Community radio stations hit back at RadioCentre’s report

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Community radio stations have condemned a report published by RadioCentre.

The report written by David Lloyd, spoke about the imposing threat by community radio stations. He also suggested further regulation in the sector.

The group of community radio stations jointly released a statement, saying, “At a time when Radiocentre has been lobbying hard and successfully achieved further deregulation for the commercial radio sector in recent weeks, it seems strange that they would argue for a huge increase in regulatory burden to be placed on the community radio sector.

“The report makes a number of baseless allegations, including raising the possibility that stations may have attributed revenue to online services, taken cash payments or direct payments to contributors to circumvent the strict rules in place by the broadcast regulator regarding on-air advertising. No stations are named in the report nor are any examples given.

“The report also appears to undermine the crucial social gain work undertaken by the vast majority of stations, and in places even suggests that this should be relegated away from the FM airwaves and placed onto online podcasts instead. Commercial radio should not be threatened by the presence of community radio stations who, through key commitments and existing regulation, are both required to and are happy to deliver high levels of social gain for the areas they provide a valuable lifeline to.

“At a time of increasing co-location and programme sharing between commercial radio licences, which we have not objected to, community radio could in some cases be left as the ‘last station in town’ providing a crucial local service. An implementation of the recommendations in this report would jeopardise this and we urge the broadcast regulator to take its own view on the matter rather than that of the commercial radio lobby group.”

Last week, a number of commercial radio stations including Asian broadcasters Sabras Radio, Panjab Radio and Sunrise Radio Yorkshire criticised Ofcom for approving such a large number of community radio stations over recent years.

Leicester based, Sabras Radio said it faced further direct competition from at least four of the seven local community stations which operate within the Sabras transmission area. The station suggests that whilst it has been consulted about the most recent rounds of licensing, it was not consulted about the earlier arrivals.

Sabras further claims that community stations have seriously impacted on revenues, “decimating turnover” as business communities have changed loyalties. Spot rates have been under pressure and some Asian communities have ceased advertising spend on Sabras completely.

In the past, Sabras has approached Ofcom to assist with an FM frequency or alternatively allow a power increase on AM, but feels that Ofcom and its predecessor has failed to “grasp the seriousness of the situation”, whilst continuing to grant FM licences to community stations. The latest application from Sabras came at a time when the station was re-negotiating transmission arrangements and finding it “financially prohibitive” to enter into a new agreement on its existing transmitter.

Overall, Sabras is concerned about community stations being licensed which self-evidently, owing to their targeting, have a significant – and now proven – impact on its livelihood. This is contrary to the legislative intention of not unduly prejudicing the economic viability of any other local commercial radio service. Sabras has made its case to Ofcom but feels its concerns have not been taken into account of any other local commercial radio service.

Similarly, Panjab Radio expressed that it faces three community radio stations in London and questions their community status owing to some of them choosing to broadcast on other platforms to reach additional geographic areas. Panjab also points out the low advertising rates which community stations are using in the market, which jeopardise its own business.

In short, Panjab Radio feels community radio stations are afforded a level of support by Ofcom which is not offered to small local commercial stations.

Sunrise Radio Yorkshire was a little more vocal with its stance against the fast growing community radio stations in North England. It said that it has lost clients, and yield has been eroded from the cheap deals offered by community stations.

Sunrise has been concerned about its coverage for decades, given it launched on what was called a ‘temporary frequency’. It suggests its plight was recognised by the former regulator who offered assurances that two frequencies had been identified. In time, these were awarded instead to community operators. Save for a small power increase, Sunrise’s concerns have never been addressed. Sunrise suggests it was invited to make its case to Ofcom when the regulator conducted an impact assessment on planning to license further community radio. Despite the situation being as above, a further licence was awarded.

It further added that it had been pushed into losses, with the redundancy of some posts including local journalists. The evidence suggests that this is a station which has been unduly prejudiced by community radio contrary to the intention of the law. Sunrise suggests it feels there is a regulatory bias to community radio.

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