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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 18:01 GMT
Radio reform unveiled
Capital FM DJ Steve Penk
Capital's Steve Penk: His employers face a shake-up
The UK's commercial radio stations could be set for a round of takeovers after the government decided to relax laws on who owns local licences.

The government's draft Communications Bill was to have ensured that each area would have at least three commercial operators, plus the BBC.

Now, after protests from the radio industry, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has decided to change the rules, so that each area would have at least two companies running its stations, as well as the BBC.

It gives scope for the UK's biggest operators to expand further, or even fight to take over each other.

The main players include Capital, best known for its London stations, while Emap which owns Kiss 100 in London and stations in northern England like Key 103 and Metro.

GWR is the firm behind Classic FM and local stations in the south, west and east of England.

The new rules also ban any operator from controlling more than 55% of the market in any area.

Stricter regulations will govern companies which also own local papers - they will only be allowed to control 45% of the market if they own more than 50% of the local press.

'Localness'

The same quota will apply to local ITV franchise holders. ITV's two biggest companies, Carlton and Granada, have no radio interests, but smaller outfits Scottish Media Group and UTV do.

Ms Jowell said: "It should ensure that in every local market with a reasonable range of services - three or more analogue operators - there should be at least two commercial radio operators, and at least three commercial media voices across local and regional radio, television and newspapers."

She later told the Westminster Media Forum would enforce the "localness" of the stations as well as helping their owners become stronger.

The changes were welcomed by GWR's executive chairman Ralph Bernard, who said: "Listeners will be the real winners, with companies like GWR being able to build local centres of excellence offering local output of greater range and quality."

The new rules will be enforced by the Ofcom watchdog, which is also being set up by the Communications Bill, and are expected to come into effect next year.

See also:

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