Ofcom have just published an 'In Breach' notice concerning a local community radio station, in another region. Its worth noting that all this, is simply the result of a member of the public picking up on a single 'news' item and reporting the content (as is their right) to Ofcom. Anyone can do it, and clearly they do.
So volunteers in Peterborough being urged by some groups to offer their time and expertise for free, and possibly commercial firms being 'tapped up' for financial resources and equipment in return for 'promotional' recognition, in advance of any formal Ofcom application and a required Comux linked agreement may well be the subject of a full blown Ofcom enquiry, and its eventual official publication for all to see...... clearly better for all potential applicants, and those thinking of investing to first 'bone' up on the extensive OFCOM regulations before signing anything...
Bay FM News
Bay FM Radio, 13 October 2015, 15:00
Bay FM Radio is a community radio station targeting the Exmouth area. The licence for Bay FM Radio is held by Bay FM Radio Limited ("Bay FM" or "the Licensee").
A complainant alerted Ofcom to a news item, which the complainant considered was not duly accurate.
On assessing this content, we noted that during an edition of Bay FM News, there was a news item that referred to the scale of Bay FM Radio’s listenership in the local area. In the news item, the newsreader said the following:
"A recent independent survey on 499 residents in Exmouth indicates that Bay FM is paving the way in popularity and hitting the spot locally, with only Heart reaching 0.8 per cent more than Bay FM, and station manager Andy Green is delighted".
Andy Green then said:
"Well of course it’s absolutely fantastic news for the station and the community it serves. The survey shows the listeners love the station, its great music and its true localness. Bay FM is not just registered in Exmouth, with studios miles away, it’s based in Exmouth, serving Exmouth and the surrounding areas and that’s why people love Bay FM".
As part of its assessment, Ofcom asked Bay FM to provide further details of the survey mentioned in this news item. The Licensee confirmed that the survey was carried out by volunteers linked to Bay FM Radio. Given that the survey referred to in the news item had been carried out by Bay FM Radio volunteers but the survey had been described as an "independent survey" in the news item, Ofcom considered that the material raised issues warranting investigation under Rule 5.1 of the Code, which states:
"News, in whatever form, must be reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality".
We therefore sought the Licensee’s comments as to how the material complied with this rule.
By way of background, Bay FM said it had undertaken the survey referred to in the news item by "using volunteers from Bay FM who are not known by sight (being background volunteers at the station), who carried out the survey as accurately as possible dressed in plain clothes, making no reference to Bay FM or any other radio station whatsoever". It added that it "was in the interests of Bay FM to endeavour to undertake as neutral a survey as possible in order to obtain the most accurate results". The Licensee also said that the survey was "an honest attempt to confirm the success of a popular but under-resourced community radio station and the station merely wished to celebrate the result of not only surviving but thriving in the face of considerable hostile competition".
Bay FM said as a community radio station with limited resources it "made use of its volunteer commitment by undertaking a street survey that was conducted under the most fair conditions that could be implemented". It added that "[s]treet surveys are one of the most well used methods of measuring audiences that community radio stations can deploy and have been recommended for years as best practice by academics, community radio practitioners, and the wider sector". However, the Licensee added that: "In hindsight, it is regretted that our methods could be misconstrued for potentially being less than neutral but it was not the intention of Bay FM to conduct a less than objective street survey". In this context, Bay FM said that in an edition of Bay FM News broadcast on 20 October 2015 it broadcast an apology for this incident.
When applying this objective, Ofcom must take into account the broadcaster’s and the audience’s right to freedom of expression as set out in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Rule 5.1 contains the requirement on broadcasters to report the news with "due accuracy". The notes published alongside the rules makes clear that "due" means adequate or appropriate to the subject and nature of the programme. In addition, the published Guidance to Section Five states that: "Broadcasters should take care to report surveys and statistics in context"
1. The rule is primarily intended to ensure that viewers can trust news broadcasters to report the facts of the news, and the factual background to it, with appropriate accuracy. It goes to the heart of the relationship of trust between a news broadcaster and its audience.
See http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/broadcast/guidance/831193/section5.pdf , paragraph 1.16.
In this case, the news item reported on a survey which had been carried out in Exmouth, the area where Bay FM Radio is received, which indicated the station’s relative popularity amongst radio listeners in the locality. There is no prohibition under the Code for a radio station to report on such a matter in its news output. However, in doing so it must ensure its reporting is duly accurate.
In the news item the survey in question was referred to as an "independent" survey which the news item said "indicates" that Bay FM Radio was "hitting the spot locally" with only one other local station being found to be slightly more popular amongst the survey respondents.
We noted that the survey had been carried out by Bay FM Radio volunteers. We also noted that the Licensee argued that the volunteers who carried out the survey were: "not known by sight" to the survey respondents; "carried out the survey as accurately as possible dressed in plain clothes"; and, made "no reference to Bay FM or any other radio station whatsoever".
E&OE google.com/+JulianBray Tel:+44 (0) 1733 345581 .