PIRATE RADIOS : THE STORM IS ABOUT TO BREAK

 

The opening shot in the Government's campaign to silence the pirate radio stations is a summons against Radio 390 answerable on November 24; and a new anti-pirate Bill is likely to become law by March.

 

ADAM LYNFORD reports

 

 

Sir Alan Herbert, as chairman of the British Copyright Council, has described the pirate radio stations as " a scandal at Britain's own front door. Every liner passes close to them: the stranger can almost hear the lawless laughing at the Crown." Ever since March 29, 1964, when the first of the pirates-Radio Carolinetook to the air, they have been the targets of such criticism, although they have also attracted a great number of impassioned defenders.

 

The Government has been slow to act; it was only in September that the first summons for illegal broadcasting was issued against one of the ten pirate stations. Radio 390 must appear at Canterbury magistrates sessions on November 24. The charge is being brought under the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1949, which prohibits public broadcasting without a licence from the Post Office to do so. The only holder in Britain of such a licence is the BBC.

 

The crux of the case is also the Government's reason for the long delay in issuing such a summons: the question of the tourt's jurisdictioli over Radio 390, housed in a disused anti-aircraft tower on Red Sands, eight-and-a-half miles offshore in the Thames Estuary. The difficulty lies in the definition of territoria) waters. In 1878 the limit was laid down as being three miles, but in the last two years Orders in Council and amendments to the Continental Shelf Act have been introduced to cope with the requirements of drilling in the North Sea. These Orders and amendments in some cases altered the definition of the " base line "for the limits, from the previously fixed position of the low water mark on British shores.

 

The Post Office emphasises that this " is no test case." A second summons against another pirate aboard a fortBritain's Better Music Station, on the old Fort Knock John, 18 miles from Southend-wil) be heard by Rochford magistrates court on November 30. Radio City, the third fort-based station -on Shivering Sands, nine miles off Whitstable, Kent-can possibly expect to be the next recipient of a summons. The maximum penalty under the Act is a 100 fine and/or three months' imprisonment, together with the confiscation of equipment.

 

These court actions are just a whiff of grapeshot from the authorities; the 1949 Act is apparently effective only against the stations based on forts. The really big guns will be wheeled out in March 1967 when the Marine Etc Broadcasting (Offences) Bill is expected to become law. This Bill's provisions will enable the authorities to fight not only the forts but also tbc seven ship-borne pirates, a thing the Government apparently cannot do under the 1949 Act.

 

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Mr Ted Allbeury, managing director of Radio 390, is confident that the summons to appear at Canterbury will do him no damage-" otherwise we wouldn't have bothered fighting it." But when the Marine Bill becomes law, he believes, " We'll all have to pack up and go home. Like all spiteful legislation, it's really very good."

The Marine Bill was published in the Commons last July and is expected to be taken through both Houses by next February, then to come into operation a month later. Its provisions take the form of a tourniquet around the pirates' lifeline: all these who serve or supply them would commit an offence; it will be unlawful to provide a ship or radio equipment for use in pirate broadcasts, to install or repair the equipment, to supply or carry any goods to the stations, or to carry anyone to or from the stations; any person who supplies records, tapes or other recorded material for pirate programmes will be legally answerable. Similarly, it will be an offence to advertise on the pirate stations, either direct or through an advertising agent, and to publish details of the broadcasting programmes. Proceedings under the Bill may be taken in any part of Britain and its provisions may be extended to the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands.

 

Pirates will not be able to seek refuge from these laws by advertising foreign products or by obtaining supplies or advertising material from the Continent, because the Bill has been given extra backbone by an agreement made between Britain and six other European nations in January 1965. The signatories to the agreement-Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Luxemburg, and Sweden -have enacted similar preventive measures to those of the Marine Bill against their own citizens supplying goods, equipment, or advertising to the pirate stations. Holland toe has taken the same measures against pirates.

 

A Post Office spokesman stresses that the Bill does not provide for use of force: There will be no need to resort to boarding parties. On indictment, the maximum penalties are two years' imprisonment, or a fine, or both.

 

The pirates talk bravely of fighting these new measures. A Radio Caroline spokesman said: " Of course, the Bill will have some effect on our operations; certain changes and alternative arrangements will have to be made-but there is no intention of our going off the air." This viewpoint is a general consensus of the pirate stations' views. These mysterieus "new arrangements " and hints of help from " other quarters " seem sufficient to keep them afloat-they firmly believe and hope.

An even greater pall of secrecy cloaks the finances of the stations. Information is refused on the grounds that they are entitled to withhold it because they are not public companies. The more prosperous, larger stations such as Caroline, London, and 390 admit that they are making " reasonable profits." Radio Caroline has paid off its initial investment (an undisclosed amount);

Radio 390 expects to pay off its investment by March of next year; and Radio London does make a profit, although there are no facts available about its initial investment. Britain's Better Music Station also makes money, but running a station, they all agree, does not mean " having a licence to print money."

 

Advertising rates on the stations vary enormously; stations often allow discounts, trimming their charge to snit the pocket of their client. Rates also vary according to whether it is for a customer in their own area or a national product; whether the " spot " is prerecorded or spoken by the resident disc jockey. A minute at peak hours-generally from 9 am-2.3o pm-may cost anywhere from 56 on Radio Scotland to 180 on Radio Caroline. Advertising is generally limited to a maximum of six minutes in an hour.

 

One of the chief charges against the pirates is that they infringe the law of copyright by playing records without permission from the British Copyright Council. In fact, four stations-Radio Caroline North and South, Radio London, and Radio 390-do pay the Performing Rights Society. The payment is based on a scale rising to 31 per cent of their advertising revenue. No figures of the actual amount are forthcoming either from the pirates or from the Society. A Society spokesman explains that they never reveal figures of this kind, as they are, in this case too, " a matter for private negotiation and agreement."

 

The Society is in the vanguard of bodies opposing the pirates, and a spokesman complained of the " delicate " situation they are in of accepting money from the pirates: " We have been put into this situation by the pirates. If we were to refuse the money, the pirates would publicise the fact and we would look really silly."

Curiously, the BBC's objections contain no mention of the competition for listeners; the official view is only: " The pirates are illegal. They pay no regard to international agreements on the allocation of wavelengths, and cause severe interference with foreign stations." But it was the trend set by the pirate stations that influenced the BBC to introduce " late " (after 12 pm) recorded music shows. They chose as one of their disc jockeys for this purpose Simon Dee, who announced the very first programme on Radio Caroline, the dean of all the pirate radio announcers. On hiring Mr Dee, the BBC declared: " His experience will be very useful." (Radio Caroline's transmitters, incidentally, were set up by experienced ex-BBC engineers.)

 

The future for the pirates is overcast by the cloud of the Marine Offences Bill. But it may have a silver lining in a Cabinet White Paper on broadcasting, now drawn up for publication. It is thought to contain proposals for setting up a hundred or more local commercial radio stations throughout the country.

 

Several very respectable companies have staked claims, but possibilities for further investment still remainand a shortage of personnel experienced in running radio stations will soon develop. There is a strong possibility that pirate backers and staff will plug these gaps. A government invitation for them to do so would be a brilliant exercise in redeployment, and would save the expense and effort required to enforce the provisions of the new Bill.

 

Bron : The Illustrated London News, 19 November 1966

 

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