In 2005 the government finally realised that pirate radio was not going away, and allowed community radio to be born.
Not without severe restrictions. Commercial radio stuck its oar in and the government complied. Community stations had many hurdles to jump through. The application form was 59 pages long before a word was entered by the applicants. Social gain had to be proved. The station strength could not exceed 25 watts, giving about 5 mile radius coverage, and only 50% of revenue could be made from on-air advertising. Jumping through all the hoops was a challenge, but over 300 stations now exist – most hanging on because of voluntary effort.
Now the government, through OfCom, their tame regulator, are asking YOU questions. Never mind that the questions are badly written, indeed do not make sense without wading through the consultation documents. Nor does it matter that the questions do not address the real problems. There is a questionnaire – and you are urged to respond. Unless you do then over 300 stations could find it impossible to continue. Behind this survey lies the desire to get rid of these stations, who pose threats to commerce and political power.
Never doubt the influence of commerce. Profit-making companies want community radio stations to disappear, and they are helped by a government who sense the dangers of allowing people air-time.
Several million UK residents are relying upon your support.
In answer to the questions posed I replied (and this is not perfect – you can do so much better). The questions are on the response form, but you’ll need to read the Consultation document to make sense of what they are asking:
Question 1– Do you agree that the restriction on community radio, whose coverage areas overlap with commercial radio licence areas with fewer than 150,000 adults in their measured coverage area, should be removed. If you disagree with this statement please substantiate with details from any available source.
(note the lack of punctuation)
Yes, the restriction should be removed. Community radio does so much more for people than just making profit for companies that often have no local presence.
Question 2– If the funding restrictions on advertising were to be reduced ought the requirement on Ofcom to look at potential economic impact need also to be reviewed. We welcome your views on this.
Whose economic impact? If you mean commercial stations then OfCom should NOT be involved. Commercial stations have just one objective – to make money – so why should we be interested?
Question 3 – Should there be a relaxation of the restriction preventing stations from taking more than 50% of their income from advertising and sponsorship. If your answer to this question is yes, then what should the new restriction be. How should it be determined. For example, set in regulation or set by Ofcom following consultation and reviewing periodically.
Trying to keep it simple now
Yes, the restriction should be removed. There is no need for this restriction at all. Competition needs an open platform – why restrict community stations?
Question 4 – Of the two options noted above which do you support, and why. Include reasons why you dismiss the alternative option. We invite you to provide details on other approaches for consideration.
(Note that the questionnaire doesn’t tell you where or what the two options above are – work that out for yourself)
I want open platform, and for community stations to be given the same opportunities as commercial stations. There is no reason why this should not be the case except to allow commercial stations to make profit – which does nothing for local communities.
The alternative to the two options – both of which are the product of the administrative mind – is to allow the local community to make decisions. OfCom should not be involved, except to ensure technical requirements are met.
Question 5 – What way/s could a Fixed Revenue Allowance be fairly determined if this was to be set by Ofcom. Should this be set by Ofcom. What facts would Ofcom need to take into account in setting an appropriate level of allowance.
Another gobbledegook question – take a guess at what it means.
I said (my patience is now lost):
No punctuation in the question makes this difficult to answer. OfCom should not control local finances.
Question 6 – Would you support a further 5 year extension of a licence beyond the second 5 year period. If you do not agree, please provide reasons why this should not happen.
Possibly. It’s at that stage that proof of local support and need should be examined. These stations provide community services – the community should decide.
Question 7 – How can Community Radio Fund grant funding be better used.
There are no plans to alter how decisions are taken to distribute the grant however we welcome views on other ways in which the grant could be better targeted and how might this be done.
(that suggests that this is an irrelevant question that will not be acted upon)
It is an unequal distribution now. Funding should be added to local Council taxes (as in France and elsewhere). Each approved station to have an assured income. Some of this money should come from BBC income, which is too often wasted. Local BBC stations are very inefficient providers.
Finally, they asked:
We would welcome other views about the regulation of community areas and for suggestions for streamlining and improving the regulatory framework in which they operate.
Technology is changing. AM/FM is no longer the only system. We need a national radio network (BBC iPlayer approach), and to recognise that community stations have an enormous pool of talent that is largely unrecognised.
Government must recognise the true value of supporting community stations.
This is an important moment for democracy. Lack of support for community radio pushes aside the pool of talent, the social gain, the building of community, the platform for public opinion and the experience gained from working/volunteering within the community sector into the economic shadows.
It’s also allowed music, especially popular music, to dominate the medium. That’s not to be dismissed but as a result speech radio, of the BBC R4 type, is largely ignored. Nobody reads. We live by soundbites. It’s changing the way we think and act. Look at our politicians now in hi-vis jackets (a new one every time) running around to gain a few seconds of media time. The NME is about to fold, and many other magazines are decaying. We need replacements and CR is an obvious candidate.
In France community stations receive a guaranteed income, from taxation. Their value is recognised, and they play an active role in society. In the UK it’s assumed that BBC local stations do that job – and that’s not true. They are expensive, have what amounts to restrictive practices as presenters appear to have permanent sinecure, and live by phone-ins. If the money spent on BBC local stations was transferred to CR real progress will be made.
People feel disenfranchised. Our parliamentary democracy amounts to a dictatorship. One vote with your chosen candidate losing does nothing to create community spirit.
In New England states many towns have a Town Meeting: residents voting to set budgets and agendas. CR could become the modern version. With commitment CR could play an essential role in society.
It’s becoming a sector where egos can prance around depressing us all with their musical choices. It can do much more than that.