Incremental contracts: CRA response (1989)

Salim Salam reports on the recent CRA sponsored conference in Nottingham which addressed the community radio to Britain's black communities. 

The Community Radio Association welcomed the statement this month that the Government will allow the Independent Broadcasting Authority to introduce incremental radio contracts.

It has been a long wait for such an obvious stop-gap measure. Now for the first time since the ill-fated community radio experiment of 1985, there is a limited opportunity for groups of ordinary people to own, manage and run a radio station which genuinely reflects their lives and community.

Paul Brown - IBA
At the recent meeting of the CRA in Colchester, Paul Brown, Head of Programming at the IBA, said they would be looking for "new people with new ideas, doing new things in a new way".

The CRA expects the IBA to fulfil its promise. Invitations should make it clear that the IBA welcomes applications from part-time stations, frequency sharers and those which are non-profit maximising and not necessarily financed solely by advertising. A high priority must be given to introducing the first radio stations controlled by the Afro-Caribbean, Asian and smaller ethnic minorities.
New formats for presenting pop music should take a back seat to those who provide a voice for communities excluded from legal broadcasting. Community stations must be given adequate time to raise the necessary finance, and greater weight should be given to the quality of programmes than to the speed a station can go on air.

The CRA will be pressing the IBA on all these points in its advisory capacity to the IBA's Radio Division. It appears that only a limited number of licences will be available. This will provide little incentive for many unlicensed operators to come off the air. Nevertheless they will be faced with a draconian five year ban if they are caught after January the first. For the pirates it is a small carrot and a rather large stick. The CRA now intends to step up its services to aspiring non-profit community based groups. This will include advice on applications, legal constitutions and management structures, studio costs and sources of grants and low interest loans for start up capital.

£10k IBA constructed studio
The Association is also bringing forward plans to establish a charitable Community Broadcasting Trust. This will be a unique source of education, research and  information for the public on community radio matters. Interest has already been expressed from a number of charities and the CRA is actively seeking corporate business sponsors. The CRA took the first step towards discussing with the black communities of Britain its vision of the way ahead for community radio at the first national conference for black people on the subject in Nottingham on August 20.

The conference, Community Radio and its significance to black people, was organised by the Black Conference Planning Group and representatives of the Association of Musicians and Artists, Nottingham. It was held at the Marcus Garvey Centre, and attracted almost 40 Afro-Caribbean and Asian men and women from all over the country. Aiming to raise awareness of some of the key areas of community radio such as training, fund-raising, operational and management structures, and programming,the conference organisers invited prominent figures in the field to contribute to leading the debate.

On the day, the conference revealed the breadth and depth of experience in the black communities. It provided the CRA with much to think about, as well as demonstrating the amount of work we have to do as an organisation to come to grips with some of the issues concerned. Some conference organisers expressed disappointment that the gathering was not as large as hoped, but were confident that the conference was a first, not a last, step.

Dr. Muhammad Anwar
After a morning session in which the most interesting and entertaining contribution came from Cecil Morris of People's Community Radio Link (PCRL), an unlicensed station in Birmingham, the conference went into an afternoon of workshops. The morning session was informative, with Dr. Muhammad Anwar of the Commission for Racial Equality impressing upon those present the diversity of the black communities' programming needs. His research, documented in his books "Ethnic Minority Broadcasting" and "Who tunes into what?" have proved, with echoes in the 1988 Broadcasting Research Unit report "The Listener Speaks".

CRA Chair, Steve Byrom, spoke about the CRA's respected status in political circles and emphasised that it had always been an aim of the organisation to treat the needs of the Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities as a priority. Referring to the unlicensed sector, he recognised their contribution to the debate and spoke of the CRA's flexible attitude towards them, evidenced by the decision at the Bristol AGM to allow them into membership of the CRA providing they accept the Code of Practice.

 White Paper heralds 1990 radio legislation  

The White Paper on Broadcasting, published this year, brings the new era of radio one step closer to realisation. The White Paper will form the basis for a major Broadcasting Bill to be introduced in the 1989 to 1990 parliamentary session.

Plans for a separate Radio Bill were shelved last year. Now the Government plans to introduce new radio legislation concurrently with major reforms of the structure of television broadcasting.
The White Paper reiterates the Government's intention to introduce a new "light touch" Radio Authority to oversee an expansion and diversification of the radio industry. It will include plans for several hundred new community and local radio stations.

The Broadcasting Bill will be a substantial piece of legislation with a separate section to deal specifically with radio. It is unlikely to receive Royal Assent before summer 1990, but a shadow Radio Authority could already be in place by then to deal with preliminary issues such as frequency allocation and applications procedure.
The first licences would be on offer in late 1990 with the first stations under the new regime coming on air in 1991.

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