Ofcom breach for Coastal DAB after implied commercial reference in radio news bulletin

Coastal DAB in Blackpool has been found in breach of the Broadcasting Code after mentioning ticket sales for local event in its news bulletin.

When talking about the Lytham Festival in June 2023, the station said there are a limited amount of tickets available and more details are available on its website.

It’s the second complaint against the station in a two month period after one person reported it for playing a song with a swear word in it – “drivers licence” by Olivia Rodrigo, on 13th August 2023.

The station confirmed that the references to the festival in the news bulletins were not subject to a commercial arrangement with any organisation, but said that it did have a commercial agreement in place for coverage of the festival in some of its non-news programming.

It added that it contracted out the provision of local radio news services to a third party and that as such it had “no editorial input into the content of the bulletin”.

It further added that it chose to use this external provider because the latter is an experienced news provider used by many other stations.

Coastal Radio said it had contacted its news provider to establish why journalists had covered the news story in such a way. The Licensee supplied Ofcom with a copy of the news provider’s response, in which the provider:

• explained that it was asked by Coastal Radio to give “priority coverage to the Lytham Festival”, and said that it was a big story for the local area;

• accepted that the script should not have contained the reference to ticket availability and had it been alerted to the error at the time of broadcast, it would have removed this reference; and

• stated, that as a result of this incident, it reminded its team members about their responsibilities regarding writing and recording bulletins, and improved its process of checking scripts.

Coastal Radio said it was disappointed that information about ticket availability was included in the bulletin and clarified that if any listeners had visited its website to find ticket information, it would not have benefitted financially. It further confirmed that it did not sell tickets on its website and highlighted that the web address featured in the bulletin was incorrect.

When responding to Ofcom’s Preliminary View that the content had breached Rule 10.3 of the Code, the Licensee said that it disagreed with the findings. It pointed out the Lytham Festival attracts 100,000 people over five days to a town with a population 42,600 and as such, the event has a significant financial impact on the local area.

The Licensee argued that that the reference to ticket availability in the news bulletins was not written in a promotional way that would indicate that it was working in conjunction with the promotors to try to encourage ticket sales. It therefore submitted that while it would use this incident as a learning opportunity, it did not believe a technical breach had occurred.

Coastal Radio added that other broadcasters’ news bulletins cover tickets sales for festivals and concerts and provided links to broadcasters’ websites as examples.

Ofcom found the station in breach and added that compliance decisions should be based on the requirements of the Code and not by reference to the output of other broadcasters.