HC Deb 11 July 1985 vol 82 cc505-6W
Mr. Wheeler

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to widen the range of consumer choice in local radio services.

Mr. Brittan

In reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) on 23 January, at columns417 to 418, I said that I hoped to make a further statement about community radio following a study of how its development could best to taken forward. I have now decided to establish an experiment to test the viability of and scope for a range of different types of community radio, set up and financed in different ways in different locations. I hope that frequencies will be available for about 20 experimental stations which could begin broadcasting early next year. In general these will be appreciably smaller in coverage than existing local radio services. The central criterion will be that they should enhance existing broadcasting arrangements and broaden the diversity of consumer choice by offering the community in question an additional service which is distinct in character, whether because of the nature of the programming, its emphasis on local or specialist interests, its appeal to specific community concerns, for other reasons. It will be open to a number of bodies to come together to apply jointly for a licence on the basis that they will use the frequency on a time share basis; and, given the limited number of frequencies, this will have advantages. I intend to make a further announcement as soon as possible setting out the locations for the experimental community radio stations, and outlining the application procedure for prospective licensees. In selecting the successful applicants, I hope to have the benefit of advice from a panel of advisers.

As outlined in my earlier statement, however, the development of community radio raises a number of important broadcasting policy issues, and may in addition have implications for our existing local radio services. I have therefore decided that it would be right for these matters to be the subject of wider consultations, and I propose to publish a Green Paper in summer 1986 identifying the issues, outlining a range of possible responses, and inviting comments on them. When the Green Paper is published the experimental stations should have been operating for some months, and that experience should help inform consideration of the issues outlined in the Green Paper.

Existing local radio services normally broadcast the same programmes on medium wave and VHF frequencies. I have from time to time, however, approved ad hoc requests from the broadcasting authorities for particular stations to broadcast separate programmes on the two frequencies for a temporary period in order to meet particular local needs or circumstances. Stations have thus been able, for example, to provide a special emergency information service during periods of severe weather, to provide commentary on sporting events, and to help with charity appeals, while maintaining their normal output on the other frequency. Both the IBA and the BBC have recently put to me proposals for experiments in split-frequency broadcasting over a longer period. The IBA have asked that six independent local radio stations (Piccadilly Radio, Leicester Sound, Marcher Sound, Viking Radio, Wiltshire Radio and Capital Radio) should be permitted, as and when appropriate, to broadcast seperate programmes on their two frequencies for up to 10 hours per week. The purposes to which the additional service would be devoted include classical music concerts, ethnic programming, sporting commentaries and specialist music programmes. The BBC have sought approval to Radio Nottingham and Leicester broadcasting Asian programmes for a few hours a week on one frequency while carrying their normal services on the other.

I have decided to approve these proposals for an experimental period of one year. Arrangements have been made for research, including audience research, into the experiment. At its conclusion, I propose to undertaken a careful assessment of the practical and other implications of split-frequency broadcasting. I shall continue to be prepared to consider ad hoc requests for particular stations to undertake split-frequency broadcasts of short duration in the light of exceptional local needs or circumstances.

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