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Radio regulator told to review its “localness” rules as stations close and jobs are lost

© nuj

3 July 2019

Local radio will become increasing London-centric and rural areas hit hard by changes in regulations which have already resulted in 100 job losses and station closures.

Speaking at a meeting in Parliament, Kevin Brennan, shadow arts and culture minister, said he had written to Ofcom, the regulator responsible for changes in “localness” for commercial radio, asking it to review its decision.

The new rules have reduced the minimum amount of local programming a local radio station must produce from seven hours to three and removed the requirement for local stations to produce their own breakfast programmes. Kevin Brennan said Global Radio had announced about 100 job cuts across the UK and was replacing more than 40 local shows on its Smooth, Heart and Capital networks with just three nationwide programmes. Global has also announced the closure of 10 of its 24 local radio studios in Brighton, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Exeter, Gloucester, Kendal, Kent, Lancaster, Norwich and Swindon. Further closures may follow.

local radio event
            Shadow minister Kevin Brennan

He said the cuts needed to be seen in the context of cuts to other local media.  In eastern England, where the Chelmsford, Norwich and Cambridge studios are shutting, 11 newspapers have also been lost between 2012 and 2017.  “I am deeply concerned that the changes to locality are contributing to a wider decline in local media and the rise of an even more London-centric media landscape,” the shadow minister said.

Ofcom has slashed the “approved areas” for local radio studios from 31 to 12.

Local radio in Scotland and Wales is also at risk. Kevin Brennan,also  MP for Cardiff West, said he had raised this issue with Sharon White, chief executive of Ofcom. Wales has gone from three “approved areas” to one. “Programming made in Llanelli or Cardiff does not amount to local content for people living in Bangor or Wrexham,” he said.

The meeting was organised by John Grogan, Labour MP for Keighley, whose early day motion called for a review of the changes by Ofcom and asked ministers to examine the case for strengthening the law to protect localness. He argued local radio was booming and doubted the radio companies needed greater deregulation to survive. Two companies, Global and Bauer, own most of Britain’s local commercial radio stations. While Global has moved quickly to shut stations, John Grogan said he would put pressure on Bauer to protect the localism of its stations.  

The National Union of Journalists and Equity spoke for the Federation of Entertainment Unions (FEU) on the platform. The FEU had issued a statement on local radio in May.

Martin Campbell, media adviser and formerly Ofcom chief radio adviser, said the broadcasting regulator and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) had “bought the industry line… and that is the bottom line”. Radio listeners who had taken part in the consultation and had argued against deregulation had been ignored.  When minimum was set, all you would get was the minimum, he warned.

Frances Rafferty, NUJ senior editorial and communications officer, said radio, and particularly local radio, was one of the most trusted news sources – nine in 10 adults tuned into radio every week. Local radio literally saved lives during emergences such as the floods in Cumbria and for many people local radio was their friend. Providing news that connects the local community was essential for a thriving democracy.
NUJ members report low morale in the sector. One asked:

“Where will the routes into the industry be for people based outside London as the smaller stations where they would have cut their teeth disappear? What will be Ofcom’s news requirements for stations in future as FM is phased out and only the DAB multiplexes remain? Will local new teams be further hollowed out as local news requirements merely become regional ones, multiplex by multiplex?”

David John, Equity’s audio councillor, said it was presenters who were losing their jobs and work. Local advertisers were also unhappy about the new larger approved areas. One local business had been paying £416 a month to his local radio station, but Global was now charging more than three times that price because the advert was reaching more listeners – but not necessarily the listeners the local business was aiming for.

John Grogan said the campaign against the cuts would continue. He urged MPs to find out what was happening in their constituencies and said he would ask the DCMS select committee to hold an inquiry into local news.

Kevin Brennan and John Grogan quiz Margot James, minister of state for digital and the creative industries on the radio regulations at DCMS quesions in Parliment (June 4, 2019)

Tags: , broadcasting, radio, local radio, ofcom, regulation, global, bauer, kevin brennan, john grogan, equity, martin campbell, smooth, heart, capital, feu