Government warned of public backlash to digital radio switchover

LONDON - The Government must take action to prevent a major negative public reaction to the digital radio switchover, according to the Lords Communications Committee.

Digital Radio: government is warned of possible backlash
Digital Radio: government is warned of possible backlash

In a report, 'Digital switchover of television and radio in the United Kingdom', published today, the Committee warns there is "public confusion and industry uncertainty" surrounding digital radio switchover.

The committee contrasted the radio switchover with the TV switchover programme and said while consumers understood the benefits of the TV move because it provided them with new channels, in contrast the public is generally happy with FM and its range of services.

The report stated the TV digital switchover is on schedule and although it is too early to confirm the entire process has been a success the "progress so far has been encouraging".

The Lords concluded that it is essential that a "firm and unambiguous" plan for funding the completion of build-out of the digital radio service is put in place as soon as possible.

It added that given the amount of investment already made in digital radio, reversing the current policy would turn confusion into an utter shambles. Although achieving radio switchover in 2015 is ambitious, it does not favour a change of target date at this stage. 

Lord Fowler, chairman of the House of Lords Communications Committee, said: "Virtually all the witnesses who gave evidence to the Committee spoke of the need for greater clarity of policy in digital radio switchover.

"It is urgent that the government now settle policy and in addition step up their efforts to inform the public. There is a danger of a public backlash if this is not done."

A number of radio executives, including Scott Taunton, managing director of UTV Media (GB), spoke to the committee about their concerns for digital radio.

Responding to the report, Taunton said: "The Peers have identified the very serious ongoing obstacles to digital radio switchover in the UK. Next week, the Government plans to force through legislation that would set the switchover in motion as early as 2015.

"However, today's report shows that the consumer case for switchover has still not been made and that the plans could have a significant adverse impact on local radio stations."

Ford Ennals, chief executive of Digital Radio UK, the body charged with establishing digital as the future for the radio industry, said Digital Radio UK is pleased the committee gave its support "not only to this digital future, but also to DAB and the target date of 2015".

He added: "We note the Committee's significant and healthy progress report on television switchover, given the high degree of public concern it faced at the equivalent point in the process."

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