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Illegal broadcasting

What constitutes illegal broadcasting, what the penalties are and how to report it.

1. What is illegal broadcasting (pirate radio)?

Illegal broadcasting, otherwise known as pirate radio, is the operation of an unlicensed and unregulated radio station.

2. Why is illegal broadcasting a problem?

Illegal broadcasters use radio transmitters which can cause interference to legitimate users. They also have the potential to disrupt radio communications of critical services such as the emergency services and air traffic control.

Rules are in place to regulate the range and diversity, as well as certain aspects of the content and standards, of licensed broadcasts. These seek, amongst other things, to ensure the limited spectrum available is used to provide services catering for a mix of tastes and interests, and to protect listeners from harmful and offensive material. No such rules apply to illegal broadcast stations.

Illegal broadcasters use homespun radio transmitters frequently installed on high rise tower blocks; forcing entry and disrupting the lives of residents and causing thousands of pounds worth of damage. The installations are often hazardous and put the health and safety of the public at risk.

There have been cases where those involved in illegal broadcast stations have been linked to serious crimes, including threats and assaults on enforcement officers, caretakers and residents. Raids on illegal broadcast stations have uncovered drugs and weapons, including firearms.

3. What are the offences and the penalties?

Anyone involved with illegal broadcasting is committing a criminal offence and may be arrested by the police and end up in court. Offences are punishable by an unlimited fine or up to two years’ imprisonment, or both.

Offences include using or installing equipment, allowing premises to be used for illegal broadcasting, and advertising on unlicensed stations or offering any other services to them.

Please see the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 for more details.

4. What does Ofcom do about illegal broadcasting?

Ofcom has powers to investigate unlicensed broadcasting stations and to prosecute those involved. We have powers to seize evidence, including wireless telegraphy apparatus, enter and search premises.

Ofcom will offer advice and assistance, and where appropriate investigate, where we receive reports of harmful interference by illegal broadcast stations from consumers and citizens. For obvious reasons, we take particularly seriously complaints of interference caused by illegal broadcasts which affect critical or emergency services.

5. Enforcement statistics

Please click here to view an overview of the latest Ofcom enforcement statistics.

6. How can I broadcast without breaking the law?

Ofcom promotes the efficient use of radio spectrum, and can issue various licenses to use the airwaves lawfully.

Please click here to view the available licensing options.

Over the past 10 years we have been issuing community radio licences with great success. These licences are an ideal way to broadcast legally in a local area.

There are now over 200 community radio stations broadcasting in locations across the UK, including a number of former pirate radio stations such as Rinse FM and Kane FM. Such stations have the ability to generate funding from advertising.

For more advice about getting involved or applying for a community radio licence please visit our website or contact our community radio team (community.radio@ofcom.org.uk).

7. Reporting illegal broadcasting

  1. Licensed broadcasters, check here to confirm that the interference is within your coverage area, before completing our online Pirate Radio Report Form (Broadcasters)
  2. Pirate Radio Report Form (Listeners) - Interference caused by illegal broadcasters
  3. If you have any information that might help Ofcom identify premises used by illegal broadcasters or those responsible, we would like to hear from you. Please complete our online Pirate Radio Report Form (Intelligence).

Phone

0207 981 3131. Select option 2 for interference.

Email

IllegalBroadcast@ofcom.org.uk

Letter

Ofcom
Riverside House
2a Southwark Bridge Road
London
SE1 9HA

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