Ofcom has announced proposals for the creation of community radio, a new sector of radio broadcasting for the UK. Community radio will be a third tier of radio, adding to the rich mix of services already provided by the BBC and commercial radio sectors.
Under the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom is responsible for setting up the licensing and regulatory process for community radio and is undertaking a public consultation on its proposals.
Community radio already exists in countries such as France, Australia, and Ireland. It offers local communities new opportunities to communicate and engage with one another, including offering members of the public the chance to take part in making programmes. Services are small in scale, operated on a not-for-profit basis, and can have a positive impact on their communities.
Ofcom is seeking views on a number of key issues, including:
Frequency availability – most cities and conurbations are likely to have frequencies for at least one or two community services initially. Community radio stations should typically use frequencies that are not viable for commercial services, to allow both sectors to develop in tandem.
Licensing process ? applicants from anywhere in the UK should be able to apply for a licence. There should be a standard timetable each year, with an annual window of 12 weeks during which applications can be submitted.
Impact on commercial radio ? Ofcom will be required to take into account the impact of community radio services on commercial radio. Commercial radio stations will be able to comment on applications, and explain any adverse impact. Ofcom could also set a general limit on the share of community stations? income from advertising and sponsorship.
Regulation of licensees – a requirement for community radio stations to report annually on their progress.
The Government is also consulting on a draft Community Radio Order. This Order will set the framework for Ofcom?s regulation of the sector. This is available from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport?s website at: http://www.culture.gov.uk.
It is expected that the draft Community Radio Order will become law in late spring or early summer 2004. This consultation does not prejudge the outcome of that Order and any changes made by Parliament will be reflected in Ofcom?s procedures accordingly.
The full consultation document on The Licensing of Community Radio is available on Ofcom?s website at: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consultations/.
The closing date for responses is 20 April 2004.