Ofcom to relax licence obligations during COVID-19

Ofcom will take the current pandemic into account should stations not deliver their promised Format or Key Commitments over the next few months.

“Compliance with regulatory obligations is important but we want to assure broadcasters that they should feel empowered to take all necessary steps to protect their staff at this difficult time,” Ofcom said today.

The regulator says complaints will still be assessed and stations should still have measures in place to make and retain recordings of broadcast output and produce these on request, but via email rather than post.

Ofcom reminds stations that all content relating to the coronavirus should be accurate and up-to-date, and it will consider any breach arising from harmful coronavirus-related programming to be potentially serious and will consider taking appropriate regulatory action, which could include the imposition of a statutory sanction.

Ofcom also warns that if contingency plans for compliance come under threat, broadcasters should consider carefully whether they should remain on air.

“Broadcasters are reminded that given the suspension of schools across the UK, care should be taken when broadcasting content during the daytime when children will be available to see or listen to content.

“For the next three months, where broadcasters are genuinely unable to continue to meet the programming and production requirements set out in their licence as a result of the disruption due to COVID-19, we would consider the force majeure condition in the licence to be engaged, and a licensee would not be liable to enforcement action as a result. We will, of course, review the position again at the end of that period.

“We would ask that broadcasters be prepared to provide an explanation to Ofcom as to what steps they have taken to seek to ensure compliance insofar as possible, and keep us informed as to how they have made reasonable adjustments where necessary with a view to continue to provide the best possible service to their audiences insofar as they can.”

Any new community radio station which needs extra time to launch, or have issues paying due licence fees, should contact Ofcom,