Radio authority keeps local news local, for now

Hooper: no "blanket lift" of rule

The Radio Authority has told broadcasters they will have to keep news local to prevent centralised hubs being created as a cost-cutting measure.

After a three-month consultation the radio watchdog decided not to lift an industry-wide rule that independent local radio news has to be locally produced and presented.

The RA concluded that while plans for a news-sharing operation would be considered on a case-by-case basis, a blanket lifting of the local rule could lead to a fall in standards.

"At this stage news is one of the most critical issues as far as independent local radio is concerned and we wanted to make sure it is protected," said Martin Campbell, the RA’s director of programming and advertising.

"A lot of those who responded in the consultation expressed fears that regional news hubs would be used as a cost-cutting measure. We decided against the unfettered creation of news hubs because of concerns about the quality of news."

The consultation was carried out in response to calls from broadcasters for a relaxing of the rules that require news production to take place within the station’s coverage area to allow the creation of regional news hubs.

The move towards creating a central news operation that would supply news to all its satellite stations is fuelled by expectations that the relaxing of media laws under the new communications bill will open the way for "super-broadcasters".

The RA’s decision not to lift the ban also reflected its reluctance to bind the new super-regulator Ofcom to a new set of rules.

"There are already rules in place relating to local news and information provision," said RA chairman Richard Hooper.

"We consulted on this basis and found that many consultees were opposed to such a change. We know Ofcom is to be given a duty in respect of local content in the draft communications bill and felt it would be inappropriate to bind our successor at this time of transition.

"We are unwilling to allow news services outside a station’s measured coverage area to take over local news roles to any greater degree than would be expected from normal news networking and sharing," he said.

By Julie Tomlin

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