Sunday, 15 March 2009

Regulating for Fun

News comes via Samizdata of a recently concluded investigation by Ofcom, the UK body that regulates broadcast media, into the illegal activities of a local radio station:
[The] UK regulator has issued a "yellow card" warning to GWR FM for failing to play music the kids want to hear, accusing the Bristol-based station of aiming for an older audience. UK radio stations are licensed on the premise of appealing to a particular crowd, and providing a particular kind of content. For GWR that means locals aged under 44 and a combination of "contemporary and chart" music, which Ofcom interprets as anything recorded in the last two years...

Ofcom spent three days listening to GWR, and concluded that while classics are permitted to add "spice" to the mix they shouldn't make up the majority of content. But even discounting a daily feature of the station, the "Time Tunnel" broadcast daily between 9 and 10am, Ofcom found that 53 per cent of the tracks played were more than two years old - and thus outside the station remit and the stated boundaries of the "contemporary".
From Ofcom's press release, this paragraph was the most galling (not least for its use of the word 'spice'):
In this respect, Ofcom’s expectation of a “contemporary and chart station” such as GWR FM is that the main musical diet should be current music, reflecting the UK singles charts of today and recent months. Older, classic tracks are not necessarily out of place in this type of format, but only acting as complementary ‘spice’ to the main offering.
[emphasis added]

It is one thing for there to exist an organisation whose stated objective is to protect some vaguely defined notion of 'consumers' interest' or 'fairness.' It is quite another for it to reject completely the daily vindication of the station's popularity, proven by the decisions of hundreds of thousands of listeners to tune in to the current programming schedule, in pursuit of its own priorities.

Which better determines what listeners want: the discipline of the marketplace and popular support, or the arbitrary, indefensible criteria of politically appointed apparatchiks?

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