LARK wins Ashford local radio battle

A High Court challenge to the award by Ofcom of the franchise to
broadcast in the Ashford area of Kent to Local Ashford Radio Kent
(LARK) has failed.

In a case that focused on the Kent Messenger
Group, which is a partowner of LARK, Francis Wildman argued that Ofcom
– the communications regulator – should never have given the franchise
to LARK. His own A-Ten FM outfit was one of the six applicants that
lost out to LARK in the race to win the franchise.

However, Mr
Justice Stanley Burnton rejected Wildman’s challenge to Ofcom’s
decision on Monday, leaving Wildman with the prospect of a heavy legal
costs bill.

Among other things, the judge rejected Wildman’s plea
that the award of the franchise to LARK violated the basic human right
of the people of Ashford to freely receive “information and ideas”.

Upholding Ofcom’s ruling, the judge said: “There is nothing irrational or unfair in this decision.”

He said Ofcom had given “adequate” reasons
for the decision, although it did not specifically address why each of
the unsuccessful applicants for the franchise – including A-Ten FM –
were considered to be “less worthy” than LARK.

The judge added:
“Mr Wildman is obviously passionately concerned to be involved in local
commercial radio. He has devoted considerable time, energy and
application to applications for licences and challenging the decisions
of the authority responsible for the awards of licences.

“He has
scrutinised Ofcom’s decision and criticised a number of its assessments
of the relevant facts. But this is not an appeal on fact. This is an
area in which… the court allows the decision-maker a wide measure of
discretion and width of decision.”

The launch by LARK of its Ashford radio station had already been delayed by Wildman’s court challenge, said the judge.

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