Media Lifeline: Ofcom and radio

Ofcom has stayed tough in spite of promising more liberal regulations.

2004: Almost a year after Ofcom, under the then chief executive Stephen Carter, had come into being as a super-regulator, it faces its first big radio industry test - ruling on the proposed merger of Capital and GWR. It proves tough but fair.

2005: But the regulator's role has a darker side, as Ofcom soon finds when it's called upon to adjudicate on complaints about Emap's Manchester station, Key 103, after the host of a late-night phone-in show made a number of offensive comments about the death of the British hostage Ken Bigley. Emap is fined £125,000, the second-biggest fine handed down by a radio regulator.

2006: But Emap clearly won't take a telling and it is soon back in the Ofcom dock to face eight charges against the Kiss FM breakfast show presenter Bam Bam, aka Peter Poulton. These include multiple counts of inappropriate and offensive language and complaints about a prank call that abused the privacy of a man in a fragile psychological state. It results in another record fine, this time £175,000.

2007: Ofcom announces new, more liberal, guidelines covering content, format regulation and ownership. This, the chief executive, Ed Richards, says, will enhance the industry's commercial viability and still safeguard listeners' interests.

2008: But only up to a point, clearly. The Guardian Media Group asks Ofcom for permission to amend licence obligations covering Smooth Radio's FM services in London and Manchester, which are required to play 45 hours of jazz per week. GMG wants to phase out the jazz, making the stations more commercial - and in return promises to play jazz all day on a DAB service. Ofcom's radio licensing committee says no.

Fast forward ...

2009: But the times really are a-changing. When Ofcom threatens to fine Kiss FM for what it sees as multiple breaches of its code, including offensive language and a perceived shift away from its urban dance programming remit, its owner, Bauer, threatens to take Kiss off the FM airwaves altogether and rely entirely on digital distribution. Ofcom starts out talking tough but is eventually forced into a humiliating climb-down.

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