Ofcom publishes guidelines for local content on radio

07 February 2008

Ofcom today published new guidelines for the provision of local content on analogue (FM and AM) commercial radio. Ofcom's approach simplifies regulation for the commercial radio sector while protecting local content for listeners.

Ofcom's statement follows a Consultation on revised local content obligations and the regulation of stereo and mono broadcasting on Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB).

Localness guidelines

Ofcom has concluded that it is right to maintain a minimum amount of obligations for local content on radio, shown by research to be important to listeners. Today's statement revises guidance on the local content obligations for commercial analogue radio licensees, in line with the proposals set out in Ofcom's Consultation document published in November 2007.

The new guidance states that:

  • FM local radio stations should broadcast at least ten hours of locally-made programmes each weekday during daytime (including breakfast) and at least four hours at weekends; and
  • AM stations should provide at least four hours of locally-made programming every day of the week. Stations based in the nations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) will be required to provide a further six weekday hours of programming from their home nation.

No station will be required to produce more locally-made programming than at present and, for many licensees, the new guidelines represent substantial deregulation.

Given the challenging economic climate facing the radio industry currently, Ofcom recognises the need for flexibility and the case for reducing overheads. So Ofcom will now consider requests from stations with a population coverage under 250,000 adults for co-location and/or programme sharing with a neighbouring station. Where stations are allowed to share programming they will still be required to provide at least four hours of bespoke local programming per day.

Stereo and mono broadcasting on DAB

Ofcom has concluded stereo and mono broadcasting on DAB should be regulated to preserve sound quality for listeners. Licensees wishing to switch from stereo to mono must now request approval from Ofcom. This policy will be reviewed after 12 months.

Next steps

Both the localness guidelines and the policy for stereo and mono broadcasting on DAB will come into effect immediately.

Ofcom will write to each analogue commercial radio licensee regarding the changes outlined above and the simplification of Formats (as outlined in Ofcom's statement published in November 2007). Licensees will then be able to submit a request to Ofcom if they wish to change their hours of local programming, co-locate or programme share in light of the new localness guidelines.

Separately, Ofcom continues to play a leading role in the Digital Radio Working Group. The Group has been set up by Government to assess the conditions required before digital platforms can become the predominant means of delivering radio, in the best interests of both listeners and industry.

Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said, "Ofcom recognises the industry need for flexibility which is why we are continuing to take measures to simplify regulation whilst ensuring listeners still receive the local content that they value highly."

He added: "Ofcom continues to make a full contribution to the Digital Radio Working Group which has an important role to play at a time when the industry faces significant commercial challenges. It is a priority for us to work with industry to develop a sustainable regulatory framework for the future of digital radio."