In 2013 The Ligali organisation raised a complaint with Ofcom about radio station Capital Xtra. The urban station was originally launched in 1990 as Choice FM and created to offer a news and specialist music service for an African British audience grossly underserved by mainstream broadcasters. As Choice FM the station included topical debate programs, local news reports and a wide range of African music genres from reggae and soul to gospel and soca.
When in 2013 the station was rebranded by its parent company Global Radio into ‘Capital Xtra’ its license requirements remained the same. However following the rebrand, the station owners rapidly started to transform the tone of the station to remove the surviving remnants of its African character and instead adopt an ‘urban’ one. This was in breach of its license which stated the station must provide “A targeted music, news and information service primarily of African and Afro-Caribbean (sic) origin in the Brixton area but with crossover appeal to other listeners who appreciate urban contemporary black music. The service includes 21 hours per week of contemporary specialist music”
Ligali complained to Ofcom writing;
“We believe that Capital Xtra violates the station format issued by Ofcom and thus wilfully ignores the needs of its target audience by focusing predominantly on contemporary ‘black’ music with ‘crossover appeal’. This approach has led to the eradication of music from the Reggae, Jazz, Funk, Gospel, Neo Soul, Zouk/Highlife and Soca genres from its general playlist.
We also challenge the paucity of community news output which we believe should include a daily interactive talk/phone-in element addressing topical issues affecting the target audience to ensure the station is committed to remaining relevant and grass roots orientated.
In order to prevent the continuation of unlawful discrimination we are seeking Ofcom to amend Capital Xtra’s format and explicitly define the genre of the stated complementary specialist music. We believe it is imperative that there is an increase in the weekly hours from 21 to at least 40 hours during peak hours.”
In its response to our complaint a year later, Ofcom stated that it agreed with us that ‘a change to the output had taken place in the transition from Choice to Capital Xtra’. Ofcom stated that two thirds of the tracks played were compatible with the ‘urban contemporary’ music requirements of the format and that the other third compromised almost exclusively of ‘electronic dance music’. This is a clear violation of the license format, what should have happened next is that Ofcom as national media regulator instructed Capital Xtra to adhere to its obligations or face a fine and risk of losing its license.
Sadly this did not happen and instead Ofcom sought to defend Captal Xtra’s exclusion of traditional (specialist) African music by claiming that the boundaries between ‘urban’ and ‘electronic dance music’ genres have become blurred. They wrote ‘many of the dance tracks aired by Capital Xtra either sample urban genres, or are significantly influenced by them’.
This is a direct attempt to hide behind legalise and use the term ‘urban’ to supplant African and/or Afro Caribbean. It is a similar approach taken by the MOBO organisation which started out as an event to award music of African (black) origin and then transformed into a farce that violated its own mission statement and excluded/marginalised African music in order to achieve crossover appeal.
To justify its support of Capital Xtra’s license format violation, Ofcom did not use legal regulations but instead its own 2008 report the ‘Future of Radio review’ to validate the relaxation of commercial radio formats. The media regulator stated ‘Choice FM’s Formats no longer specifically required reggae, soca and gospel to be included’. It then suggested that as long as the presenter of replacement shows were an ‘authority on the type of music in question’, that this would be acceptable. Ofcom then went on to list Tim Westwood as a hip-hop specialist, singer Craig David and other presenters such as DJ Woody, Firin’ Squad and DJ Charlesy.
Ofcom knows that replacing music genres such as soul and reggae, many played by artists incorporating acoustic instruments and explicit cultural lyrical and musical performances with an selection of bland electronic dance tracks does not qualify as ‘specialist music’ distinct from ‘urban’ daytime music output.
Nowhere on Capital Xtra is there specialist music output comparable in quality to that of independent stations providing traditional African music content, either online or outside London. As a result there is a large range of unlicensed online and FM music stations in London catering for this sector that is underserved by the commercial radio landscape.
No More Choice - The conspiracy to urbanise ‘black’ music was true
Another Ligali concern was about the way in which independent UK artists that produce traditional African music are denied a means to promote their works and make a legal living marketing and selling their products. Stations like Capital Xtra give a disproportionate bias towards American (and European) artists often producing content that contains culturally vacuous, misogynistic, anti-aspirational and/or anti-African themes. This is despite its ‘Music Potential’ type projects supposedly championing new local talent.
The media regulator also chose to ignore our complaint about Capital Xtra deliberately marginalising home grown music talent outside the electronic dance genre in favour of these imports. As a result British African artists that create music outside the narrow definition of mainstream pop music remain excluded in the UK broadcasting sector.
Ofcom also asked the station about Ligali’s issue with its poor quality speech content .Capital Xtra answered our challenges to its failure to provide a news service of relevance to an African audience by stating “the Character of Service does not require a specific quantity of information, nor does it specify the type of information that must be aired (provided it is of relevance and interest to the target audience)”. Some of the ‘news’ headlines during January 2015 include:
• This Is What Avicii's 'Wake Me Up' Sounds Like Played Entirely On A Cello
• Watch Fifth Harmony Cover Mark Ronson And Bruno Mars' 'Uptown Funk
• Drake Stops Comedian Live On Stage For Doing A Bad Drake Impression
• Iggy Azalea Beats Drake, Jay Z And Nicki Minaj To Win 'Favourite Hip Hop Artist'
• Ne-Yo Unveils Latest 'Non-Fiction' Song 'Make It Easy'
• Will This Song Convince You That Beyoncé Is An Alien?
• Hear What Jay Z Has To Say About What Hip-Hop Has Done For Race Relations
• Usher Reveals Whether He Thinks Tulisa, Alesha Dixon And More Would Be Good Kissers (Hip Hop news)
Ofcom accepted Capital Xtra’s excuse that its local journalist and news reader, Andre Morgan was absent due to sickness during the time its output was being monitored. Following a subsequent review, Ofcom concluded despite the ‘local feel of Choice FM being lost’ it was ultimately their ‘view that the station’s news and information provision was sufficient to remain compliant’.
Ligali believes that Capital Xtra’s insistence that its dumb downed ‘Twitter’ style delivery best suited its audience is insulting to the intelligence of the station’s ‘younger, urban, London audience’ demographic.
Despite this Ofcom in answer to our complaint came to the decision that it ‘did not consider that the changes meant the station had ceased to be targeted primarily at listeners of African and Afro-Caribbean origin… We therefore concluded that [the license] had not been breached.”
Despite Ofcom’s duty to ensure equitable media practice catering for the diverse needs of the UK, it would seem clear that money can buy influence to escape license violations. Especially when its minority co suffer the brunt of such transgressions. Unfortunately at the time of the response to our complaint the Ligali organisation was not able to issue an appeal to challenge this ruling.
Two months later in December 2014, the Ofcom board then announced Sharon White would its Chief executive. The Guardian reported this as White becoming the “first black woman to lead media industry regulator when she replaces Ed Richards in March”.
White said: “The communications sector is vital to the economy and delivers essential services to everyone in the UK. I look forward to starting in this fascinating job and building on Ofcom's considerable track record.”
External Linkswhy is there a backlash against capital xtra choice fmThe Voice - Goodbye Choice FMSharon White appointed as chief executive of OfcomOfcom: Capital XTRA is operating within FormatCapital Xtra - ‘News’
Sharon White (Incoming Ofcom CEO): Inherits Capital Xtra problem (Feat Nicki Minaj)
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