| 17 May 2021
UK's community radio stations could face closure due to COVID-19

MUMBAI: According to the research, a third of the UK’s community radio stations could face closure due to the impact of coronavirus without urgent government support, according to the body that represents the broadcasters’ interests.

The Community Media Association, which represents the 296 community associations licensed by broadcast regulator Ofcom, is scheduled to hold crisis talks with representatives of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Ofcom on Wednesday to seek support for the sector.

The CMA considers its members to have a crucial role in broadcasting to diverse audiences in the UK, including news and health information during the coronavirus emergency, but feel left out of government support plans. Last week, the government announced a three-month advertising partnership with the embattled newspaper industry which has been valued at £35m to £45m.

Talks last week with John Whittingdale, a minister in the culture department, have focused on using the Community Radio Fund, a £400,000 funding pot administered by Ofcom. However, that would amount to less than £1,500 in support on average per station.

“We are extremely concerned that the government will allow up to one-third, by our own estimates, of the UK’s 296 community radio stations to fail,” said Danny Lawrence, of Gateway 97.8FM and chairman of the CMA. “A relatively small amount of additional funding for the community radio sector will go a long way to support stations keeping their communities connected and informed during the crisis.”

The CMA pointed to some examples of hardship and diversity in community radio including Belfast’s Raidio Failte, which broadcasts in Irish Gaelic, which has seen its lifeblood of advertising and events revenue “fall off the edge of a cliff”.

Derrick Francis, director of Gloucester FM, which mainly serves the city’s Afro-Caribbean community, says there is a “very real possibility” the station will have to close. Meanwhile, East Leeds FM has been set up with a temporary 84-day licence authorised by Ofcom under coronavirus conditions, to broadcast to over-70s who don’t use the internet and other technology.

The CMA will pitch a three-pronged plan to ministers to support community radio.

The first is an equivalent to the newspaper industry initiative, where the government is paying for public health messaging to appear as ads in national and regional newspapers. The second is to increase the Community Radio Fund to provide a £10,000 grant to each licensed community radio station. The third is to establish a public health content fund to support the production of news, programmes and series relating to the public health emergency.

“I hope we will not have to wait until the public enquiry to find out why the government thinks our audiences are less important than those of the local press,” said Steve Buckley, chairman of station Sheffield Live.