In breach! Hope FM’s business show


The latest Ofcom broadcast bulletin (pdf file) outlines their judgement that Hope FM’s business show was in breach of the broadcast code relating to a lack of transparency over paid appearences in their business programme. The business show is sponsored and this is clearly signalled however their use of businesses paying to be participants was not.

The code was recently amended to allow for such paid for sponsorship but it must be apparent to the listeners. One wrote to Ofcom due to a the ambiguity of financial payment relating to guests on the show. If you re a station that misguidedly offers interviews as a promotional/paid for package, take note.

The main points of the judgement were:

On 10 March 2011, the programme featured a representative of Poole Together – a web-based recruitment agency,  which the presenter introduced as “bringing local  employers and job-seekers together.” The interview included promotional material.  For example:



Spotted a liar? Call them back!


The candidate who lied - photo credited to BBC Derbyshire

Have you heard the story about the lying politician?

As the election silly season swings into action, stations who are consciously making an effort to instigate lively political debates via phone-in should pay attention.

The story is about a political candidate who brazenly lied about his identity in the hope he could air his views during a local BBC Derbyshire phone-in. As you know it breaks the rules to entertain a party political perspective if the caller is in fact the candidate. So, if one candidate pops up, stations are obliged to at least invite all the others.



In breach: Radio Faza


logo for the office of communicationsThe following was reported in edition 167 of the Broadcasting Bulletin produced by Ofcom. The original report can be accessed by clicking on the Ofcom logo.

Broadcasting Licensing Condition Cases

In Breach

Radio Faza, community radio service for Nottingham
End of June to 19 September 2010

Introduction

Radio Faza is a community radio station broadcasting to the South Asian community in Nottingham.

Radio Faza‘s licence includes as an annex a ‗key commitments‘ document which sets out what the radio station will do. In the programming section it says that ―programming will typically be broadcast live for at least eight hours between 07.00 and 24.00 on weekdays‖. The licence is held by Radio Fiza Limited. On 20 August 2010 Ofcom received a complaint regarding the provision of live output on the station, alleging that only pre-recorded material was being broadcast.  



In breach: The Raj Show, Raaj FM


This was announced in today’s Broadcast Bulletin, issue 164 which can be accessed as a PDF document here.

Raaj FM, 27 April 2010, 11:00

Introduction

Raaj FM provides a community radio service for the Panjabi community in Sandwell, West Midlands.

The Raj Show is a music-based programme, which is presented in Punjabi. On this occasion, it was sponsored by Cape Hill Solicitors.  A listener complained that the presenter of the programme “repeatedly plugged the sponsor‟s details…”



In Breach: Lincoln City Radio


Ofcom reported today (2 August 2010) a breach made by Lincoln City Radio.  Below is the judgemet as published in Issue 163 of the Broadcast Bulletin.

In Breach

Lincoln City Radio

31 May 2010

Introduction

Lincoln City Radio is a community radio station which began broadcasting on 4 May 2010. Ofcom received a complaint alleging that the station promoted products and services in programming, contrary to the requirements of the Code. Ofcom requeste a recording of the programme referred to by the complainant in order that we could
make an assessment under the Code.



In breach: Radio Hartlepool & Spice FM


logo for the office of communicationsIt was sad to read that these two community radio stations have been found to be in breach of Ofcom’s broadcasting code with regards to covering politics during the recent general election.

Details of the judgements are below and can be found in full on the Ofcom website. Local (and general?) elections will be taking place next year so in preparation, and as a reminder, we refer you to the ‘broadcasting politics‘ feature on the Toolkit.



Danger! Spokespersons making constituency points


Following the broadcasting code workshop, some attendees asked for clarification about the above point which can be found on the slides uploaded to the ‘acts, codes and rules’ page.

One attendee came away with the impression that ‘a candidate can’t talk about what they’d do in the constituency when on the air’.

John Glover at Ofcom responds: Briefly, there are special rules governing constituency reports during election times. If a candidate takes part in coverage about their own constituency, then each of the other candidates from the major parties must be given a chance to take part.

The warning to which you refer relates to a specific sort of circumstance, as outlined below: A government minister or opposition spokesman is perfectly entitled to make a general point about policy (e.g. health/education/immigration etc) in an election report on the national issues. But you need to remember that these people are also candidates standing for election in a specific constituency. If they illustrate a general policy point by making reference to something specifically related to their constituency, you could have a problem (e.g. I think the national policy on hospital closures is terrible – and in my own constituency I’m fighting to save the A and E at the local infirmary where jobs are on the line and the local voters are up in arms). That’s clearly turning a national point into a constituency matter – and the candidate’s major party opponents will need to be invited to respond if a broadcaster chose to run that clip.

If the candidate stuck to general policy, no problem. I’m sure you get the principle.

