(III) THE REGULATION OF COMMERCIAL RADIO |
305. The Communications Bill will make a number of
revisions to the regulatory framework for commercial radio, some
of which are included in the draft Bill and some of which will
appear for the first time in the final Bill.
A number of the proposals have attracted criticism from within
the commercial radio sector, the main burden of complaint being
that radio is being discriminated against by being made subject
to a more demanding licensing regime than at present or than that
applied to television.
306. At present, the holder of a local radio licence
may be fined £50,000 for the breach of a licence condition;
a national radio licensee, for a first offence, may be required
to pay up to three per cent of qualifying revenue.
Under the proposals of the draft Bill, any non-national licensee
may be fined up to £250,000.
In the case of television broadcasters, the maximum fine for a
first offence can be up to £100,000 or three per cent of
qualifying revenue, whichever is the greater.
Therefore, the fine that may be imposed on a small radio broadcaster
is potentially much higher than that which may be imposed on a
small television broadcaster. The Commercial Radio Companies Association
found the increase in fines excessive and the discrepancy between
radio and television inexplicable.
We recommend that the Government align the provisions for penalties
for contravention of licence conditions between television and
radio. Should it not propose to do so, it should, in its response
to this Report, provide a full account of the rationale for the
307. In relation to licence conditions, the Government
proposes to grant to OFCOM powers not currently possessed by the
Radio Authority, including a power to review the onward sale of
local licences to reduce the risk that new owners move uniformly
towards a middle ground of national taste.
The CRCA and Capital Radio questioned the need for this additional
discretionary power, while the Radio Authority wished to see it
strengthened to go so far as to enable OFCOM to prevent onward
sales "during the first year or so after a licence is awarded,
if the integrity of the licensing system is to be protected".
308. The Policy document stated that the final Bill
will impose a "new duty on OFCOM to promote and protect the
local content and character of local radio".
In the absence of draft Clauses on this issue, commercial radio
companies were suspicious that this might entail a further extension
of regulatory power.
The regulator already has powers to impose conditions to secure
the character of radio services, powers which are to be strengthened
under provisions already included in the draft Bill.
309. Our attempts to scrutinise the radio provisions
of the draft Bill have been akin to trying to piece together a
jigsaw with a number of missing pieces. In the absence of some
of the most crucial provisions, our conclusions are necessarily
confined to some general statements of principle. Local content
and character must be integral and central characteristics of
local commercial radio, as fundamental obligations in return for
which licensees are granted spectrum access. In principle, we
support the concept of additional duties and powers to maintain
such obligations. We recommend that these incorporate a duty on
OFCOM to award and review radio licences in such a way as to ensure
that the broadest possible range of tastes and interests is catered
for within each local radio area.
583 Policy, paras 22.214.171.124-126.96.36.199. Back
QQ 718-719; contribution to online forum from Susannah Simons
(GWR Group). Back
Broadcasting Act 1990, section 110. Back
Schedule 9, para 4. Back
Clause 159(3). Back
Ev 247, para 45; Q 720. Back
Policy, para 188.8.131.52. Back
Ev 247, para, 25; Ev 251, para 6.7; Ev 20, para3(b). Back
Policy, para 184.108.40.206. Back
Ev 247, para 25; Ev 251, para 6.7. Back
Broadcasting Act 1990, section 106; Clause 211. Back