Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by The Radio Authority (PDB 2)


    —  Technical considerations mean coverage of Scottish news and current affairs by the three national commercial radio stations is largely governed by editorial judgement of their interest to a UK-wide audience.

    —  Local and regional commercial radio stations operate within a Promise of Performance or Format and the Radio Authority's Codes concerning news and current affairs coverage.

    —  Stations cover Scottish debates and issues of particular interest to each audience, which has lead to substantial coverage of Scottish specific news and current affairs.

    —  Since devolution interest in the affairs of Westminster and how they affect Scottish issues has remained and there is also fair coverage of the Scottish Parliament.

    —  The Radio Authority always looks sympathetically on any request by operators to extend news and current affairs broadcasting.

    —  The introduction of Digital Radio offers great opportunities for improved reception and additional programme and data services but its success will depend upon consumer take-up which is difficult to forecast. A positive decision to cater for possible "splitting" of national digital stations was made by the Radio Authority in 1994 via allocation of separate frequency blocks. Again, take-up and financial considerations make this a long-term proposition.

    —  There have been awarded Local Digital Radio Multiplexes for Glasgow, Edinburgh, Central Scotland, Aberdeen, Ayr and Dundee & Perth. Radio Authority plans for Local Digital Radio Multiplexes include services for the Inverness area.

    —  The Radio Authority is happy to co-operate with the Scottish Parliament if it chooses to find ways of articulating an interest in broadcasting matters.


  The Radio Authority was set up by the Broadcasting Act 1990. It took responsibility for the regulation and licensing of Independent Radio throughout the UK in succession to the former Independent Broadcasting Authority. The Radio Authority's tasks are threefold: (i) to plan and allocate frequencies for radio broadcasts within the spectrum assigned by Government; (ii) to select and appoint licensees to operate radio services on those frequencies, and to supervise matters such as the statutory ownership rules affecting inter alia who may hold licences and how many licences may be in single ownership; and (iii) to regulate the programming and advertising output on the basis of a series of statutory Codes established by the Authority under the broadcasting legislation. The 1996 Broadcasting Act gave the Authority additional responsibility to establish Digital Radio (using Digital Audio Broadcasting technology) in the independent sector.

  The Authority has currently issued 255 Independent Local Radio licences (ILR), three Independent National Radio licences (INR) and is currently awarding new ILR licences at the rate of about one a month. The Authority also has 24 cable radio licensees and 71 satellite radio licensees as well as licensing one additional service for data, which operates within a sub-carrier of the INR FM frequency allocation. In addition, the Authority issues between 400 and 500 Restricted Service Licences (RSLs) each year. These are mostly of not more than 28 days duration and are run either as trial services or for the coverage of special events.

  The Authority was set up to be a "light-touch" regulator. It does not prescribe, either generally or in detail, the range of programming to be provided by licensees. However, the programming proposals of a successful applicant are encapsulated in a "Promise of Performance" (a more detailed document used for the station's first six months on-air) or a "Format", from which the licensee must not deviate (though variations can be negotiated). The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport appoints the Chairman and Members of the Authority. There is a permanent staff of 48. Together they are responsible for regulating more than 40,000 hours of programming each week.

  RA licensees broadcasting to all or part of Scotland are listed in the Annex, with a brief indication of area covered and programming style.[1] They comprise the three INR (ie all-UK) services, and local/regional services. With the exception of talkSPORT (one of the INRs) and the regional Scot FM service, these are all music-based stations. However, all local/regional services include in their programming some local/regional news and other information. Additionally, talkSPORT may broadcast a sports show targeted at Scotland for a maximum of three hours (1600 to 1900) weekdays (this arrangement will be re-assessed by the Authority after the expiration of the first rights arrangements, having particular regard to the technical aspects of the "split"). Stations whose output includes some Gaelic language are noted in the Annex.[2]


  As regards news and current affairs coverage in Scotland generally:

  (i)  The three all-UK services do not, largely for technical reasons, "split" programming (apart from the sports show on talkSPORT as aforementioned) so as to provide output different in Scotland from elsewhere in the UK. It follows that coverage by these stations of Scottish affairs is likely to be mainly governed by editorial judgement of their interest to the UK-wide audience.

  (ii)  The local/regional stations give substantial coverage to Scottish specific matters as part of their commitment to provide local news and other speech-based material likely to appeal to the local audience. How, and how much, they do this is primarily up to them, within the individual Promises of Performance/Format and the requirements of the Authority's Codes. Comments from the industry suggest that this was the case before, and is the case after, devolution. In the years before devolved government, broadcasting in Scotland reflected much on the affairs of Westminster and how they affected Scottish issues. Since devolution it would appear that there is still great interest in the issues emanating from Westminster, but there is also now fair coverage of the business of the Scottish Parliament.

