Much has been written recently about how exactly we should define “news”. It should be simple, but of course, one man’s news is another’s chip paper. Things came to a head last month when UTV Radio, the owners of TalkSport, failed to have a complaint about BBC Radio Five Live upheld – yet the BBC Trust acknowledged that UTV’s gripe did raise “significant questions” about what is and isn’t regarded as news content – compared to, say, a phone in, sports commentary or current affairs strand.
Of course, commercial radio has also come in for its fair share of criticism on the amount of local or regional news being provided by newly networked stations. At the start of this year, Capital FM launched as a national network, with local or regional breakfast and drive shows. In return for reducing local output to seven hours a day, it agreed to operate what the regulator OFCOM termed an “enhanced local news service” – local bulletins on the hour throughout the day.
But not everyone was convinced. not least in the East Midlands, where Capital used to be three separate radio stations serving Nottingham, Derby and Leicester. And trying to cram local stories into bulletins of 30 seconds was always going to be a challenge, especially because Capital decided on a bulletin “format” of one local, one national and one showbiz story to run each hour.
So now, after a number of complaints to the regulator – and some further sampling – OFCOM has reissued and revised its Localness Guidelines. Significantly, and for the first time, they address the issue of daytime “enhanced” local news as follows :
It therefore follows that local bulletins running during daytime hours as part of an ‘enhanced’ news service should not be merely tokenistic box-ticking exercises, and each bulletin should meet the requirements set out for local news in general (see guidance above) just as comfortably as bulletins aired during peaktime (i.e. weekday breakfast and drivetime, and weekend late breakfast).
While we have never prescribed minimum durations for any type of news bulletin, as that is a matter for the licensee, we would always expect each enhanced daytime bulletin to feature more than simply headlines, and to include at the very least one fully-formed local news story, and normally more than this, alongside national stories.