Examination of Witnesses (Questions 278
WEDNESDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2001
Chairman: Thank you very much for coming
to see us this morning. I do not believe there is sufficient public
discussion about the relevance of radio and yet it impinges upon
many, many millions of people. What we are trying to do today,
I hope, will contribute to public knowledge, as well as enabling
us to question you with great intensity and asperity. Mrs Organ.
278. Thank you. As the Chairman has said, I
too have really a very strong feeling about community radio. I
have an organisation in my constituency that has been struggling
for over five years now. They started off, called Cinderford FM,
trying to work with a 28-day licence, going round the market towns,
and they are exasperated that they cannot have a niche for the
community. You suggest funding for access radio is either from
the commercial sector or from the BBC licence fee. It was suggested
from the Radio Authority that community radio might go into partnership
with commercial companies, but they do not really want to do that
because the commercial companies want to gobble them up and do
their thing, do they not? I mean, where do you think the funding
is going to come from? I cannot really see it coming from either.
Do you have any suggestions about where funding could be for this
very important area?
(Mr Buckley) Yes. Funding is a key issue for the development
of community radio. Our view, first of all, is that there needs
to be a clear definition within public policy that supports the
development of community radio. That then needs to be underpinned
by a model which will ensure its economic viability. In practice,
we believe that funding can come from a variety of sources, and
that should include advertising and sponsorship. We do not think
there should be substantial restrictions on that. On the other
hand, we do not believe that the sector should be allowed to become
an advertisement maximising sector, in which programming is driven
by that element. We have experience from existing community radio
groups, even those operating, like Cinderford FM, on these 28-day
licences, of their ability to raise significant sums of money
from their own community, from local activities, from local fundraising
and funding schemes and not just from the sale of advertising
and sponsorship on the air. They also demonstrate the ability
to do an extraordinary amount of good quality programming on very,
very low budgets. This is really a key element of the economics
of community broadcasting: there is a huge amount of volunteer
input, community contributions, in-kind support that really enable
it to happen. That said, we would like to see a community media
fund established and we have made suggestions that that could
come either from the commercial sector, from part of the BBC licence
fee money or from a grant from the Treasury.
279. I wonder if we could explore that because
you are mentioning the ability of local community radio to get
local funds. Often, in order for them to be so successful, they
are in, shall we say, more marginalised areas. This idea that
they can raise the funds themselves and be some sort of self-supporting
charity, I think, if they are going to do it properly and professionally,
is not possible. Do you think that the commercial sector will
say, "Hang on a minute, we are in the business of providing
our radio, why should we have levies raised on us to fund what
effectively is going to be a competitor?" As you have said,
from the quality people can get from community radio, it is often
a very strong competitor. It is probably the poor quality pop
commercial radio which is the only other alternative.
(Mr Buckley) I think it is reasonable to anticipate
reaction against the commercial radio sector funding it. One of
the questions is whether there should be any restrictions or not
on the commercial revenue to the community radio sector in terms
of advertising and sponsorship. If there are some constraints
on that, then it would be reasonable for a quid pro quo
to be some percentage of the revenue of the commercial sector
to go into community radio. That is not the only model that we
would suggest. There are other ways of looking at this and we
would not be surprised if the commercial radio sector was opposed
to such an approach. However, such an approach has worked extremely
well in France and the commercial radio sector has grown to live
280. And love it?
(Mr Buckley) Live with it.
281. OK. You argue that there should be permanent
licences for community radio. I have to say I heartily agree with
that. This chomping around for little bits and pieces to try to
make community radio work is a nonsense; we should have been freeing
that up. But you have talked about it being for "recognisable
neighbourhood and community" and this is where we get into
quite a difficult area, do we not? For instance, the area that
is covered in my constituency, a rural area, the Forest of Dean,
with a population of 80,000. There are arguments that there should
be dozens of community radios within the metropolitan area of
London serving 11 million people. I wonder if you could talk about
how they would differ in size and would you have different criteria
for different kinds of community radio in different locations
serving different groups?
(Mr Buckley) I think that "editorially recognisable"
is not too difficult to identify. It is certainly more local than
existing BBC stations and most existing commercial radio stations.
