DCMS Select Committee Report on Draft Media Bill: Radio Measures

United Kingdom

On 21 July 2023, the DCMS Select Committee (the “Committee”) published its report on the radio measures found in the draft Media Bill (the “draft Bill”). The Committee has stated that it was these measures that drew the most contention during the evidence phase of the draft Bill’s pre-legislative scrutiny. In the absence of a detailed impact assessment of Part 6 of the draft Bill (which covers smart speaker regulation and will be published at the draft Bill’s formal introduction), and due to the specific concerns regarding the draft Bill’s measures for radio raised during the evidence phase, the Committee has decided to report on the draft Bill’s measures affecting radio services to the Government to assist the Government to include effective measures covering such services in the final bill in time for its intended introduction later this year.

Deregulation of Commercial Radio

The Committee has raised concerns in its report about certain de-regulatory measures found in the draft Bill impacting UK radio. The draft Bill is set to loosen content specifications on radio stations, permitting them to focus on local news. Whilst the Committee appears to be comfortable with the changes, acknowledging that local news draws listeners, it finds that Ofcom’s responsibilities in enforcing the provision of local news remain unclear, despite previous assurances by the Government in 2017 to provide greater legislative clarity. The Committee therefore recommends that the Government provides Ofcom with clearer guidance regarding enforcement of the obligation on local radio services to provide locally-gathered news, either on the face of the Media Bill, or published alongside at its introduction. Additionally, the Committee has raised concerns about the broad powers given to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (the “Secretary of State”) to make regulations on local radio news autonomously, and recommends an update to the Bill to ensure that a consultation with Ofcom is required prior to the Secretary of State implementing any such rules.

Radio Selection Services

The Committee recognises the radio industry’s concerns about how changing listening habits (in particular, the shift of listeners away from radio stations to smart speaker platforms) threatens to undermine the UK’s radio industry. Whilst the Committee cites how certain large technology and media companies have expressed concern that the draft Bill may overreach and result in the limiting or reducing of the functions that smart speakers can offer (with perhaps a code of conduct being a preferable solution), it unreservedly supports these measures, so that UK radio services are protected as the smart speaker industry continues to grow. To overcome any dispute with stakeholders in the smart speaker sector, the Committee has encouraged the Government to urgently pursue a technical engagement with stakeholders to ensure that the draft Bill’s smart speaker measures are effective and to respond to the legitimate concerns that platforms have raised.  The Committee has asked the Government to provide an update on this aspect to the House of Commons in September after the summer recess.

The powers allocated for the designation of “radio selection services” should also be revisited, according to the Committee. The Committee has criticised the lack of a specific statutory requirement in the draft Bill for the Secretary of State to consult with Ofcom before making secondary legislation amending the designation of radio selection services. This issue affects, amongst other radio services, non-voice activated in-car radio systems, which are not currently expressly covered in the draft Bill – i.e. such devices will not necessarily be subject to the same “must carry” rules as designated smart speakers. The Committee recommends that the inclusion of in-car systems as designated radio selection services is therefore kept under close review and the definition of a radio selection service is amended to require the Secretary of State to consult Ofcom before issuing regulations updating the scope of the services caught by the definition.

It has also been noted that the definition of “internet radio services” may be too narrow. On-demand and online-only content have fallen outside the scope of the draft Bill, which the Committee believes is at odds with market trends. Although it recognises the Government’s wish to limit the scope to just Ofcom-regulated stations, the Committee has recommended that the draft Bill is amended to include the on-demand and online-only content of those stations, which it assesses to be a reasonable extension of the draft Bill, given that listeners are increasingly gravitating towards such content.


There is a prevailing theme running through many of the Committee’s recommendations – strengthening Ofcom’s role and ensuring that any designations by the Secretary of State are taken following consultation with Ofcom. Whilst the Committee is pleased that action is being taken to strengthen the UK radio market, there is a sense that the Secretary of State has been given too many independent powers, and that Ofcom (which has long expertise in this area) should be given more oversight of the regulation of such services. As to smart speakers, the Committee recognises that in the absence of an impact assessment, it is difficult to determine at this stage how burdensome the draft Bill’s measures may be on stakeholders. The Committee has therefore reiterated that the costs and responsibilities on smart speaker platforms should be considered when deciding the threshold at which radio selection services should be designated. It is now up to the Government to determine how many of the Committee’s recommendations are included in an updated draft Bill.

We are watching the Media Bill closely as it passes through Parliament, so keep an eye out for our updates on our dedicated CMS Media Bill webpage. If you would like to discuss any aspect of the Media Bill or how it may affect you, please get in touch.