Assignment One: Codes & Conventions of Radio Stations

For months, the media focused upon the battle for No. 10. As we have seen for other formats of media, radio is no exception to the codes and conventions stations have to adhere to when broadcasting to its audience.

Serving highly on both public interest and local and national news priorities, various stations reported the election using different methods; The Today Programme on Radio 4 used outside broadcasting- trying to visit 100 constituencies in 100 days prior to the election in order to engage with their listeners and integrating themselves in the issues and matters that affect those people in that area.

Whereas Radio 1– typically aimed towards a much younger audience has the task not only to inform, but to enthuse those on the importance of both politics and voting to a stereotypical apathetic demographic. Overcoming this, the BBC assembled two hundred 18-24 year olds from across the UK calling them ‘Generation 2015‘. They were used in regional and national BBC programming to contribute to stories focusing on the General Election- and by doing so, more strongly represent Radio 1’s audience.

Additionally, Newsbeat commissioned its largest survey of the 18-24 year olds- gathering more than 6,000 opinions on what political issues were most important to them. When speaking to Feedback’s Roger Bolton, Newsbeat editor Louisa Compton spoke of the balance required to convey information on the election without young people switching off;

”We pride ourselves at Newsbeat in knowing our audience really well and constantly feed into us thoughts and concerns. But occasionally its saying that this is a really important story- and you might not care about it, but here’s why and explaining it so well to make them understand the story better.”

As well as concerns over content and structure, professional radio stations have to always keep media regulations at the forefront of their minds. These can range from legal and ethical issues which are set out in Ofcom’s guidelines- Ofcom being the ‘Independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries.‘ Furthermore, if there are any complaints from audiences, then Ofcom is the body who investigates them.

In Section 6: Elections & Referendums, there are various codes that are noteworthy, including article 6.2 which states;

”Due weight must be given to the coverage of major parties during the election period. Broadcasters must also consider giving appropriate coverage to other parties and independent candidates with significant views and perspectives.”

An example of where this may not have been illustrated were also pointed out by The Spectator’s Rod Liddle after April’s ITV leader’s debate, Radio 4’s PM programme used three statements made from leaders and dissected them in a principle they called ‘statistical scrutiny‘. But all three were from UKIP’s Nigel Farage and no other leader from the debate endured similar inquiry. This in no way displays the impartiality outlined in Ofcom’s report.

This resonates in Section 7: Fairness, where it voices that;

”Broadcasters must ensure due impartiality is maintained that deals with matters of political or industrial controversy or matters relating to current public policy.”

88% of radio audiences expressed, as part of Ofcom’s research, the importance of accuracy and neutrality in broadcast news.

Especially when covering news stories, caution not to breach defamation laws- which take numerous forms, have to be seriously addressed. Firstly, if a gratuitous attack is broadcast or written on an individual or company, this is classed as libel. If this is a verbal defamation, it is recognised as slander. As is the liberty of having a free press, the media can defend their comments if: it can be proven as fact, classed as being a fair assessment of a situation or if it serves the greater good and is for the public’s interest.

Contempt of Court must not be carried out by broadcasters when covering trials or criminal cases. This includes not publicizing material which might prejudice the fairness of proceedings or conducting interviews with witnesses before a trial.

Equally, as experienced by presenter Iain Dale (‘iaindale.com’), who verged on dangerous ground when gathering an interview with former police officers in a criminal investigation which inexplicably halted in the 1970’s and ’80’s, the Official Secrets Act makes it a crime to disclose sensitive official information without lawful authority and could be deemed detrimental to security, defence or information which ‘might lead to the commission of crime.

Relating this back to the General Election coverage on various radio stations, delicacy had to be implemented when discussing one of the elections key focal points- Trident and Britain’s nuclear deterrent. Due to the classified nature of the weapons system (which was breached this May, by a Royal Navy engineer in the leaking of a dossier detailing potential security breaches), certain information cannot be published to the public. One of the methods used by London’s LBC radio to confer this subject was in the form of a 90 minute debate with high-profile female representatives from Labour, Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and UKIP. As we mentioned earlier about fairness, the views from CND’s (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) general secretary Kate Hudson were offered to balance the argument to abolish Trident.

Prior and after the General Election, attention was brought to the fact 16-17 year olds could, for the first time, vote in the Scottish Independence referendum. This has recently been carried over by the media and politicians alike on whether Britain should follow suit and lower the voting age from 18 for the upcoming EU referendum.

As this angle on British politics focuses upon coverage involving minors, radio news programming must consult the BBC Editorial Guidelines as to safeguard the welfare of those young people represented. As it stipulates;

The interests and safety of children and young people must take priority over any editorial requirements.”

This involves keeping the child’s personal details secure; whether that be individuals actively taking part in content- as BBC 1’s Newbeat implemented in their report on how 16 and 17 year olds fared during the Scottish referendum, or by information attached to audience content sent into programmes such as texts or emails.

How Radio 1 covered young people voting varied from, say, Radio 4 who got the views from a Conservative backbencher on whether the EU poll should have the voting age lowered. It is clarification of different stations tailoring their content to the needs of their demographic- with the voices radio stations believe listeners want to hear their news content to be personified by.

Due to Radio 1 and Radio 4 featuring heavily in this report, the guidelines that both these two BBC stations and others have to uphold have to be examined. The BBC’s editorial guidelines are used across all its media platforms- embracing its responsibilities as a publicly owned organisation with the highest quality content and ethical standards at the heart of what they do.

This is broken down into key values including serving the public interest and showing impartiality regardless of ethnicity, gender or other differences. All of this translates to how the BBC cover events such as general elections. It is conscious that the four countries which make up the UK have different political structures implemented, therefore its content has to be, in some cases, tailored to these specific areas of the country. Finally, depending on the station or structure of programming, impartiality may be generated over the course of one segment, one show or over the duration of the campaign itself. But this onus rests on those producing the show and in no way should the makers expect the BBC to rebalance any bias in other content for them.

As we have seen in two differently structured radio stations in Radio 1; whose news programming consists of a predominantly informal tone, content delivered in short bursts and the use of using other digital formats such as YouTube and online videos to both complement news items but to also apply to Radio 1’s core demographic of teenagers and young adults. This is in contrast to Radio 4 who, with an emphasis on current affairs and news, such as the hour-long PM show with Eddie Mair and Caroline Quinn to the Today programme, use more traditional means of broadcasting the news in a professional, detailed and comprehensive manner to its target audience of largely older people. Yet, aside from their obvious differences, both are testament to how the codes and conventions of radio stations were used in their coverage of the general election.

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