Probably the nearest equivalent is the coverage area of local
newspapers which are distinctly more localised and there are distinctly
greater numbers of them than there are radio at the moment. In
the rural areas of course it could cover quite a wide area and,
indeed, its viability might well depend on covering quite a wide
area because of the dispersal of population, whereas in a built-up
urban area you might see small neighbourhoods having their own
community radio stations and indeed if frequencies can be identifiedand
we believe they are still therethen even in London there
could be dozens, yes.
282. The situation that we have now is at best
you could call it confusing and at worst wholly inappropriate
and it does not serve the community. Do you think it is appropriate
for the Radio Authority to begin developing their "Access
Radio" when it is not clear what is going happen or what
Government decisions are in this area, so it leaves everyone in
a state of confusion about the future?
(Ms Dowson) Yes, I think it is appropriate for the
Radio Authority to be developing this. We already have a thriving
sector which is struggling, as you mentioned, with the 28-day
licences which we maximise to the greatest capacity we can to
get community broadcasting on the air. We do feel that there is
a real interest and commitment throughout the country to community
broadcasting. It is happening in Bradford, Manchester, Birmingham,
the Forest of Dean. It is happening all over the country with
a very, very limited system. We need the full-time licences and
we really need to have some sort of pilot experiment that happens
pre-legislation so that we can test these things out. There are
a lot of areas that we need to work through. We are doing something
which has never been done in Britain before but has been done
in many, many other countries across the world. We do need that
opportunity to push forward and work our way through.
283. We are not exactly leading the field here,
(Ms Dowson) Certainly not.
284. We are definitely "Johnny-come-latelys"
in this. In other areas in digital and everything else we are
absolutely leading the way but we do not seem to have got it together
with community radio. I wonder if you could give us a view about
the cost at the moment for community radio stations to have access
and to get a licence, and whether you feel there should be differential
rates set against meeting certain targets and certain "must
(Ms Dowson) There has to be a third sector. There
has to be a completely different sector for community radio which
is ring-fenced and protected. The licences must be for non-profit
distributing groups, meeting certain criteria which are agreed
and defined, and by groups that cannot be taken over by commercial
predators. We all know that happens in many, many situations when
people set off with good intentions and then the commercial pressures
take over and they find themselves down a route they never intended
to go. We would want to make sure that those licences were ring-fenced
and that that could not happen so that if a group was not able
to make a licence work it would go back to being up for grabs,
and somebody else could make that community licence work.
285. So there have to be very clear dividing
lines between the operation of a community radio and small-scale
commercial radio, particularly if we are advocating the use of
additional financial support for community radio by local sponsorship
or local advertising. How are we going to do that because it gets
fuzzy between somebody that is just interested in putting out
community radio and ending up doing 24-hour rap music saying,
"That is what my community really wants to hear."
(Mr Buckley) I think the distinction is quite clear.
It is one about making a structural definition of community radio.
The Radio Authority have proposed that access radio stations should
be de facto and de jure non-profit distributing
and we agree completely with that. Provided that definition is
written into the licensing framework so that it is clearly organisations
whose fundamental purpose is for community objectives and public
service at the local level, then we believe that appropriate programming
and appropriate behaviour will follow.
286. How do you feel the White Paper has dealt
with the sector?
(Mr Buckley) It could have gone further. We are very
pleased that it has opened the debate. It has certainly indicated
a strong interest from Government to move forward on this, but
we would like to see that firmed up now into a clear regulatory
framework which recognises the community media sector, not just
radio, and establishes a sound base on which it can proceed.
287. Good morning. Congratulations on the work
that you do. I wish you well because I think what you do is fantastic.
I have an anorak person called Bernard Bibby who drives me quietly
mad in my constituency because we do not have the right space
on the bandwidths for commercial radio stations. Whilst we have
Invicta FM and Radio Kent, what we would like is a not-for-profit
community radio and that is what I would like. We cannot find
the funding. You mentioned this in your evidence to us. Do you
not think the simplest way is for OFCOM to take ten per cent of
the licence fee and for public service people to be able to bid
to OFCOM, so that you would not get the ten per cent but you might
get one per cent or two per cent so that OFCOM can properly look
after the public sector which the BBC does not look after?
(Mr Buckley) We would be delighted if the Government
could establish a straightforward formula that established a fund
that would support the sector. Whether that is a proportion of
the licence fee or a proportion of the licence fees paid back
to the Treasury by the commercial radio sector, or perhaps a proportion
of the spectrum auction fees, one way or another we believe a
formula needs to be found that establishes a reasonably sized
community media fund that will exist to underpin this sector.
