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Three community radio licence awards: May 2009

Ofcom's Radio Licensing Committee ('RLC') has awarded three community radio licences in May.

All community radio services must satisfy certain 'characteristics of service' which are specified in Article 3 of the Community Radio Order 2004. The RLC was satisfied that each of the applicants awarded a licence met these 'characteristics of service'. In addition, each application was considered having regard to the criteria set out in section 105 of the Broadcasting Act 1990 ('BA 1990') (as modified by the Community Radio Order 2004). A summary of these criteria is set out below. The key considerations in relation to these criteria, which formed the basis of the RLC's decisions to award licences to particular applicants, are also set out below. Where applicable, the relevant subsection of section 105 (1) of the BA 1990 is noted in brackets. (Please see specific community radio licence award criteria, set out below, for full details of each subsection.)

Applicants awarded a licence

Ofcom's RLC made licence awards to the following applicants:

  • HCR FM, Huntingdon
  • intobeats, Bedford
  • AHBS Community Radio, Ashford, Kent

Each of these services will be licensed for a period of five years from the date of their launch.

The RLC was satisfied that HCR FM and intobeats should be allowed to seek up to 50% of their respective annual income from the sale of advertising or programme/ station sponsorship if they so wish, in accordance with section 105(6) BA 1990. AHBS will have a condition in its licence prohibiting income from the sale of advertising or programme or station sponsorship. This is because the coverage of the service falls within the coverage area of a local commercial radio service which has more than 50,000, but fewer than 150,000, adults living in its measured coverage area (KMFM Ashford). Under the legislation, community radio services in such areas are prevented from seeking advertising and programme or station sponsorship revenue (section 105(4)(b)) if the coverage of the two stations overlaps by 50% or more in terms of adult (15+) population. RLC was satisfied that none of these new services would prejudice unduly the economic viability of any other local service (section 105(3) BA 1990).

HCR FM

HCR FM will serve the people of Huntingdon and the surrounding area. It has long experience of broadcasting in the area, having carried out 13 temporary restricted service licence (SRSL) broadcasts since 1995 (1a). It proposes a service of familiar music and local news and information that suits local tastes (1b). The applicant demonstrated good community links with local businesses and community groups (1a) and evidence of demand and support for its proposals (1d). It set out a training plan covering a range of skills (1e). In addition there is an induction programme for new volunteers and a commitment to provide access and training to a wide range of people from the local community (1g).

intobeats

intobeats will provide an urban music service primarily targeted at under-35 year-olds in Bedford. The applicant has over 10 years experience in urban music, and has been running an internet project since January 2008 (1a). Group members have experience of doing DJ sets and working on other internet and FM stations, and bring a good knowledge of various urban music genres. This will help ensure the station caters for the tastes and interests of local urban music enthusiasts (1b), broadens radio choice locally (1c) and provides a radio station to a section of the community that is currently underserved by such services (1e). The committee was impressed by the fact that this service would offer a different kind of social gain from most community radio stations, in particular RLC felt that the station could offer considerable benefits for young people in the area (1e). intobeats has a track record of encouraging participation from urban music enthusiasts and proposes to build on this and on its experience of providing training to volunteers (1g).

AHBS

AHBS will provide a service for those involved in healthcare, but also encompassing the wider community of Ashford (Kent). The applicant is a well-established organisation, and a registered charity, which has operated a hospital radio service since 1971 (1a). As well as health-related output, the station will include information from Ashford Borough Council and programmes produced by local schools and the wider community which will broaden choice locally (1c). The applicant has a comprehensive training strategy, developed over a long period (1e). It has in place a support system for new volunteers (1g).

Statutory requirements relating to community radio licensing

The following pages set out the statutory requirements relating to community radio licensing, and details of the licensing process. Further information about these, and detailed information relating to community radio, can be found at: www.ofcom.org.uk/radio/ifi/rbl/commun_radio/

In carrying out all of its functions, Ofcom is required to have regard to the general duties set out in section 3 of the Communications Act 2003. In addition, under section 85(2)(b) BA 1990, it is the duty of Ofcom to do all that it can to secure the provision within the UK of a range and diversity of local radio services.

