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The Duke of Montrose: I would like to offer my support to Amendment No. 30. Community organisations work in sound, pictures, text and moving image, and encourage interactivity and community participation. A future-proof Communications Bill committed to community-based media should provide Ofcom with a clear duty to take a strategic cross-media approach to the growth and development of all forms of community media. In doing so, it should take account of the range of present and future platforms, and the trend towards convergence and new interactive media.
We are all aware that the attraction provided by community media is that they give a channel for the promotion of culture, heritage and identity. They give access to local information, encourage citizens' participation, provide a platform for diverse cultures, and create a sense of local identity and community.
Scotland has been at the forefront of community media development in the UK. There are a number of successful community radio stations in the highlands and islands that have been pioneers in developing the
Amendment No. 177 deals with Clause 258. The Bill makes provision for a new type of radio licence that will enable the establishment of community radio stations all over the UK under the "access radio" provision. One of the "access radio" pilot stations, Radio Awaz, is also based in Scotland, in Glasgow. It has demonstrated the social benefits of community radio in the Asian community. Awaz FM not only fills a gap in entertainment and cultural provision, but gives the city council and police, who support it, and other public agencies an avenue of access to a somewhat isolated Asian community with which they find it difficult to communicate effectively by other means.
As it stands, the Bill seems liable to enable the concentration of media ownership into fewer hands. There will be a growing need for community media in promoting and protecting local culture, and in enabling minority voices to be heard.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I too strongly support this group of amendments. Because community media, both television and radio, are so little known and make up such a tiny proportion of the total broadcasting output, there may be a temptation to overlook their potential. On other Bills, we spend a lot of time in the House trying to address the intractable problem of social exclusion. It is fair to say that community radio outlets reach the parts that commercial broadcasting and the BBC do not reach. That is mainly because they are set up and driven by the communities that they serve.
I came across a striking example of community radio in the Feltham young offender institution recently. It is a remarkable and hugely encouraging experiment in community broadcasting, where the inmates do all the work necessary to broadcast not only within the prison, but for four weeks a year to the neighbouring community. As many Members of the Committee will know, the extent to which community media can broadcast is currently limited to a four-week broadcasting stretch at a time, save for the 15 pilot schemes that the Radio Authority has allowed recently.
As my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth said, the Bill only refers, and then indirectly, to the community media in terms of the enabling arrangements under Clauses 241, 258 and 352. The Government may be inclined to say that they deal indirectly with community media in the keynote clause of the Bill, Clause 3. Members of the Committee may recollect that Clause 3(1)(b) refers to furthering,
The Community Media Association deserves a great deal of credit for what it does. It has 250 organisations as members, 170 of which run some sort of community-based mediathe vast majority being radio. That small army of community media could and should grow in the coming years exponentially. It needs to grow exponentially, because, as has been said, it has a direct and unique impact on the particular community that it serves, being created by them and serving their needs directly, enabling them and giving them esteem.
So for all of those reasons I hope that community media will cease to be the Cinderella of the broadcasting family. I should like to think that bringing them to the heart of the Bill in the explicit way provided for in the amendments could usher in a new era for these very important small media outlets.
I want, however, to raise a point in regard to Amendment No. 302. To be brutal, where will the money come from for the community media fund? Suggestions have been made by noble Lords that it should come, for example, in terms of receipts from Ofcom; but, in practice, is the funding to come from general taxation, from the national lottery or from some other source? Or is it to come from the general fees that Ofcom charges its licensees?
We have had input from commercial broadcasters, who have raised some concern that, were they to pay into the community media fund as suggested by the amendment, they might be prevented from diverting resources for the improvement of their own services. There is a potential conflict here. I shall be interested to hear how the Government will respond to the amendments.
Lord McNally: I have added my name to the amendments. The case for them was skilfully put by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson. I want to put to the Minister the fact that I was originally attracted to this cause as the result of meeting a young black activist from one of the more troubled London estates. She told me enthusiastically about the impact that local access radio had had on that estate in terms of getting through to young people and getting across positive messages of community.
Listening to the advocates of these proposals, it seemed that I had heard some of the arguments previously. I say that in the ominous presence of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane. In regard to community and access radio we seem to be hearing many of the hopes that we originally heard in regard to local
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: Before the noble Lord concludes, I offer him a further avenue of collaboration between the commercial sector and community radio. I do not mean to sound cynical, but there is a grave danger that community radio and community media are set up for the producers rather than the consumers. Grant-giving powers will simply be a beacon of hope to everyone who cannot get a job in the BBC or commercial radio to the effect that the local rates will give them the job of setting up their own radio station even if they are broadcasting, frankly, only to themselves. That sounds terribly much like a put down but I do not mean it in that way. Some of those people do very good work.
However, there is another way forward. When the Annan committee was set up, I advocated to it that comparatively large stations such as my own at that pointRadio Clyde, which covered Glasgowshould be obliged to take rural areas under their wing. Radio Oban was a community radio service that covered Oban, which, as I recall, had a population of about 5,000 people and therefore, frankly, had no chance of being viable on its own. We offered a radio service to it as a sustaining service. We paid for itfor the land linesbut it could opt out of the arrangement whenever it wanted and could do its own thing whenever it wanted; it had a sustaining service for the rest of the time. That is a potential way forward. We had no vested interest in the matter whatever. The advertising revenue from 5,000 people is, frankly, buttons. It would not affect us one bit. We were happy to do that because we thought that it was worth while.
That might be the way forward. We should not get caught up in the idea that community radio is automatically a good thing. I can quote examples by the barrel-load in Scotland of public money being ploughed into community radio, which went bust in six months because, frankly, no one was listening, not even the person's mother.
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