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Ofcom addresses radio broadcasters concerns amid coronavirus crisis

Ofcom has announced measures to ease off pressure from radio broadcasters during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ofcom informed broadcasters that it will keep into account should they not deliver their Format or Key Commitments agreements over the next three months. However, Ofcom said that broadcasters should be prepared to provide an explanation to it as to what steps they have taken to seek to ensure compliance insofar as possible, and keep us informed as to how they have made reasonable adjustments where necessary with a view to continue to provide the best possible service to their audiences insofar as they can.

In a statement, Ofcom said, “We recognise that the current situation is fast-moving and unpredictable. We appreciate that all organisations will need to follow Government advice as it emerges and make their own judgements on the appropriate operational steps required to best protect and support their staff and the implications for their viewers and listeners. Compliance with regulatory obligations is important but we want to assure broadcasters that they should feel empowered to take all necessary steps to protect their staff at this difficult time.”

It added, “This situation may make it very difficult for those broadcasters with programming commitments to meet some or all of these. Ofcom does not currently plan to adjust broadcasters’ existing programming commitments. However, this is an ongoing and unpredictable situation, and we are monitoring it closely.

Ofcom understands that broadcasters will be taking steps to try to deliver the best possible service to all audiences, but may be unable to comply with certain terms of their licence for reasons beyond their control given the exceptional circumstances, in particular in relation to certain specific programming and production requirements.”

Ofcom said that it will continue to asses complaints that it received and radio stations should ensure that measures have been into place to retain recordings of broadcast. It said, “Ofcom is continuing to assess any complaints we receive about broadcast content during this time. We expect all broadcasters to continue to have measures in place to make and retain recordings of broadcast output and produce these to Ofcom on request as far as this is possible. In light of the current situation.”

Ofcom also reminded all broadcasters that they should have plans in place to ensure their output complies with the Broadcasting Code in the event that their compliance officers are unable to work. If their contingency plans for compliance come under threat, broadcasters should consider carefully whether they should remain on air. Broadcasters are reminded that given the suspension of schools across the UK, care should be taken when broadcasting content during the daytime when children will be available to see or listen to content.

Ofcom said it was prioritising it enforcement of broadcast standards in relation to content relating to the coronavirus and that dissemination of accurate and up-to-date information to audiences will be essential during the current situation.

Ofcom also addressed points to new licencees of community radio stations planning to launch in the coming weeks. It said, “For any new community radio broadcasters undertaking test transmissions of new services during this period, we would like to remind you that you are permitted to deliver a reduced service during the initial 28 days from the ‘Commencement Date’ of your licence. Once the test period has ended broadcasters, wherever possible, are expected to deliver a full service in line with their Key Commitments. However, new broadcasters should also bear in mind the information provided in this Note to Broadcasters and contact Ofcom if it is not able to meet its commitments in light of these exceptional circumstances.”