Curbs on radio ownership may be eased

THE Government is considering plans which would lift ownership restrictions on Britain's commercial radio companies, paving the way for the creation of a new breed of media moguls.

Officials at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport are currently discussing a proposal to change the system which stops commercial radio companies from owning more than a handful of stations.

The move would free radio groups including Capital Radio, Emap - owners of the Kiss and Melody stations - and GWR, which owns Classic FM, to expand rapidly by taking over smaller stations.

A Whitehall official yesterday confirmed that Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, would meet representatives from the commercial radio industry tomorrow to discuss the proposed changes. However, he said the Government had no immediate plans to change ownership rules.

The industry is expected to argue that ownership restrictions need to be lifted in order to allow the creation of larger companies which can fund the investment required to launch digital radio services.

Until now, radio companies have been prevented from expanding by rules which restrict the number of "points" that each group can control. Points are awarded to a radio station based on the geographical area covered by its broadcasts, but are not related to the number of listeners it has. As a result, Xfm, an alternative London rock station which has just a few hundred thousand listeners, carries as many points as Capital FM, the capital's most popular commercial station.

The radio industry has long lobbied for the points system to be abolished, but believed that any change would require an amendment to the 1990 Broadcasting Act. However, civil servants now think that the changes could be made without the need for legislation - opening the way for restrictions to be lifted as early as next year.

The proposed changes involve awarding points to the BBC's plethora of national and local radio stations. This would massively increase the total number of points, and dilute the share of the points owned by the commercial broadcasters.

This change could be introduced by a Proposal to Parliament, which would have to be passed by both Houses but would not need to be entered on to the statute book.

However, civil servants warn the proposal could be blocked by a legal hurdle because the changes require the BBC to be awarded licences by the Radio Authority - a move specifically forbidden by current legislation.

Radio operators argue that not including the BBC in calculations of the radio market is an anomaly. By comparison, the rules on television ownership which limit the share of the market that an ITV company can control include the BBC in the calculations.

Whitehall officials are understood to be sympathetic to radio companies' problems. They also recognise that radio companies cannot wait until new legislation on media ownership is introduced, probably in the next Parliament.

The reason is that the Government is currently preparing for the introduction of digital radio, which will allow a whole host of new stations as well as added services.

The Radio Authority, the industry watchdog, has invited applications from radio companies to run the national digital licences by the end of the month. However, the cost of setting up and running the service has prompted large groupsto shy away from submitting a bid.

Analysts believe that converting the existing national and local radio stations will require an investment of as much as pounds 35m a year.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all