BROADCASTING watchdog Ofcom has defended its revised guidelines on the localness of Scotland’s independent local radio (ILR) stations.

The regulator’s director in Scotland, Glenn Preston, told MSPs on Holyrood’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, that the changes last year were in response to increased competition from a range of services.

He said: “The localness guidelines were last substantially revised in 2010 and the market has changed dramatically with competition coming from music streaming services, as well as other radio services which are either not regulated – like internet radio – or are regulated less than analogue services, for example DAB and other digital broadcast platforms.

“We feel strongly that the flexibility we’ve introduced in response to this pace of change in the media sector has enabled radio groups to put more resources into programme making and less into the bricks and mortar costs of maintaining separate local studios, while simultaneously ensuring that listeners’ expectations of high-quality local news and other content continue to be met.”

Committee chair, Joan McAlpine, said people remembered when commercial radio in Scotland was “extremely local” with considerable resources put into local content.

She said Ofcom had received 46 responses to its localness inquiry, with the overwhelming majority against the plans.

“In comparison, 11 correspondents who agreed with your proposals were made up of the big players like Global, Bauer, Radio Central, which has since been purchased by Bauer,” she said.

“Can you explain why the views of the majority were completely ignored and disregarded?”

Ofcom’s head of radio and broadcaster licensing policy, Neil Stock, replied: “It’s not just about a straight numbers game. Input into final

decisions of research we had done was also important because that was the main way we heard the voice of the listeners.”

Bauer Media Group, which owns stations such as Radio Forth, Clyde and Tay, said it was the only broadcaster in Scotland to be affected by the Ofcom proposals, as Global and Communicorp operated regional stations covering the whole central belt.

“They are therefore already covering the two proposed approved areas with single stations,” the company said in a written submission. “Other smaller broadcasters only operate single stations which sit entirely within the existing approved areas and so are not affected.”

Adam Findlay, head of radio for DC Thomson Media (DCT), told the committee he was a supporter of deregulation and that local commercial radio played an important role across Scotland. He said: “The absence of competition is why we find ourselves at this point in the journey. Deregulation, but no checks and balances.”

While DCT Media had supported deregulation, it was highly critical of Ofcom’s approach and strategy and the policy of the Department of Culture Media and Sport in the time leading up to it. The company said: “This is a fundamentally flawed policy which has been articulated on numerous occasions to both Ofcom and DCMS, especially from a number of Scotland’s local commercial radio stations over recent years and has been completely ignored.”