288. The bandwidth that you need and the costs
you need, can you just tell usI know it is impossible,
it is like the length of a piece of stringhow much does
a community radio station 12 hours a day cost? Can you give us
(Mr Buckley) In operating costs they do vary enormously
from stations that can be turning over as little as £30,000
or £40,000 a year to ones which are turning over nearly ten
times as much as that. There is quite a wide variation depending
on the size of their operation, how many hours a day they are
broadcasting, the size of the community they are broadcasting
to, and so on. They are all operating at a relatively small level
where the biggest input is the volunteer contribution and support.
One would anticipate that the future turnover of a substantial
community radio sector in the United Kingdom is still unlikely
to be more than one per cent of the turnover of the commercial
289. Are any community radio stations based
in secondary schools where they have very good online facilities
and very good studios? I am struggling myself to see how I can
do this in my community. Where does it work?
(Mr Korbel) The current legislation allows for low
power and medium wave stations in educational establishments.
In Manchester, Whalley Range High School
Chairman: In my constituency.
290. Naturally, Chairman!
(Mr Korbel) has the first such school station,
but it is constrained by current regulation to not recognise the
audience outside of the school fence and it is strictly a school
radio station, it is not a community station.
291. You cannot stop the waves moving.
(Mr Korbel) No the pick-up is huge, but the contentand
I believe the Radio Authority have been quite firm on thisis
strictly about the school and school affairs. They are doing a
great job. It is a wonderful station.
292. Perhaps we could visit them, Chairman.
That was the point we were discussing in my constituency last
week that whilst the schools would like to connect to each other
and since they have got the equipment, it would be rather nice
when they close at four o'clock to do a community radio in the
evening. I did not realise there were those problems.
(Mr Korbel) There is another school in the Chairman's
constituency, Cedar Mount, who are bidding for a traditional RSL
293. RSL being?
(Mr Korbel) Restricted service licence, excuse the
acronym, but they will be able to do a community station from
there and as a development organisation Radio Regen can work with
them to develop their community output.
294. That is very interesting. So if we do not
do anything you are going to struggle basically if we carry on
as we are? You are the poorest of the poor in this spectrum we
have in communication?
(Mr Korbel) To refer back to Diana's point, it (ie
community radio) is fundamentally different in content and creation.
This is made by members of the community and the organisations
that exist to serve the community, no more, no less. Unlike either
the BBC or commercial stations there is no self-interest there.
295. Just following on from that, I had a mild
difference of opinion earlier on with Mr Wyatt when he referred
to Classic FM as a "public service", but there is no
doubt that what you are doing is a public service and you are
not in it for the money, you are in it to provide the service.
While there can be arguments, say, with Lord Bragg's proposal
that there should be a fund out of the licence for funding alleged
or self-described public service programmes on commercial television,
it does seem to me that there is a very, very strong argument,
as Mr Wyatt has said, for some of the licence money to go to ventures
such as yours, particularly since whereas with the BBC and indeed
most other broadcasters (however worthy the content may be) it
is from the top down, people are being talked atand the
development of the mobile phone shows there is an almost inexhaustible
propensity among human beings to communicate rather than to be
communicated atand what you are doing is enabling communities
to speak. Mr Korbel knows that in Longsight, for example, where
he has been operating, we had a very, very deprived community
which is finding itself in large numbers of ways and what Mr Korbel
is doing is helping that community to find itself. So one is knocking
at an open door when saying that there are strong arguments for
ventures like yours getting a share of the licence. How can we
structure that do you think? I read your memorandum. How can we
do that in a way that will enable the Government to do it? Do
you think that rather than taking it out of the licence it is
a good bet for the Lottery? Do you believe that the licence is
the best source for that?
(Mr Korbel) I think what is necessary is a stable,
dedicated fund, whether the source of that is brought through
the Treasury, from the licence auctions, or indeed through the
Lottery. Looking at our funding we can fit the Lottery Charities
Board community involvement criteria very, very well. We can get
into that. But that is only three years and, clump, that is it,
and we will be bidding into that. Similarly, for the European
funding for which we qualify and in which we have been very successful
in bidding, again it is limited and it is almost as if we have
to present ourselves as vocational training or social intervention.
As you say, especially in terms of neighbourhood renewal and tying
that into the recent announcements around neighbourhood renewal,
the call there is very, very strong for a dedicated fund.
