Watchdog acts as fears for local radio standards grow

Captial: seeking regional heads

A consultation that could form a blueprint for local radio news has been launched by the Radio Authority amid fears that increased centralisation could lead to the loss of jobs and falling standards.

The watchdog’s consultation anticipates that changes under new media laws will lead to increased pressure from "super" broadcasters for the lifting of current rules barring the supply of local news from outside a station’s transmission area.

The decision to consult over the creation of local hubs that would present and produce local news for stations follows an announcement last week by Capital that it will cut up to 13 jobs in a bid to streamline its services.

As part of the plans, three heads of news at Capital-owned stations in Wales, Bristol and Oxford have been asked to apply for a single regional-head position with overall control of the news operation in the three areas.

The consultation will look at whether the move away from locally produced and presented news will have harmful effects on the quality and character of local independent radio.

A six-month experiment at GWR stations in the South West – Plymouth Sound, Gemini FM, Orchard FM, South Hams Radio and Lantern FM – will continue throughout the six-week consultation. But the scheme based around a central hub in Plymouth was only given the go-ahead on condition that no jobs were cut.

Martin Campbell, the RA’s director of programming and advertising, said: "Commercial radio is a business and we have to take that into account, but there is no way that we would give an OK to the news hubs if it was just a cost-cutting measure."

The NUJ is calling for tighter guidelines that will protect the "character and content" of local radio. Paul McLaughlin, the NUJ’s national broadcasting organiser, has written to the chairman of the joint select committee on the communications bill, Lord Puttnam, calling for provision in the bill to ensure local news is "properly funded and produced and broadcast locally".

McLaughlin said: "We are now at a critical stage in terms of the legislation. But in the rush to order the brave new world of broadcasting, it’s important that radio isn’t treated like a poor relation. It’s important that radio is properly regulated."

 

Julie Tomlin

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