Tory plans for radio: a wave of the future?

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

``Change is Coming.'' That is the title of one chapter in the Green Paper on Radio published in London this past week. The paper is a discussion document issued by the government to stimulate thought on the future of radio outside of the BBC.

The paper introduces an entirely new approach to broadcasting regulation in Britain. What it means is that the government wants to deregulate ``independent radio,'' as commercial radio is called here.

The underlying theme carries forward the Thatcher philosophy that market forces should be the major factor in any enterprise. Commercial radio here will get more independence if the proposals become law.

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Whether that happens will depend on the outcome of the next general election, as Home Secretary Douglas Hurd indicated at the news conference that introduced the proposals.

The document proposes to leave BBC radio for the BBC to sort out. But it also proposes to let three new commercial radio networks broadcast nationally. In effect, this would mean that there might be a ``light'' classical music station to offset the BBC's ``heavy'' classical music station, Radio 3, while another might be devoted to jazz. Another might go to a national all-talk station, similar to the BBC's Radio 4.

To enable this to happen, the BBC would have to give up two frequencies (although it might gain another at a later date) and reassess its practice of simulcasting, say, cricket commentary on MF (the British equivalent of AM), while carrying classical music on its FM frequency.

The green paper also proposes up to 400 local community stations (Britain only has a total of 80 stations now) with a much freer atmosphere than exists under the current arrangement with commercial radio, which is regulated by the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Indeed, the IBA may lose local radio altogether, with the new national and community radio stations being given a much freer rein under the Cable Authority, set up to start Cable TV in Britain.

The Government also proposes loosening the monopoly held by copyright bodies over the amount of music that may be played on existing commercial radio stations. This is now limited to nine hours daily.

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