Green paper is all Boxcar WIllie
I thought we were told to save trees but a few forests will be cut down to enable a new Green Paper to come alive. New media rules are always good for debate but I suspect most of the forthcoming paper will be taken up with the view on press regulation. Radio might use this to do something positive also.
However, on this topic, I agree with Andrew Harrison at The Radio Centre, where he asks if a Green Paper is really worth the bother. The truth is most of the power for change already sits within the gift of OFCOM. A green paper will do little for the medium. We are in a fast moving industry yet we have snails pace regulation at times. Bright ideas are often dimmed by those who wish us to pause for thought. This is not always bad but it is often frustrating. I should state right now that I like regulation. I have seen how this can protect stations in the past but we are in a different game altogether these days.
Take format regulation. Today they should just say what content each station has to provide as a minimum requirement of their licence – and for me this MUST include local news on a local station. It is much easier to manage and regulate. What songs they play is simply taking up far too much time of the regulators tea break. Believe me, there is no-one capable of coming to a sensible decision on what should and should not be included within a modern radio stations playlist.
In a recent Radio Academy podcast, Alan Brazil, Nick Ferrari and Allan Beswick were asked what they would like changed with regard to regulation. It’s a great listen. Beswick offered the most interesting perspective in that he believes commercial radio should have very little regulation and as such take many more chances than it currently does. The balance is restored by having a regulated BBC where rules are much more stringent and he puts a good argument forward. Nick Ferrari takes the view that he should be allowed to tell his listeners who to vote for at election times. The current rules forbid this and many a station has been fined for crossing the line but does he have a point? He wonders if anyone really believes anyone would take notice of what he thinks. Would listeners not be able to decide for themselves he argues? Strangely, on this point I think Nick is wrong and YES listeners can change their minds because of what he might say. Great presenters can move mountains and they are on a platform that is hugely powerful and personal. We are NOT TV and we are NOT The Sun. People trust radio more than any other medium and if you allow this to happen, where does it all end? Perhaps Beswick has the answer! The reality of course is that we absolutely know the power of our presenters. We have seen them do amazing things with listeners through the years and getting them to vote for something or someone is not that difficult. Should we care anyway? Did The Sun win it for Blair or Maggie as they suggest? I doubt it. They just claimed the victory as any good PR team would.
What I would cut right now is any regulation regarding music. Let commercial stations play what they want when they want. Absolute should be able to turn into a Country station overnight, Smooth could become a Rock Station, Kiss could change to jazz and Magic could play nothing but today’s biggest hits all day long if that is their dream. Imagine waking up one day and suddenly your favourite radio station stopped playing ‘The Wanted’ and replaced that with the greatest hits from Boxcar Willie… Now that would be a treat!