The commercial radio body, Radiocentre, says it wants Ofcom to strengthen the proposals in the draft Operating Licence for the BBC.
It says new requirements for holding BBC services to account as outlined in the BBC Royal Charter and Framework Agreement 2016 risk being undermined if Ofcom does not take the opportunity to make early changes.
The BBC’s Royal Charter and Framework Agreement was approved by Parliament in October 2016 and published by DCMS in December 2016. Determining how the BBC will operate for the next 11 years, it introduced a new form of governance for the BBC, giving responsibility to Ofcom as external regulator and instructing a new BBC Unitary Board to have oversight of the organisation’s operation.
The Charter and Framework Agreement contain specific references to both retaining existing conditions on services, as well as considering areas where conditions could be increased, with the aim of supporting a broader range of choice for audiences and ensuring a healthy and diverse media industry.
In radio the Charter and Framework Agreement also require Ofcom to examine the case for clearer age targets for mainstream radio services, support for UK talent, news, information, current affairs, social action and broader sports coverage**.
Radiocentre says Ofcom’s draft new Operating Licence appears to be proposing fewer conditions for BBC radio services than previously required by the BBC Trust. In particular:
- a 36% reduction in the number regulatory conditions (38 instead of 59) for BBC network radio
- where current quotas have been increased, BBC services are already exceeding these new targets, so listeners will not notice a difference
- there is no strengthening of target audience requirements and the broader requirements of the old service licences are not included
Radiocentre CEO Siobhan Kenny said: “The BBC provides some fantastic radio content, which it can do partly because of its scale and its guaranteed funding. As a result of these advantages, it is acknowledged that the BBC is regulated in a different way to other broadcasters, with obligations to deliver broader public service goals, with a distinctive flavour, in addition to mainstream output. Listeners deserve the widest possible choice and it is not clear that the current proposals will deliver that.
“Government and Parliament agreed in drawing up the new Royal Charter and Framework Agreement that the intention was to reinforce BBC accountability and strengthen regulation in order to produce distinctive BBC services, changes which were presumably not envisaged to result in fewer measures against which to hold the BBC to account.
“Stakeholders have submitted their thoughts on the draft Operating Licence – and the BBC has published its Annual Plan. We hope that Ofcom will take the opportunity to strengthen its proposals in line with the requirements of the Royal Charter and the Framework Agreement.”
You can read Radiocentre’s full response via a PDF here.