I enjoyed reading this blog post on Radio Today by John Myers, the former GMG Radio Chief Executive. It takes as its starting point a decision by Ofcom to uphold a complaint that Global Radio has failed to comply with the requirements of its published format since re-launching as Heart Cornwall in 2012. In particular Ofcom has found that Heart Cornwall was not delivering some important aspects of the Character of Service of its current published format, in particular the requirements that the station should be “A full service local station for Cornwall, with speech an important part of the content”, and that it should feature “locally-focused….speech content.” Ofcom found that the output examined demonstrated an overall lack of speech on the station and very little “locally-focused…speech content”. Ofcom warned Global Radio that, should similar issues arise in future, it may consider taking further regulatory action.
According to Myers this decsion sums up the current state of radio regulation in the UK, and Ofcom’s flawed approach to it. I agree. Ofcom relies on someone making a complaint. If it did a spot check of radio station across the country next week it would no doubt find that a lot of them are in breach of their Format, and that most are fully aware that they are and are doing so on purpose. The stations owned by the main players just want to offer defacto ‘national’ services, and the smaller players are having to compete for listeners so often go the popularist route to do so. But, Ofcom have neither the time, inclination nor resources to discover this. This is not likely to change.
The ASA, to a degree, sufers from the same issue. It needs to rely on complaints and the majority of these come from competitors playing a tit-for-tat game. I see ads every week that are in clear breach of the rules, but I have better things to do with my time than spend my life writing to the ASA. Beside for most advertisers it is a game. If you’re short on advertsing budget then an ad that breaks the rules will generate lots of free press for your slapped wrist. More importantly the ad run will almsot certainly have ended and have its desired effect way before the ASA tells you not to run it again. You need to be a BAD repeat offender to get referred to Ofcom. For example, Sit-Up Ltd [ Bid TV / Price Drop TV] were on the end of 30 rulings in the last year – 28 upheld.
In May last year the ASA referred Sit-Up Ltd, to Ofcom for consideration of statutory sanctions following repeated breaches of the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising by its channels Bid and Price Drop. At that point there had been 27 rulings against Sit-Up Ltd relating to misleading pricing claims and misleading product descriptions since January 2012. Of the 30 I mentioned in the past year, 10 came AFTER the referal to Ofcom.
As far as I’m aware Ofcom has yet to make any ruling on any sanctions. Uk regulation is a slow beast.