  (iii)  In the main, local commercial stations have not shifted away from local news coverage since devolution, but have continued to look for local angles from the wider news stories. A comment made to us purports that news and current affairs coverage post devolution has not heightened an overall interest in Scottish issues with listeners. This could be due to the fact that stories tend to focus more on personal issues rather than pragmatic ones (it was not stated whether this was the case pre devolution) and this was particularly true with regard to the Scottish Parliament and its members.

  (iv)  Rules and advice concerning news and current affairs coverage are contained within the Radio Authority's News and Current Affairs Code, Advertising and Sponsorship Code, and Programme Code. The latest revision of the Authority's News and Current Affairs Code and Programme Code is to be published in January 2002. It is the first revision since devolution and includes both cross-referencing and advice concerning relevant Scottish legislation (such as libel etc) within the UK wide legislative picture. If a station wished to devote more time to news and current affairs than its current Promise of Performance/Format envisaged, the Radio Authority would be sympathetic to any request for variation.

  (v)  Because most of the local and regional Scottish stations are music-based (with the exception of Scot FM), with modest-sized newsrooms, it seems unlikely that they would be offering news and current affairs coverage that is more extensive than any other UK commercial radio station. However, as already noted, experience of ILR coverage suggests that efforts would be made to cover debates and other events of salient interest to audiences.


  Under the 1996 Broadcasting Act the Radio Authority has responsibility for facilitating the introduction of commercial Digital Radio multiplexes to provide both national and local services. Digital Radio offers significant advantages to the listener in terms of a higher quality of reception of all services, including mobile services, robust signal reception and greater ease of tuning. The opportunity exists to introduce many more new services within the UK, perhaps doubling the existing analogue numbers, and to provide data transmitted with the digital audio signal giving information related to programming output and discrete data streams.


  The National Digital Radio Multiplex licence was awarded to the sole applicant, Digital One, in October 1998. It commenced broadcasting in November 1999 and provides ten programme services: Classic FM (classical), Virgin Radio (rock), talkSPORT (speech), Planet Rock (classic rock), Core (club and chart hits), Life (adult contemporary), Oneword (plays, books, comedy and reviews), Primetime Radio (music and features for older listeners), Bloomberg talk MONEY (business, finance and money), and ITN News (rolling news service). Some of the capacity on the multiplex may be used for data services.

  Digital One's coverage obligations only extend to the Central Belt of Scotland, but there are firm plans to extend coverage significantly beyond this area, down to Ayr and up to the east coast to Aberdeen.


  The advertisement of Local Digital Radio Multiplex licences began in November 1998 following the award of the National Digital Radio Multiplex licence. There has been six Local Digital Radio Multiplex licence awards so far in Scotland:

Date awarded
SCORE Digital
September 1999
SCORE Digital
March 2000
Central Scotland
Switch Digital
October 2000
Switch Digital
April 2001
SCORE Digital
July 2001
Dundee & Perth
SCORE Digital
September 2001

  There are also plans to license a multiplex for Inverness, and the successful applicant (to become the licensee) should be announced in December 2001.

Pattern of Development

  There is still some uncertainty about the consumer take-up of Digital Radio, consequently of its commercial potential, and when digital can begin to replace analogue as the favoured means of reception. Given that there is an average of five analogue radio sets per household, excluding existing analogue car radios, the transition from analogue and digital is likely to take many years.

  The Authority intends to concentrate, in the early years of digital radio development, on the main population centres within the UK. Reflecting the consensus of responses to its consultative exercise, the Authority will aim during this period to facilitate the establishment of up to two local/regional multiplexes (in addition to BBC and commercial national multiplexes) in each of these areas but, apart from in Greater London, not to go beyond this density of provision for the foreseeable future. This pace of progress, together with the services on the National Digital Radio Multiplex, could bring listeners in major areas up to 24 digital radio services (London 32) plus a further selection (6-8 services) on the BBC's national multiplex.


  The legislation establishing the Scottish Parliament left the responsibility of the UK parliament in broadcasting matters largely unaltered. However, the Authority now benefits from a designated Member for Scotland on its Board, and we understand that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport lays our Annual Report before the Scottish Parliament. As we hope this reply demonstrates, we are happy to provide information to the Parliament on any matters, and would be happy to extend to the Parliament all necessary and proper co-operation in the future.

22 November 2001

1   Not published, available from The Radio Authority. Back

2   Not published, available from The Radio Authority. Back

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