A community radio station in West Sussex has been found in breach of its Key Commitments following a listener complaint to Ofcom.
Meridian FM in East Grinstead was monitored on 13, 14 and 15 February 2014 to see if it was sticking to the rules after the regulator heard it was failing to deliver certain Key Commitments, and under-delivering on others.
Ofcom reports it identified a number of concerns about Meridian FM’s delivery of the following Key Commitments:
“The service will typically be live for 12 hours per day. (Live programming may include pre-recorded inserts, if applicable).”
Ofcom noted that the live hours broadcast during the monitoring period were eight hours on Thursday 13 February, 12 hours on Friday 14 February, and two hours on Saturday 15 February. Two days therefore did not meet the 12 hour live output requirement.
Music to speech ratio
“Output will typically comprise 70% music and 30% speech (‘speech’ excludes advertising, programme/promotional trails and sponsor credits). Evening and overnight output will have a higher proportion of music.”
Due to the lack of live hours broadcast on two of the three days monitored, the station’s daytime speech content did not reach 30%.
Local news and sport
“Speech output will include local news.. Information on local sports will also feature from time to time.”
We noted that a Sky News bulletin was broadcast every hour during live programming hours; however this covered only international and national news, with occasional national sports news. There was no evidence during the monitoring period of any other scheduled news bulletins or other speech content covering ‘local news’. There was also no ‘information on local sports’ identified by the Licensee.
“Music output will comprise…with specialist music shows focussing on specific musical tastes.”
In the three days monitored we identified two scheduled shows which could be considered to focus on “specific musical tastes” (“Off the Beaten Track” and “Funky Weekend Music”), plus a Valentine’s Day “Love Songs Special”. However, these appeared to be examples of “themed” programming rather than “specialist music shows focussing on specific musical tastes.”
Based on the monitoring, Ofcom wrote to the Licensee to request its comments, to which the station said the days in question comprised “an exception to our normal service”. It outlined recent changes to the station’s management and board, and explained that time constraints on many of the station’s previous volunteers had undermined the management’s ability to run the station as they would wish to.
Meridian FM accepted that the three days of monitoring, in isolation, did not meet the full Key Commitments and admitted that there were lessons to be learned around the recruiting and training of an adequate number of stand-in presenters. The Licensee assured Ofcom that the number of gaps in the schedule is reducing and will “disappear later this year”.
The stormy weather conditions were also a reason for lack or normal programmes, to which Ofcom acknowledged but pointed out that they were not notified of the changes at the time. Lack of local news content was also highlighted, with Ofcom saying “we found no evidence of content which could be categorised as ‘local news'”
Therefore the Licensee is on notice that, should similar issues arise in future, Ofcom may consider taking further regulatory action.