At its meeting on 14 September, Ofcom’s Radio Licensing Committee (RLC) was asked to consider a Format change request submitted by Spectrum Radio, which serves the Greater London area on the AM waveband, to increase its Asian output from the permitted eight hours to a maximum of twelve hours a day. In return they proposed to increase the Format requirement to serve eight communities from the existing six. Spectrum Radio’s proposals were published in full on Ofcom’s website on 10 July 2006.
Under the requirements of section 106ZA of the 1990 Broadcast Act, a public consultation was held, lasting 42 days. There were two responses from the industry. Both submissions raised concerns that an increase in the provision of Asian programming would effectively change the nature of the service to an Asian station, with some minority programming. One of the submissions is available for viewing on the Ofcom website, the other submission is confidential.
Under the requirements of section 106(1A) of the 1990 Broadcasting Act, Ofcom may consent to a departure from the character of the licensed service if, and only if, it is satisfied that at least one of the following four criteria is satisfied:
a. that the departure would not substantially alter the character of the service;
b. that the departure would not narrow the range of programmes available by way of relevant independent radio services to persons living in the area or locality for which the service is licensed to be provided;
c. that, in the case of a local licence, the departure would be conducive to the maintenance or promotion of fair and effective competition in that area or locality; or
d. that, in the case of a local licence, there is evidence that, amongst persons living in that area or locality, there is a significant demand for, or significant support for, the change that would result from the departure.
After full and careful consideration the RLC decided to reject the Format change request. In reaching its decision the RLC found that:
– the proposed change would represent a substantial change to the character of service as it would allow Spectrum Radio to allocate 50% of its output to programming for the Asian community (section 106(1A)(a).
– the proposed change would narrow the range of programmes available in the London area. There are already three AM services providing Asian programming to London on AM. The proposed change to the Spectrum Radio service would effectively provide a fourth and result in a reduction of hours available for other non-Asian communities currently served by Spectrum Radio (section 106(1A)(b)).
– insufficient evidence was provided by the applicant for Ofcom to make an assessment of Format change on competition grounds (section 106(1A)(c).
– the submission from Spectrum Radio did not demonstrate demand or support for the Format change amongst persons living in Greater London (section 106(1A)(d).