(Mr Buckley) The key thing for us is
that it should come from a new source rather than existing sources
like the Lottery. Our sector does apply for and successfully gain
funds from a wide range of existing public funding sources, but
what we are looking for is a strategic underpinning of a sector
that recognises its fundamental core objectives, and that should
come from a new fund which could be a proportion of the licence
fee or some other source which the Government might identify and
that should be administered in a way which is at arm's length
from regulation or from any of the existing broadcasters.
296. Could I follow on, Mr Chairman, to what
Mr Korbel was saying. It is interesting to hear about the schools
but in your submission, you make quite a thing of it really, you
highlight the benefits of community radio in deprived areas.
(Mr Korbel) Very much.
297. For a reason no doubt. But should priority
be given to deprived areas or should indeed it be throughout the
whole country as the Community Media Association would say?
(Mr Korbel) I think in an ideal word access and creation
of a nationwide sector would be fantastic, there is no reason
against it, but if there are scarce resources (I am really talking
about money there) we should be looking at priority for neighbourhood
renewal where there is most need, where a community does not have
the wherewithal or the self-esteem to give itself a voice. It
is a view of Radio Regen not of the Community Media Association,
but it is from need. It is as simple as that. We have seen it
work. The amount of people that have moved on even with the temporary
licences we have achieved thus far can be multiplied hugely through
298. It is a big shout together to say these
areas need it and need it quickly?
(Mr Korbel) Very much and thus we push for no delay
in at least piloting and quantifying the benefits. With temporary
licences we can only scrape the surface and show certain benefits
but to have a long licence with full, accredited evaluation from
an independent body that can be done and we can proceed with that,
it is my understanding, through the current temporary licence
(Mr Blissett) Many so-called deprived areas have large
Asian and Afro-Caribbean communities. In terms of mainstream broadcasting,
commercial stations and the BBC do not cater adequately for these
communities and what community radio would do is give these communities
a voice. For example, I am from Birmingham and we did have a so-called
black station some time ago, Choice Birmingham, which did not
really provide a black service, the black service was a fringe
service which was provided during off-peak hours. Choice was taken
over by the Chrysalis Group, they were bought out. The crazy thing
is they were set up for about a quarter of million pounds and
less than four years later they were sold for £6 million.
That is a commercial station gobbling up what might have turned
out to be a good black station in Birmingham. I think in terms
of arts culture, in terms of music (I speak in terms of the Caribbean
community) they made quite a massive contribution in terms of
the culture of the country but in terms of broadcasting there
is no reciprocal arrangement in terms of what we get and as a
result you find that like the commercial stations or the predecessors
to the commercial stations currently a lot of the kids have become
pirates. We did an application against Choice FM in 1994 for the
local licence and we would have made a community station in Birmingham
had we got the licence because we were not driven by financial
reward, we were driven by the fact that we needed to enable the
community. When we carried out our market research we found that
in Birmingham the listenership to pirate radio was equal to that
of the commercial radio stations, if you took it in the round.
I think what community radio is doing and should do is revolutionising
broadcasting to some extent, in a way very similar to what the
pirates on the North Sea did with commercial radio because had
it not been for those guys there possibly would not be any commercial
radio broadcasting. We feel that large sectors of the community
were totally missing out in terms of radio. One of the other benefits
that community radio derives, apart from the cultural input, the
speech, the diversity that community radio brings to radio, is
we also bring new skills into radio. We do training in Birmingham
and in about 1995 we trained up some people who went to work for
one of the local commercial stations which was just set up. There
was nobody on the station who could do things like digital editing
or use a Marantz to go out and carry out an interview because
these people in commercial stations were used to using the desk
but not being trained in terms of some of the other technical
aspects. One of the things community radio does also is it brings
into the commercial sector and the BBC sector new skills because
when we do a broadcast we do not talk in terms of six, seven,
eight people in the station all being the main presenters. You
are talking about 50 or 60 people being involved in radio. So
community radio has brought radio, like some of the modern digital
technology has brought technology to everybody, everybody has
access to technology, most people edit films, most people can
do lots of things. What community radio has also done is it has
brought radio to people.
299. Can I ask why your bid for Choice failed?
Was it because of commercial reasons or resources? Who turned
(Mr Blissett) We have moved on from there, I think.
1 Note by Witness: My point is that there is
no stable, long-term funding for community radio on its own merits. Back