Commercial radio to be ‘released from shackles’ of regulation, promises government

Ofcom currently enforces regulations set out in the 1980s

The UK government has launched a consultation to overhaul the complex rules placed upon national and local radio stations, which the Department of Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) believes are currently ‘shackled to an outdated regulatory system’.

Under the proposals, stations will be given more flexibility on content decisions and provided with more ways to invest in attracting and keeping radio listeners, in particular younger listeners currently apathetic to commercial radio.

DCMS is proposing to grant greater freedom to local radio stations in particular, giving DJs the scope to curate their own playlists and content without permission from Ofcom.

The new plans will allow stations to network more of their services across different stations, as well as showcase ‘star presenters’ at any time throughout the day. However, broadcasters – including digital radio for the first time – will still be required to provide a news output, and local information bulletins where appropriate.

Ofcom is still required to enforce the current content regulations, which were devised in the analogue world of the 1980s.

Matt Hancock, minister for digital and culture, originally promised an overhaul before the end of 2016. Today he said: “In a time of extraordinary change, radio has thrived. But the way commercial radio is regulated is increasingly outdated and holding it back from investing in new content, services and platforms.

“All these things are essential for radio to stay relevant, especially in an age of unregulated internet audio services. Under our new proposals we will be giving local radio stations more freedom and flexibility to meet the needs of listeners across the country.”

Siobhan Kenny, chief executive of Radiocentre, added: "Radiocentre welcomes the government’s announcement wholeheartedly as we have been asking for the existing rules on both music output and how and where content is made to be updated.

"With 45% of radio listening now on digital platforms and new competition from streaming services, it is high time legislation caught up. The times have already changed so this is excellent news."

DCMS is now welcoming comments from individuals and organisations in the commercial radio sector, as well as members of the public who hold an interest in commercial radio. Submissions. The consultation will close on 8 May.

Katie Deighton

Katie Deighton is The Drum’s senior reporter - creative and video based in London. She produces, films, presents and edits the title’s editorial video output, including series such as On The Scene, Ad Breakers and Why I Left Advertising, and manages its coverage of the creative sector. She also reports on the intersection between politics and marketing, as well as the third sector and fashion.

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