Another thing you should be careful about is candidates ringing into phone-in programmes to make constituency points. The same issues could apply, so there’s an obvious danger of putting them to air.

A response from a station was: I imagine we will mostly be approached by local prospective councillors. As they are aiming to be elected locally, how can a station avoid this sort of situation aside from ensuring each candidate is invited on?

John responded: The whole purpose of the Code in this area is to ensure fair treatment for all candidates in any electoral area. So, if a candidate is appearing in an item about their local ward in a council election, it is the case that other candidates from (at least) the major parties should be offered a similar opportunity to take part.

The council leader or the leader of another party is perfectly free to make general points about the local council – as are spokesmen/women on particular matters – but as soon as they refer to specific issues affecting their own electoral ward then the rules kick in, I’m afraid. It’s about being fair and impartial.



Broadcasting politics: advice from Ofcom


Written by: John Glover, Senior Content Policy Executive in Ofcom Content and Standards

Whether you love or loathe politics, there’s no hiding place this year. The General Election is no longer lurking on the horizon – it’s already looming large in the foreground. Battle stations are drawn; party machines are ready to rumble; and the voters are preparing for a daily pounding from political propaganda.

If there’s ever a time for community radio to serve its audience and help cut through the fog and confusion, surely it’s when the country’s whole future is up for grabs. And it’s not only national power that’s on the line – in many areas there are local council elections too.

So, why should there be anecdotal evidence emerging that some local radio stations are running scared of covering the elections? What are they afraid of? Surely not the Ofcom Broadcasting Code?

If so, think again – because the Code is actually much easier to work with than some community radio operators seem to think. Sure, there are special rules governing coverage during election periods – but that’s just a reflection of the vital role media can play in making sense of our democratic processes. Take a closer look at the rules, and it soon becomes clear that one simple principle underpins them all – it’s about being fair and impartial. Once that is understood, compliance is actually pretty easy.

Of course, stations of all sizes can sometimes get it wrong – like the ethnic community station so worried about the British National Party it urged all its listeners to vote Labour to keep them out; or the channel which thought it might be okay for one of its presenters to carry on as normal while they fought for a local council seat at the same time; or the station which invited candidates of all parties to take part in an hour-long debate, and thought it could go ahead anyway when all but one of the parties said they couldn’t provide a speaker. Now that would have been an interesting ‘debate’, wouldn’t it? Luckily, someone realised the problem in the nick of time.

All of which brings us neatly back to where we started: these particular scenarios are so clearly not fair and impartial that it’s difficult to understand why they got so far.

So, let’s come at this from a different angle. I’d suggest this golden rule for broadcasters planning an item at election time: think about things from a candidate’s point of view. Then answer this simple question before going ahead: if I were standing for election, would I think the actual output – as transmitted – is fair? If the answer is no, it probably breaches the rules.

That said, there’s no excuse for not reading the relevant bits of the Code yourself. They’re contained in Section Six (http://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv/ifi/codes/bcode/) and they’re really not that tricky. But I’ll summarise a few of the highlights (you can turn to the Code itself for the actual wording):

  • Due weight must be given to major parties. In England, that’s Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat. In addition, there’s the SNP for broadcasts in Scotland; and there’s Plaid Cymru in Wales. The major parties in Northern Ireland are DUP; Sinn Fein; SDLP and UUP.

What does this mean? Well, it reflects the fact that our political system has big parties and little parties. The big parties are those that are most likely to end up controlling governments, assemblies and councils. Their views are important and should be duly prominent in any fair coverage. There’s no requirement for all major parties to appear in each and every item – so long as overall coverage is fair and impartial. As we’ve already seen, that probably wouldn’t include an hour-long ‘debate’ with only one participant! Keep asking that question: if I was a candidate in this election, would I think the output is fair?

  • Other parties should receive election coverage as appropriate.

What does this mean in practice? Actually, it’s a judgement call for broadcasters. In some areas there might be significant support for UKIP or the Greens or even a well-backed independent candidate. The best people to judge what is fair and impartial in the particular circumstances (and taking account of proper evidence, of course) are the local experts – you!

  • If a candidate takes part in an item about their own constituency or council ward, then candidates of each of the major parties must be offered an opportunity to take part.

That’s pretty straightforward – and a refusal by one need not stop the item from going ahead, as long as the offer has been made and the output overall remains fair and impartial (always the same principle). It might, for example, mean summarising the known views of the non-participant.

  • Candidates standing for election must not act as presenters or interviewers of any type of programme during the election period.

This is also absolutely clear and unambiguous, so it’s surprising how many radio stations seek Ofcom guidance on this rule – “but she’s only presenting a travel programme”, they say, or “he’s only a sports presenter”. It doesn’t matter. Being on air in whatever capacity gives a candidate a prominence that is denied to their opponents. It’s not fair.

