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Shadow culture minister urges Ofcom to review local radio rule changes amid fear they add to 'wider decline in local media'

Ofcom local radio

A shadow culture minister has urged Ofcom to review its decision to reduce the minimum number of local content hours on regional radio stations.

Shadow culture minister Kevin Brennan (pictured) said he fears the broadcast regulator’s regulation changes will contribute to “the rise of an even more London-centric media landscape”.

Ofcom reduced the number of hours local radio stations have to dedicate to regional content from seven to three in October last year and widened the geographical areas in which local content could be made.

It also removed a mandate requiring commercial regional stations to produce local breakfast shows.

Global Radio subsequently slashed its locally-made programming output at more than 50 stations, leading to at least 100 job losses and ten local studio closures.

The company has already replaced both Capital and Heart’s regional breakfast shows with one national show each hosted from London, while on Smooth the breakfast shows will still be locally-produced but the “drivetime” show will be networked.

Labour shadow culture minister Kevin Brennan (pictured) wrote to outgoing Ofcom boss Sharon White on Tuesday to share his concerns that more job losses in the industry will follow.

He expressed fears that “local voices will increasingly be replaced by those from London as the industry reconfigures”.

In the letter, seen by Press Gazette, Brennan wrote: “I am deeply concerned that the changes to locality rules are contributing to a wider decline in local media and the rise of an even more London-centric media landscape.

“Moreover, I am concerned that Ofcom’s changes to approved areas is likely to further limit access to local content for people living in Wales and Scotland.”

Brennan, who held a meeting in Parliament with MPs and union representatives about the issue this week, asked White to explain whether she expects the changes will cause further job losses in regional radio.

He added: “I would like to urge you to conduct a review of this decision in order to protect jobs and access to local content for radio listeners around the country.”

Responding to the letter, an Ofcom spokesperson said: “The commercial radio industry faces unprecedented challenges from digital services and the changing needs of listeners.

“So we’re allowing stations more room to decide how and where they produce programmes, which means they can put more resources into making high-quality local content.”

MPs declared in an early day motion tabled by Labour MP John Grogan last month that the cuts would “add to the serious decline in local news for UK citizens” and dubbed the Ofcom changes “unnecessary”.

Another EDM welcoming the new localness rules, claiming they “explicitly protect the provision of local news and information provided by local journalists”, was put to Parliament on Tuesday.

Global has said it increased its news team by 10 per cent since the regulations were changed in October and that its number of local news bulletins has remained the same.

Picture: Parliament

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