Newspaper Soc: don't stop regionals owning radio stations

The Newspaper Society has urged Ofcom to exercise caution before changing rules that allow regional newspapers to own local radio stations.

Responding to the broadcast regulator’s “Future of Radio” consultation, the newspaper industry body said it was important that newspapers were not tied up in legislation and were still free to own radio licences.

“The industry’s view remains that newspaper companies should be subject to general mergers and competition law only, rather than a special regime,” the Society said.

“It is important that any changes to the radio regime do not result in local and regional newspaper companies being left subject to stricter ownership regulation, while relaxing controls over their competitors.”

Under the current rules, regional newspapers are allowed to own radio stations in their circulation area, provided at least one other commercial rival operates in the area, plus the BBC.

But different rules apply to the ownership of digital radio stations and the multiplexes on which these stations are broadcast. Ofcom has suggested that the rules be simplified and made the same across all platforms.

“While we recognise Parliament’s intention in requiring ownership rules to ensure plurality, it may be that those rules could be simplified and aligned across analogue and digital platforms,” Ofcom’s consultation document said.

Rules on local radio ownership have for a long time been an issue for the Newspaper Society.

The body successfully campaigned for the liberalisation of cross-media ownership rules during the passage of the Broadcasting Acts in 1990 and 1996.

As a result of the relaxed regulation, a number of regional newspaper groups have made the step into local radio ownership.

Cumbria Newspapers has built up a network of nine stations, Tindle Newspapers owns 12 licences, while the Kent Messenger Group now runs seven stations in the south-east under the KmFm brand.

And the ongoing convergence of print, broadcast and online could mean more traditional press outlets dabbling in radio in the future.

Earlier this month, the Telegraph unveiled plans for a radio project, Telegraph Talk, with speculation that the newspaper group is considering applying for the new nationwide digital radio multiplex.

Meanwhile, Channel 4 launched its foray into radio this summer with 4Radio, and has made public its intentions to bid for digital airspace.

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