I think that’s enough rules for now – but I do hope I’ve demonstrated how a simple understanding of the underlying principle of fairness and impartiality can help unpick the mystique of those ‘special’ rules governing elections. It would be a great shame if community radio stations steered clear of politics at the very time when they have so much to offer their audiences: the vital local perspective on the big issues of the day.

Finally, if you’re still in doubt, there’s Ofcom’s trump card. If anyone running a community radio station wants guidance on how to apply the rules in a specific instance, just ask us.

Ahead of transmission, we can’t ever promise that your broadcast won’t breach the rules – it’ll depend how it’s handled at the time. And we won’t ever ‘pre-clear’ a programme (it wouldn’t be right for a regulator to start vetting programmes). But, if you need it, we will always help by giving advice on what things you should be thinking about when making your own decisions. That’s what we’re here for. Use us.

JG 01/02/10

A little bit about John Glover who we thank for taking the time to write this article and respond to emailed queries:

I am Senior Content Policy Executive in Ofcom Content and Standards. My particular expertise is in public service broadcasting, especially news, elections, and programmes for the Nations, regions and localities.

I was project manager for a major Ofcom report on the future of broadcast news (New News Future News) and looked after sections on Local Television and Journalism for last year’s Ofcom review of local media.

My previous career was in television news, having worked for ITN and for Central TV and London News Network. I was programme editor of London Tonight (Carlton/LWT) from 1992 to 1998.



Acts, codes and rules


The parts of the Broadcasting code with relevance to the political process are brought together here so you can read, feel informed and invite the politicians in with confidence. Principally, you are concerned with parts five and six of the code when looking at covering the election period.

Which Acts should you know?

Unlike the press, radio broadcasters have some statutory duties so you should reference the Communications Act 2003, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and the Representation of People Act 2000 which details conduct during elections. In the Communications Act PDF you will be interested in section 319 on Ofcom’s standards code and 320 on special impartiality requirements. The linked Elections and Representations Acts go to the relevant sections.

You need to be aware of the following in particular when the general election starts with announcement of the dissolution of Parliament; this is usually six weeks prior to election day.

The Broadcasting Code

This was amended recently and Ofcom held a broadcasting code workshop where the election period was addressed. They have made these very helpful slides available which give you a quick lesson on what you need to be aware of and how this applies practically to your station.

Broadcasting Code – section five – Due Impartiality and Due Accuracy and Undue Prominence of Views and Opinions

You can download this part of the code here. You can also access some section five explanatory notes.

Broadcasting Code – section six – Elections and Referendums.

You can download this part of the code here. You can also access some section six explanatory notes.

Generally, when putting together a programme where politicians are likely to participate, you should offer all major parties a chance to participate, and invite other candidates with significant electoral support but you need list all names only once.

Most importantly, coverage must be impartial between all parties over the campaign and you should give due weight to all major parties.



Your own rules


While station management and licence applicants need to be totally familiar with the law and Ofcom and ASA regulations, you probably won’t want to inflict all of this on your volunteers. Instead you should take the key components and make them into an easily understood set of broadcasting rules. These will form a central part of your volunteer agreement.

To protect yourself from Ofcom complaints, you should really set the standards of behaviour higher than the regulations demand. This will give you a ‘buffer zone’ that allows you to rebuke or discipline a volunteer presenter before their behaviour generates a complaint to Ofcom. In particular your rules should cover:

  • Swearing and obscenity. We would recommend forbidding it altogether. In our experience some volunteers will break this rule on a regular basis, particularly if they host specialist music shows in genres where ‘parental advisory’ stickers on records are common. But if you notice a high frequency of swear-words on a particular show you should give the presenter a dressing down, which should be formally noted in cases where there has been a complaint (firm action prior to Ofcom calling you to investigate a complaint could lessen penalties). Most single releases with obscene lyrics will come with a ‘clean’ radio edit, and where available this should be used. Audio editors such as Cool Edit will make it relatively simple (although time consuming) to bleep out or reverse swear-words and the right volunteer will enjoy this sort of remixing.
  • No preaching. Whether religious or political, it is dangerous to let presenters believe that they have a soapbox when they are on air. This is not their privilege. If they wish to air their personal opinions they should do it in the right place at the right time. It is one thing to have a volunteer contribute to a debate where there is a structured balance, but it is quite another for them to interrupt their late night lounge show with an extended rant about their local MP. Of course if a show is plainly labelled as a soapbox or platform show then there could be exceptions but remember that there are specific Ofcom rules on religious and political output.
  • Drug references. As with swearing, references to drug use are common in some musical genres. Again, Ofcom would take into account the context (e.g. time of day and the nature of the likely listenership) but it is safer to ask your presenters to avoid such records whenever possible.
  • Lay down specific rules for potentially problematic shows. At ALL FM there is a fortnightly show entitled ‘Under the Pavement’ (Voxbox 8.01) which serves the ‘activist’ community of the area. This programme discusses and publicises community, environmental and political activism, sometimes in controversial areas such as animal rights. We would argue that such a show is entirely justified under the remit of a community radio station, but obviously it can sail close to the wind regarding Ofcom rules on impartiality. In such cases it is vital that the presenters see their role as facilitating debate within the community. They should maintain a balance of viewpoints, offer opportunities for response, and keep a healthy distance between their role as presenters and their own personal opinions. It is one thing to announce that there is a political demonstration in the area next weekend, quite another to urge listeners to attend. Remember that the more controversial a subject of discussion might be, the more likely it is to generate complaints.

