Results of a survey carried out by the Community Media Association during the pandemic have been released.
Due to the significant challenges that broadcasters have faced due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Ofcom recognised the extraordinary circumstances will have a prolonged impact on broadcast schedules and production.
Where broadcasters have been genuinely unable to meet the programming and production requirements set out in their licence, because of the disruption due to the coronavirus, Ofcom has invoked the force majeure condition in the broadcast licence and licensees will not be liable to enforcement action as a result.
The current approach to enforcement is in place until the end of 2020 and Ofcom will review the position again at the end of the calendar year in accordance with the published procedures.
The Community Media Association (CMA) has undertaken a survey to gauge the difficulties that community radio broadcasters have faced in keeping up their broadcast commitments and meeting their key commitments. The survey questions were devised in collaboration with a number of respected voices in the community radio sector including some members of the CMA Council, the elected Board of Trustees of the Community Media Association.
Starting the week commencing 27th July, the CMA circulated details of an online survey in order to capture a wide range of views. The CMA received 50 responses submitted to the online survey.
93% of stations responding to the survey have been somewhat adversely affected by the pandemic. More than one-third of community radio stations have found that training new presenters and team members has been made difficult die to social distancing measures or studio closure. When asked for how long should Ofcom continue to take a flexible approach to regulating the delivery of Key Commitments, 44% thought that Ofcom should continue for another 6 months from January 2021 and then review after 6 months. 22% thought that the situation should be reviewed after 3 months.
The next six months are likely to be particularly challenging for the sector and the UK as a whole with the possibility of a second wave of infection in the winter or indeed, as we are currently seeing, the prospect of outbreaks in particular localities. Community radio stations will have to continue to implement social-distancing and enhanced studio hygiene measures for quite some time ahead. It would therefore be prudent for Ofcom to continue to take a pragmatic approach to regulating the delivery of stations’ Key Commitments for the foreseeable future.
The CMA’s research has highlighted that community radio stations have adapted well to the challenges of the crisis and have quickly adopted new technologies to enable volunteer contributions to be made from home and other remote studio locations. Community radio stations are highly motivated to play a part in keeping their neighbourhoods informed, educated, and entertained during the pandemic and the vast majority of stations have seen their audience (as measured by online stats) increase typically by about 40%.
With extremely limited resources, community radio stations have been doing their best to deliver their Key Commitments and to serve their neighbourhood. Ofcom’s regulatory approach of the last six months has supported the sector and has been appreciated.