming output and discrete data streams.
The National Digital Radio Multiplex licence
was awarded to the sole applicant, Digital One, in October 1998.
It commenced broadcasting in November 1999 and provides ten programme
services: Classic FM (classical), Virgin Radio (rock), talkSPORT
(speech), Planet Rock (classic rock), Core (club and chart hits),
Life (adult contemporary), Oneword (plays, books, comedy and reviews),
Primetime Radio (music and features for older listeners), Bloomberg
talk MONEY (business, finance and money), and ITN News (rolling
news service). Some of the capacity on the multiplex may be used
for data services.
Digital One's coverage obligations only extend
to the Central Belt of Scotland, but there are firm plans to extend
coverage significantly beyond this area, down to Ayr and up to
the east coast to Aberdeen.
The advertisement of Local Digital Radio Multiplex
licences began in November 1998 following the award of the National
Digital Radio Multiplex licence. There has been six Local Digital
Radio Multiplex licence awards so far in Scotland:
|Central Scotland||Switch Digital
|Dundee & Perth||SCORE Digital
There are also plans to license a multiplex for Inverness,
and the successful applicant (to become the licensee) should be
announced in December 2001.
Pattern of Development
There is still some uncertainty about the consumer take-up
of Digital Radio, consequently of its commercial potential, and
when digital can begin to replace analogue as the favoured means
of reception. Given that there is an average of five analogue
radio sets per household, excluding existing analogue car radios,
the transition from analogue and digital is likely to take many
The Authority intends to concentrate, in the early years
of digital radio development, on the main population centres within
the UK. Reflecting the consensus of responses to its consultative
exercise, the Authority will aim during this period to facilitate
the establishment of up to two local/regional multiplexes (in
addition to BBC and commercial national multiplexes) in each of
these areas but, apart from in Greater London, not to go beyond
this density of provision for the foreseeable future. This pace
of progress, together with the services on the National Digital
Radio Multiplex, could bring listeners in major areas up to 24
digital radio services (London 32) plus a further selection (6-8
services) on the BBC's national multiplex.
The legislation establishing the Scottish Parliament left
the responsibility of the UK parliament in broadcasting matters
largely unaltered. However, the Authority now benefits from a
designated Member for Scotland on its Board, and we understand
that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport lays our Annual
Report before the Scottish Parliament. As we hope this reply demonstrates,
we are happy to provide information to the Parliament on any matters,
and would be happy to extend to the Parliament all necessary and
proper co-operation in the future.
22 November 2001
Not published, available from The Radio Authority. Back
Not published, available from The Radio Authority. Back