The characteristics of a community radio service

In respect of the licensing of community radio services in particular, all community radio licensees must satisfy 'characteristics of service' requirements which are specified in Article 3 of the Community Radio Order 2004. The characteristics of community radio services are:

  • That they are local services provided primarily for the good of members of the public, or of particular communities, and in order to deliver social gain, rather than primarily for commercial reasons or for the financial or other material gain of the individuals involved in providing the service;
  • That the service is intended primarily to serve one or more communities (whether or not it also serves other members of the public);
  • That the person providing the service does not do so in order to make a financial profit by so doing, and uses any profit that is produced in the provision of the service wholly and exclusively for securing or improving the future provision of the service, or for the delivery of social gain to members of the public or the community that the service is intended to serve;
  • That members of the community it is intended to serve are given opportunities to participate in the operation and management of the service;
  • That, in respect of the provision of that service, the person providing the service makes himself accountable to the community that the service is intended to serve.

Article 2 of the Community Radio Order 2004 includes four mandatory social gain objectives. Social gain means the achievement, in respect of individuals or groups of individuals in the community that the service is intended to serve, or in respect of other members of the public, of the following objectives:

  • the provision of sound broadcasting services to individuals who are otherwise underserved by such services,
  • the facilitation of discussion and the expression of opinion,
  • the provision (whether by means of programmes included in the service or otherwise) of education or training to individuals not employed by the person providing the service, and
  • the better understanding of the particular community and the strengthening of links within it.

Article 2 also includes a number of other objectives of a social nature which may be considered to represent "social gain".

Specific community radio licence award criteria

There are seven specific selection criteria set out in section 105(1) BA 1990 that Ofcom must have regard to when considering whether to make a community radio licence award. In summary these are:

  • The ability of each applicant to maintain its proposed service over the licence period (section 105(1)(a));
  • The applicants ability to cater for the tastes and interests of the target community (section 105(1)(b));
  • The extent to which each applicant would broaden the range of local radio services available in the area, and have a content distinct from those services (section 105(1)(c));
  • The extent to which there is evidence of local demand or support for a proposed service (section 105(1)(d));
  • The extent to which the service would deliver social gain benefits to the public or relevant community (section 105(1)(e));
  • Provisions for making the operator of service accountable to the relevant community (section 105(1)(f));
  • Provisions for allowing access by members of the public or the relevant community to the station facilities, and the provision of training in the use of those facilities (section 105(1)(g)).

Considering whether, or to whom (and on what conditions), to grant a community radio licence, Ofcom must also have regard to the need to ensure that any service provided under that licence does not prejudice unduly the economic viability of any other local service. Sections 105(4) to (6) BA 1990 require Ofcom:

  • not to grant a community radio licence which would overlap with a commercial radio service serving no more than 50,000 persons of 15 years or older;
  • to prohibit paid advertising and sponsorship of programmes in respect of any community radio service where that service overlaps with any other local radio service serving between 50,000 and 150,000 persons of 15 years or older; and
  • in all other cases, to prohibit any community radio service from receiving an appropriate proportion (at least 50%) of relevant income from paid advertising and sponsorship of programmes.

For the avoidance of doubt, programme sponsorship includes station or channel sponsorship.

Ofcom is also prohibited, by subsection 2 of section 105, from granting a licence to any applicant who proposes to receive from any one person (or company) more than 50% of its annual funding.

Process for assessment of applications

On 27 August 2008 Ofcom invited applications for licences to provide community radio services in locations throughout the East and southeast of England. (However, applications for locations in Greater London and other areas within the M25 were invited at a later date.) Licences were offered for the provision of services on either the FM (VHF) or AM (medium wave) wavebands, with the exception of some areas for which licences were only available on AM (see Ofcoms invitation to apply on our website at www.ofcom.org.uk/radio/ifi/rbl/commun_radio/tlproc/invites/area7.pdf).

Ofcom received 48 applications, the non-confidential sections of which were made available for public scrutiny on our website. Thirteen of these applications were considered by the RLC at its February, March and April meetings and a further four applications were considered at the May meeting.

The membership of the RLC for the licence awards detailed above was as follows:

Philip Graf, Ofcom Deputy Chairman (Chair)
Joyce Taylor, Content Board Member for Scotland
Pam Giddy, Content Board Member
Peter Davies, Director, Broadcast Licensing & Radio Policy
Peter Bury, Director of Spectrum Policy
Neil Stock, Head of Broadcast Licensing
Martin Campbell, Chief Adviser, Radio

A summary and assessment of each application was presented to the RLC. These papers summarised the proposals put forward by the applicant as they relate to the statutory criteria, and highlighted any issues of relevance under those criteria.

May 2009

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