VOXBOX 8.01

“The rules are so vague, when we started we were told that there was no watershed, but that some stronger language might be acceptable late at night. A lot of our material, both guests and music, is quite edgy. So we’re always asking what can we get away with – not so much with Ofcom, but more what can we get away with without the Station Manager phoning in and shouting at us. We once played a record called ‘Free the Airwaves’ by the American folk singer David Rovics which had the lyrics ‘F**k the FCC’. I thought if it had been British and about Ofcom maybe not, but that this was all about multinational corporations owning radio stations and so I thought it was quite appropriate and acceptable for a community station.

Next thing Phil Korbel (Radio Regen’s Director) is on the phone saying ‘take that off immediately.’ Whoops! And then we had a poet in the studio at the time, and she was asking ‘well can I do this poem?’ and I was saying, well that’s got the F-word and that’s got the C-word, erm, have you got any about daffodils or anything? Now we over-compensate I think. Whenever we have guests in we have to explain you can’t say this or you can’t say that. It puts us in a difficult position sometimes, trying to get the balance of not getting the station into trouble without stifling debate.” David Kay, volunteer presenter, Under the Pavement, ALL FM, Manchester

Phil Korbel adds: “My concern with that song was that the swearword was in the chorus and could easily have been edited out. If they’d asked, I might have been happy for the poet to continue as it was a live broadcast and carried artistic justification. Community radio should be the home for radical output and it’s very much up to the broadcaster to make sure that their mission to push the envelope doesn’t take the station off the air. It can be done.”

What to do when things go wrong

When Ofcom receives a complaint about a broadcast, it will always investigate. If it decides the rules have been broken, it has the power to issue a fine or in serious cases to take away the licence. Ofcom will consider the seriousness of the offence, but just as important to it will be the station’s response to the transgression.

To take a famous recent example, when Elton John turned the breakfast-time airways blue during an interview with Chris Moyles on Radio 1, Ofcom was inundated with complaints. Ofcom issued no punishment because of the swift and professional reaction of Moyles and his bosses. Ofcom’s statement said ‘in view of the nature of the error, the on-air apologies and the action taken, we consider the matter resolved’. Their reaction would certainly have been very different if it had been the presenter who swore. Even the reputation of Elton John will have been a factor – Radio 1 could not have reasonably predicted an experienced mainstream media performer like him to behave so inappropriately. Had John Lydon or Noel Gallagher been invited on at 9.00am and committed the same offence, the reaction may have been less sympathetic. Whenever they receive a complaint Ofcom will want to know:

  • What happened? They will ask for a recording.
  • How did the situation arise? Was it predictable or planned in advance? What procedures did you have in place to stop it happening?
  • What was done to remedy it? Were apologies broadcast? How did you react to any complaint received at the station? Was the presenter disciplined?
  • How are you ensuring it won’t happen again? Have you offered re-training? Have you changed or tightened your rules and procedures?

If you can give satisfactory answers to those questions, Ofcom is highly unlikely to punish any but the most serious transgressions.

Above all, don’t attempt to cover up or mislead any Ofcom investigation. They will certainly consider that a much more serious offence than the original one. One final hint for this chapter. Ofcom, via its website, will allow you to subscribe to their Complaints Bulletin, which reaps rewards to any programmer who can spare ten minutes a month to scan through it. The Bulletin is mostly dull and TVorientated but the radio gems are in there and will make you wonder why the radio station ever did what they did and sometimes how on earth they got away with it.

VOXBOX 8.02

“In the first RSL I was ever involved in, I produced the promo package which included such gems as ‘If you want formulaic pop pap, you should try tuning to [a well known local commercial station]’ with this formula adapted in order to insult as many broadcasting rivals as possible. Unsurprisingly we had a call from the Regulator. We produced the ROT and the whole jingle package on DAT and then took cover expecting the wrath of the law to fall on our young shoulders. When judgement came it was actually in our favour because a) we were plainly having a laugh, b) we insulted everyone and c) we didn’t take ourselves seriously either – one of the jingles for our station ran: ‘??? FM, a radio station that disappears up its own bottom!’” Phil Korbel, Director, Radio Regen

Further reading and links

Legal matters