Localness guidelines

06 September 2010


Legislation requires Ofcom to secure that local commercial radio stations provide an appropriate amount of:

  • programmes including local material; and
  • locally made programmes

and to provide guidelines as to how the above requirements should be met.

These are the required guidelines. They set out Ofcom's general policy in relation to these localness requirements and how we are likely in most cases to apply them to local stations.

Ofcom considers each station on a case by case basis and how, if at all, these guidelines should apply to those stations. The extent to which local material and locally made programmes must be included in the service provided by a licensee is specified in the station's Format (and may vary by station).

Localness is not an issue for all stations, but where it is required by a station's licensed Format, it should be informed by these guidelines.

These guidelines are not rules as such, but they outline the sort of considerations that may come into play if it becomes necessary to investigate a station's localness output. Many of these considerations are based on listener expectations.

Local material

Section 314 of the Communications Act 2003 defines 'local material' as material which is of particular interest to those living or working within (or within part of) the area or locality for which the service is provided or to particular communities living or working within that area or locality (or a part of it). It can be delivered in a number of ways (local news, local information, comment, outside broadcasts, what's-on, travel news, interviews, charity involvement, weather, airplay for local musicians, local arts and culture, sport coverage, phone-ins, listener interactivity etc.).The balance of the different elements of local material outlined is for each station to determine for itself. But, where a station is required to broadcast local material it should include at least some of these elements.

What local material is

We take local material as defined to mean, amongst other things:

  • A listener should get a feel for an area by tuning in to a particular station, and have confidence that matters of local importance, relevance or interest to the target audience in the area will be broadcast;
  • This should include programming of specific local relevance which also offers a distinctive alternative to UK-wide or nations' service;
  • It should include content drawn from, and / or relevant to the station's licensed area;
  • Licensees should be able to identify a range of output which is specifically relevant to their local area;
  • Programming should be likely to give listeners a feeling of ownership and / or kinship, particularly at times of crisis (snow, floods etc).

What it isn't

  • Pure promotional off-air activities such as station promotion in the area (vehicles carrying station logos, outside broadcasts, etc.), without on-air activity involving something other than self-promotion, are not in themselves substitutes for local programming;
  • Competitions / promotions that invite and involve listener participation from outside a station area would not be regarded as a contribution to localness; and
  • Advertisements are not regarded as local programming within the context of localness and Ofcom's localness guidance.

Local news provision

Because of the particular importance to citizens and consumers of local news, all stations required to broadcast local material should broadcast local news at least hourly throughout peak-time both on weekdays (breakfast and afternoon drive) and weekends (late breakfast). Those stations which have committed to an enhanced news service (see below) should broadcast local news at least hourly during daytime on weekdays (6am-7pm) and throughout peak-time (late breakfast) at weekends.

Local news content:

  • Local news should be high-quality, relevant, timely and accurate, as well as complying fully with the requirements of the Broadcasting Code.
  • A station should be able to react on-air to major local events in a timely manner.
  • Bulletins should seek to reflect the interests and concerns of listeners living in the area.
  • Local news stories should be up to date and regularly refreshed.
  • Local news bulletins should also feature nations' (if relevant), UK-wide and international news.
  • The amount of local news, and the balance of local and national news in any particular bulletin, should be subject to professional journalistic judgements, but local news will always be an essential characteristic of a local station's overall output.
  • Simply localising UK-wide news (e.g. conducting vox pop interviews in one area and playing them out as if from another or inserting local place names into UK-wide stories) without local news / information generation would not be regarded as a contribution towards localness or fulfilling local news requirements.
  • While local sports stories can make a significant contribution to delivering localness, and can represent an important part of a local station's editorial mix, local sports news would not be regarded as being a substitute for local news stories.
  • Similarly, entertainment news may be relevant locally but should not be the main ingredient of local news bulletins or a substitute for more serious local news stories.

'Enhanced' local news services

Some local stations have committed to providing an enhanced local news service in return for being able to broadcast a greater number of networked hours (i.e. programmes not made from within their licensed, or approved, area) during daytime programming.

The enhanced local news option gives stations the flexibility to reduce the number of local hours produced, should they wish to make associated cost savings. The provision of local news bulletins during daytime, as well as peak-time, helps to ensure that the station's local content and identity is maintained during these daytime networked hours. In our research on localness in commercial radio, published in 2009, local news was the type of content most valued by listeners, and its delivery also benefits communities and local democracy.

It therefore follows that local bulletins running during daytime hours as part of an 'enhanced' news service should not be merely tokenistic box-ticking exercises, and each bulletin should meet the requirements set out for local news in general (see guidance above) just as comfortably as bulletins aired during peaktime (i.e. weekday breakfast and drivetime, and weekend late breakfast).

While we have never prescribed minimum durations for any type of news bulletin, as that is a matter for the licensee, we would always expect each enhanced daytime bulletin to feature more than simply headlines, and to include at the very least one fully-formed local news story, and normally more than this, alongside national stories. In cases where stations are sharing their local hours within an approved area (see notes on 'co-location and programme sharing, below), and are broadcasting the same news bulletin across more than one licensed area, at least one of the local stories in each bulletin needs to be directly relevant to listeners in each of the licensed areas. This is because stations sharing their local hours remain separate licences which still need to satisfy the localness and character of service requirements set out in their individual Formats.

