Friday, 24 January 2014

The Heart of the issue

Much debate this week after Ofcom showed some teeth and found Heart Cornwall wasn’t operating within its required Format.

Apparently Ofcom was responding to a complaint that the station was not broadcasting enough local news or since changing from Atlantic FM to Heart.

What is especially significant is that, for the first time in recent memory, Ofcom had to consider not only the formal news, weather and traffic bulletins on the station but also the content of presenter links. I’ve always found it ridiculous to suggest that a local radio station could adequately reflect the interests, mood and culture of its area simply in news bulletins – with the other 57 minutes of the hour being generic region- or nation-wide music radio. The most successful local stations have always had presenters who could talk about and be involved in their local communities.

At Heart Cornwall Ofcom found the Cornwall-specific material within presenter links typically accounted for less than five minutes per day!

In this case Global Radio asked in 2012 to change the Format of the station to remove the requirement for “full service speech” but had been rejected by Ofcom.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this position, the simple fact is that it was the station itself which (stupidly) promised up to 50% speech when applying for the licence. I think it is quite proper for the regulator to say that if a station – even if it has changed hands and rebranded – can’t do what it said in its licence application then the licence should be taken back and re-advertised.

In the past I’ve been in a situation where I’ve helped with an FM licence application only to be beaten by another group who made extravagant promises to Ofcom. For that group to come on-air then crawl to Ofcom for permission to ignore their commitments is not only unfair but makes a mockery of the whole licence application process.

If it’s true (and I don’t believe it always is) that truly local radio can’t be made to generate a profit in some areas then lets re-run the licence contest in those areas with Ofcom taking a more realistic view of the financial issues. Simply letting the biggest radio group in the country re-write the rules cannot be the best answer.

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