Joint Committee on Draft Communications Bill Report


305. The Communications Bill will make a number of revisions to the regulatory framework for commercial radio, some of which are included in the draft Bill and some of which will appear for the first time in the final Bill.[583] A number of the proposals have attracted criticism from within the commercial radio sector, the main burden of complaint being that radio is being discriminated against by being made subject to a more demanding licensing regime than at present or than that applied to television.[584]

306. At present, the holder of a local radio licence may be fined £50,000 for the breach of a licence condition; a national radio licensee, for a first offence, may be required to pay up to three per cent of qualifying revenue.[585] Under the proposals of the draft Bill, any non-national licensee may be fined up to £250,000.[586] In the case of television broadcasters, the maximum fine for a first offence can be up to £100,000 or three per cent of qualifying revenue, whichever is the greater.[587] Therefore, the fine that may be imposed on a small radio broadcaster is potentially much higher than that which may be imposed on a small television broadcaster. The Commercial Radio Companies Association found the increase in fines excessive and the discrepancy between radio and television inexplicable.[588] We recommend that the Government align the provisions for penalties for contravention of licence conditions between television and radio. Should it not propose to do so, it should, in its response to this Report, provide a full account of the rationale for the differences.

307. In relation to licence conditions, the Government proposes to grant to OFCOM powers not currently possessed by the Radio Authority, including a power to review the onward sale of local licences to reduce the risk that new owners move uniformly towards a middle ground of national taste.[589] The CRCA and Capital Radio questioned the need for this additional discretionary power, while the Radio Authority wished to see it strengthened to go so far as to enable OFCOM to prevent onward sales "during the first year or so after a licence is awarded, if the integrity of the licensing system is to be protected".[590]

308. The Policy document stated that the final Bill will impose a "new duty on OFCOM to promote and protect the local content and character of local radio".[591] In the absence of draft Clauses on this issue, commercial radio companies were suspicious that this might entail a further extension of regulatory power.[592] The regulator already has powers to impose conditions to secure the character of radio services, powers which are to be strengthened under provisions already included in the draft Bill.[593]

309. Our attempts to scrutinise the radio provisions of the draft Bill have been akin to trying to piece together a jigsaw with a number of missing pieces. In the absence of some of the most crucial provisions, our conclusions are necessarily confined to some general statements of principle. Local content and character must be integral and central characteristics of local commercial radio, as fundamental obligations in return for which licensees are granted spectrum access. In principle, we support the concept of additional duties and powers to maintain such obligations. We recommend that these incorporate a duty on OFCOM to award and review radio licences in such a way as to ensure that the broadest possible range of tastes and interests is catered for within each local radio area.

583   Policy, paras Back

584   QQ 718-719; contribution to online forum from Susannah Simons (GWR Group). Back

585   Broadcasting Act 1990, section 110. Back

586   Schedule 9, para 4. Back

587   Clause 159(3). Back

588   Ev 247, para 45; Q 720. Back

589   Policy, para Back

590   Ev 247, para, 25; Ev 251, para 6.7; Ev 20, para3(b). Back

591   Policy, para Back

592   Ev 247, para 25; Ev 251, para 6.7. Back

593   Broadcasting Act 1990, section 106; Clause 211. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 31 July 2002