Radiocentre urges Ofcom to scrap 'localness' rules

The commercial radio trade body, the Radiocentre, has urged Ofcom to scrap “inappropriate” rules that dictate where a local radio station’s journalists work.

The Radiocentre – which represents more than 300 radio stations in the UK – argues that current rules stating that a local station’s presenters and journalists should work from premises within the station’s coverage area are out of touch with commercial reality.

In its response to Ofcom’s consultation on the future of radio, the Radiocentre said that radio stations should benefit from a similar regulatory freedom to that enjoyed by local newspapers as far as localness is concerned.

“Whether it is the Grantham Journal or the Kent Messenger, local newspapers flood their pages with local news, features and editorials,” it said.

“They do so without regulatory guidance as to where to site their offices, journalists or print presses.

“We believe it is inappropriate to seek to secure the provision of local material [on radio] through quotas on locally produced programmes.

“We believe that the most appropriate way forward lies in a self-regulatory system.”

The Radiocentre has proposed that an independent panel and a voluntary code, similar to the PCC’s code of conduct, be drawn up to ensure that radio stations remain locally relevant to their listeners.

In a YouGov survey of 10,000 commercial radio listeners commissioned by the Radiocentre, 61 per cent of correspondents agreed with the statement that “as long as my local station gives the information I need, I don’t mind where it’s broadcast from”.

A number of local radio stations have successfully applied to Ofcom for the rules on localness to be relaxed.

Cumbrian Newspapers, which owns six local radio stations in the Midlands, was allowed to create one central “news hub” serving all six stations.

According to Radiocentre research, the group’s journalists now have more time to work on research projects and investigative journalism, as resources are shared.

Ofcom is expected to report back on its findings from the future of radio consultation in the autumn.

If the Radiocentre’s suggestion is taken on board, the relaxed rules on localness could see more radio stations adopt the “news hub” system – moving editors and newsreaders to a central location, with at least one reporter working in each individual patch, feeding stories into the “hub”.

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