MPs back Media Bill radio protection measures
July 21, 2023
By Colin Mann
The UK Government should include measures to protect radio when it introduces the Media Bill to address the risk to the industry of larger platforms controlling access to stations and driving listeners elsewhere, according to the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
The Committee’s recommendation is contained in its first report following its pre-legislative scrutiny of the proposed legislation. A further report on the rest of the Bill will be published after the summer.
In addition to backing the provisions aimed at ensuring radio continues to thrive in an environment where stations will be increasingly dependent on devices such as smart speakers for access to audiences, the report calls for clearer guidance on enforcement for Ofcom to help ensure local radio continues to provide-locally gathered news.
“The environment in which radio operates has changed beyond all recognition in recent years, with the move away from independent stations towards national networks and the rise of smart speakers just the latest developments to test the existing regulatory regime,” commented Dame Caroline Dinenage MP, Chair of the CMS Committee.
“Amid the rapid changes, it is vital that the Government includes the provisions in the Media Bill to protect radio’s availability on voice-activated devices. It is also important that in the move towards deregulation of radio, Ministers do not lose sight of the importance to listeners of local news and information. The new legislation must make the enforcement responsibilities of Ofcom clear. We look forward to seeing the measures in the Bill when the legislation is brought forward.”
Main findings and recommendations
Deregulation of commercial radio
- The Committee agrees with the intention that stations should focus on a narrow duty of providing local news and information rather than local non-news content as well. The Government should provide Ofcom with clearer guidance regarding enforcing the obligation.
Radio selection services
- The rapid rise in smart speaker use means the radio industry has legitimate concerns about the potential for larger platforms to control access to stations and drive audiences elsewhere. The Committee strongly supports the inclusion of provisions on radio in the Media Bill that aim to protect UK radio’s availability on voice-activated devices.
- The future risks to radio are not confined to voice-activated devices but include in-car infotainment systems, with connected car manufacturers and providers of in-car systems controlling content. The Committee notes the Government’s position that in-car infotainment systems should not be in the scope of the Bill, but calls for the Government and Ofcom to keep the issue under close review.
- The Secretary of State’s power to change what devices are covered by amending the definition of a radio selection service is crucial for the future-proofing of the legislation. The Bill should be redrafted to ensure that the Secretary of State consults Ofcom before issuing regulations to amend the definition of a radio selection service.
- The Government’s approach to on-demand and online-only content appears at odds with market trends. Listeners are increasingly choosing to access content on-demand or listen to online-only stations and there is merit in including these forms of content provision within the scope of the Bill. The Government should amend the Bill to include on-demand and online-only content from Ofcom-regulated broadcasters and the Bill should include an explicit power to amend the definition of an Internet radio service to enable other types of content to be included in the future.