Whilst it is of significant concern that 53 community radio stations are to be investigated by Ofcom to determine if those stations have breached their key commitments, it is important to note that such an investigation does not imply that the broadcaster is automatically in breach. Not all investigations result in breaches of the licence or other regulatory requirements being recorded.
The Community Media Association (CMA) cannot comment on the details of any individual station in public as we would not wish to prejudice or otherwise pre-empt the outcome of any investigation. However a community radio station and CMA member under investigation has advised us:
“When responding to the investigation, we realised that we had in fact over-delivered on the key commitments in question. Our reason for ticking ‘no’ was because we felt that our work had not fitted the exact wording”.
Bill Best, Operations Manager of the CMA:
“A number of stations that we have counselled informed us that they had misunderstood the reporting form and checked the wrong box in error. Furthermore, it is possible that some stations have not offset volunteer hours against advertising and sponsorship, and might appear to be in breach of the 50% restriction. We urge all member stations to contact the CMA if they require assistance with the Annual Return. The CMA looks to Ofcom for further guidance on this matter which we will disseminate to the sector”.
CMA members report that Ofcom is usually sympathetic to the issues that stations face when working to address potential shortfalls in their Annual Report. Previously the Community Radio Team has assisted stations to more accurately redraft their key commitments where targets may have been over-estimated, and the CMA expects that Ofcom will continue to support the sector in this regard. The CMA fully supports the role of Ofcom as the regulator in ensuring that social gain, as defined in the Community Radio Order 2004, remains at the core of community radio broadcasting.
In spite of an unprecedented adverse economic situation community radio continues to do an outstanding job in delivering social gain outcomes with minimal central funding – and any issues with compliance reporting should be understood within that context.
Community radio stations are working with very few resources to hand and no formal training on completing the Annual Report. The CMA calls for the Community Radio Fund to be enhanced in order to make funding available to support the education of community radio stations around compliance issues and best practice.
Ofcom’s Communications Market Report 2014 advises that over the past five years, the average income for community radio has fallen from £84,000 to £55,500 per year. This represents a 33.9% decline over the period. Median income (the value at the mid-point in the distribution of incomes) now stands at £33,250 per year, a decline of 5.6% in the last year.
However over a full broadcast week of 168 hours, a typical community radio station broadcasts live for 78 hours, with an average 90 hours per week of originally-produced output. Speech output averages 30% of daytime output and the average station works with 82 volunteers.
Dom Chambers, Chair of the Community Media Association:
“It is a matter of great concern that around one quarter of community radio licensees are being investigated by the regulator in the area of key commitments. I know what extraordinary levels of social impact are achieved in our sector so we need to analyse where there are shortfalls in getting that information back to the licence regulator. Ofcom investigations can be very demoralising to those operating from a volunteer base. I am also concerned at the length of time it has taken for these investigations to come to light nor that this was brought up in our last quarterly meeting. As one who has filed five annual returns on behalf of a licensee I very much look forward to discussing this situation with Ofcom as CMA chair when we attend our next meeting in December.”
Information on community radio regulatory issues including guidance on volunteer input, changes to stations’ key commitments and details on complaints may be found on the Ofcom website here: