Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Emap Performance

  Thank you very much for inviting Emap to give evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry into A New Future for Communications.

  Emap has views on areas in the White Paper that refer to commercial radio. Our chief concerns are to replace the ownership points system, protect radio within OFCOM, rope in the rampant BBC, and warn against commercial funding of "Access Radio".

  Deregulation of commercial radio is vital. Larger commercial radio companies improve diversity for listeners and sustain niche services through economies of scale. The Government agrees to look into a new ownership system, but does not indicate whether it will allow radio ownership to grow. We would like to know if the Government will replace the points system with one that allows for further consolidation of radio ownership.

  In line with our trade body CRCA, we think radio regulation should be through a unique organisation within OFCOM, not coupled to television. The Skillset Employment Census 2000 counts 22,819 people working in Broadcast Radio, compared to 24,102 in Broadcast Television. But, radio's often out-of-London charter can often mean out-of-London, out-of-mind. We will remind Government that radio differs from television and telecom and is regulated differently, I am afraid radio might be lost in the OFCOM sauce.

  I feel disappointed that the Government may not subject the BBC to the same regulation we face. The Paper states that OFCOM "will give formal advice to the Secretary of State on the market impact of new BBC public services and for material changes to existing ones, before the Secretary of State reaches a final decision". This seems to be no substitute for independent regulation. Regulating all radio together will allow the widest possible diversity of listening choice, creates a level playing field for competition and future investment, and ensures the best, transparent use of public resources set aside for radio. Separation of regulation and legislation for BBC services from its competitors is untenable, in the long run. It's all "running together", I guess this is the thinking behind the creation of OFCOM. The current regime allows the BBC to be sloppy, wasteful and to set its own goals. With a flick of its tail it can do great damage to a commercial market.

  "Access Radio", designed to serve excluded communities, is not expected to be commercially viable, as its audiences cannot attract sufficient revenue. To allow "Access Radio" to be commercially funded will, I think, lead it to become indistinguishable from commercial radio. At the same time, it will imperil small commercial stations by taking revenue from them. We will remind Government that Access Radio should not threaten the survival of small-scale commercial radio. We propose that "Access Radio" should not be funded with any commercial revenues.

February 2001

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