The Legal Side of Working In Radio

Its been over four years now since I started broadcasting on Corinium Radio. Since I’ve launched the blog, I’ve been talking about it rather a lot.

What you may not be aware of, however, is the number of legal things all broadcasters need to be aware of. The fact that we only broadcast on short term RSLs does not make us exempt from broadcasting laws.

So I’m now going to provide a short summary of what broadcasters need to be aware of – they are all things I have to think about before, during and after each broadcast.

Hopefully you’ll find out something useful from this!


The ‘Office of Communications‘ (abbreviated to OfCom) is the independent telecommunications regulator which came into existance in 2002/3. OfCom are responsible for dealing with licensing TV and radio stations, and making sure that no one breaks broadcasting laws.

Whenever we start planning a broadcast, one of the reasons we have to raise lots of money, is because there are licenses to pay. The biggest license is the OfCom license; the deposit alone is £400!

On an RSL, the maximum that can be applied for is 28 days. After the initial deposit, you do however pay per day, and you have to state which days you are applying for on the form.

RSLs are allowed a maximum of 2 broadcasts per year with 4 months in between each.

In the past, we have looked at the possibility of broadcasting for 2 weekends in a row and not broadcasting in between, but this would not be possible, because it would count as 2 RSL applications, and they would be disallowed because there is no 4 month gap between broadcasts.

The only way round it would be to do it on one RSL application, but this would mean paying for all the days in between… in which case, you might as well broadcast on those days.

By law, all radio stations have to record the output. In the event that someone complains to OfCom, Corinium Radio has to supply recordings of the broadcast so the complaint can be investigated. The law also requires that all recordings are kept for 40 days after the broadcast.

OfCom only get involved if complaints are made to them. But if someone complains directly to Corinium Radio, we can also use the recordings to check what was broadcast.

The recordings are important even if no broadcasting offense has been committed – if ever someone accuses us of broadcasting something illegal, even though we actually didn’t, we can play back the recordings and prove that this is the case!


All various music licenses which we have to pay. If we don’t pay them, then we do not have permission to broadcast music on Corinium Radio.

For more info, visit their websites:


Although a lot of broadcasting regulation is overseen by OfCom, the libel laws are not connected to OfCom – they also apply to this website, or a newspaper… both of which are not regulated by OfCom.

Libel is anything which:

  • Holds somebody up to hatred, ridicule or contempt.
  • Causes them to be shunned or avoided.
  • Lowers them in the eyes of right-thinking people.
  • Damages them in their office, trade or profession.

Essential Radio Skills
Peter Stewart

Defenses against libel accusations: “It was true” – if what you were saying was true, there is no case for libel. But you must prove its true – not someone else prove that its not.

Be careful when you try and make your comments vague so as not to identify someone. My journalism teacher last year talked about a case when a radio presenter said that there’s an officer in XYZ Police Station who is gay. That individual couldn’t sue for libel alone, because they weren’t been identified. But as a group, all the staff in that station could have be held to ‘hatred ridicule or contempt’ and ‘shunned or avoided’. So as a group, they all sued for libel!

Also, be aware that if your comments are too vague to point to Mr A, but they are clear enough to point to Mr B, Mr B could sue you for libel even though its Mr A you were referring to!

Contempt of Court

Basically, don’t comment on ongoing court cases – this is so that you don’t influence the jury in any way, as a jury is meant to make their decision based on the evidence they hear in court. You could end up in court yourself if you ignore this rule!


We had one this year. Did anyone notice how careful all the broadcasters were being? That’s because of all the election coverage laws… radio stations have to be impartial. I can’t go on to Corinium Radio and tell you to support a particular candidate. Read why in my post from April 6 2010 – ‘2010 Election: What Does This Mean for Broadcasters?

Fred Hart

Stock Controller and Radio Presenter/Producer

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