Local news production

  • Any group of stations may choose to pool their news resources and operate one or more 'news hubs' in a way which makes operational sense for them. However, in order to provide a comprehensive local news service in touch with the area it is covering, each station should have direct and accountable editorial responsibility for covering its licensed area.
  • There should be an appropriate provision of professional journalistic cover, based within the licence area (or approved local area if appropriate), on days when local news provision is a Format obligation.
  • The pre-recording of news bulletins should be an exception rather than a rule and peak-time bulletins should always be broadcast live (or pre-recorded only shortly before transmission).

Locally-made programmes

Where a station is required to broadcast programmes including local material a suitable proportion of them (as determined by Ofcom) must be locally-made programmes.

Defining 'locally made'

Locally-made programmes are those made within a station's licensed area or, where Ofcom has approved an area relating to that station, that approved area. A station's Format will formally indicate where it must make its locally-made programmes. While it is acceptable during locally-made hours for news bulletins to be produced and/or delivered from outside the station's licensed or approved area as part of a 'news hub' arrangement (see guidance on local news provision, above), and it is also permissible for other individual elements of local content (such as travel news) to be sourced from outside the local area, it is our expectation that the main presenter or host of any programme broadcast during a station's locally-made hours should be physically located within that station's licensed or approved area. This guidance also applies to situations where the programme's main presenter is pre-recorded or voice-tracked (i.e. not broadcasting 'live').

While stations are free to network programmes outside the requirements regarding locally-made programmes in their Formats, they should still be able to respond to local events in a timely manner, providing live local programming in the way and at times that audiences expect.

FM local stations

Generally, each FM station should produce a minimum of 10 hours a day of locally-made programmes during weekday daytimes (this should include breakfast).

However, where an FM station provides an enhanced news service, of local news at least hourly during daytime on weekdays and at weekend peak times, that station should produce a minimum of 7 hours a day of locally-made programmes during weekday daytimes (this should include breakfast). Stations wishing to move to this type of arrangement need to submit a Format Change Request.

Whether they provide an enhanced news service or not, each station should produce a minimum of 4 hours a day of locally-made programmes at weekends (in daytime).

In each case, the locally-made programmes should include local material across the stated minimum hours as a whole, although local material need not be included in each of those individual hours if this is not appropriate.

In exceptional cases, if a station can put forward a convincing case as to why it should be treated differently, for example, as a specialist music station, and so have to provide less local material and less locally-made programmes than these guidelines suggest, Ofcom will consider such requests on a case-by-case basis.

AM local stations

AM stations generally need not produce locally-made programmes nor broadcast local material. But, each AM station should produce a minimum of 10 hours of programmes during weekday daytimes from within the nation where the station is based.

AM stations currently required by their Formats to produce locally-made programmes and broadcast local material may request changes in line with our published Format change guidelines.

Co-location and programme sharing

Ofcom has defined a set of approved areas, based on local affinities, existing transmission areas and station scale/viability considerations within which programmes can still be considered to be locally-made. Stations may request changes to their Formats, so as to co-locate and/or share programming with other stations within these approved areas (i.e. with which they share an approved area).

Further information about approved areas, including a table showing the approved area within which each station is located, can be found at http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/consultations/radio/statement/Approved_areas_annex.pdf

Where co-location and/or programme-sharing arrangements are in place, each station should still provide local material relevant to the listeners in their individual licensed areas.

Stations that do not fall within the same approved area may still apply for co-location and/or programme sharing. Further guidance on applying for co-location and/or programme-sharing across approved areas can be found in our Format change policy.

'Regional' stations and programme sharing

Where certain 'regional' analogue stations, listed below, provide a version of their programme service nationally on DAB, our policy is that they should not generally be required to broadcast local material and locally made programmes. This in effect, allows them to become national DAB stations with partial national coverage on FM. However, because of the importance of nation-specific content in the devolved nations, any regional stations in those nations will still be required to produce nation-specific programming as per the guidelines for local FM stations.

This is an exception to the general approach on local material and locally-made programmes outlined above. It reflects that these 'regional' stations are those which are generally focused on providing an extension of music choice, as well as the required locally made programming and local (regional) material. As a result, they are more apt to be given the flexibility to become like national stations, to create greater competition and choice at the national level, by freeing them from obligations to broadcast local material and locally made programming.

Regional FM stations

Station Region(s)
Absolute Radio London
Capital FM London, North East England, Central Scotland, Yorkshire
GEM 106 East Midlands
Heart London, West Midlands
Kerrang! West Midlands
Kiss London, East of England, Severn Estuary
LBC 97.3 London
Magic 105.4 London
Nation Radio South Wales
Real Radio Central Scotland, North East, North West, Yorkshire, South Wales, North & Mid Wales
Smooth Radio London, East Midlands, West Midlands, North East, North West
The Coast Solent
Wave 105 Solent
XFM London

Source: Ofcom