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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 unlicensed apparatus which can cause interference to licensed users. They also have the potential to disrupt the communications of safety of life services such as the emergency services and air traffic control.

There is strict regulation in place for the content licensed broadcasts can transmit to protect the diverse population. Consumers can choose to listen to a wide variety of programming without being subjected to racist and homophobic views, swearing and other unacceptable content. However, because illegal broadcasting is not regulated, there is no control on what is broadcast.

Illegal broadcasting is a particular problem in large cities such as London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, where there is low availability of spectrum.

Illegal broadcasters frequently install homemade radio transmitters on the top of 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 instances where illegal broadcasters have committed more serious crimes, such as violence against caretakers, council workers and local residents in an attempt to locate their transmitters in public buildings. Raids on illegal studios have uncovered drugs and weapons, including firearms. There have also been reports of violent acts committed by members of rival illegal radio stations, including serious assaults and shootings.

3. What are the offences and the penalties?

It is important to remember that anyone involved with illegal broadcasting is committing a criminal offence and may be arrested by the police.

Offences include using or installing equipment for illegal broadcasting, allowing premises to be used for illegal broadcasting (including local authorities), and advertising or offering other services on an illegal broadcast station.

Please see the wireless telegraphy act for more details.

Offences are punishable by an unlimited fine or up to two years imprisonment, or both.

4. What does Ofcom do about illegal broadcasting?

Ofcom provides a service to licenced stations to resolve interference complaints caused by illegal broadcast. We also investigate complaints made by listeners, and make use of all complaints to assist in investigation and enforcement action.

Ofcom prioritises response to interference complaints caused by illegal broadcasts so that interference to critical or emergency services, including the National Air Traffic Control, are resolved as soon as is possible and met with enforcement action.

Ofcom investigates and takes enforcement action against illegal broadcast stations with the aim of closing them down and prosecuting all parties involved to stop the problems they cause.

Our powers allows us to seize illegal wireless telegraphy apparatus, enter and search premises, assist police and owners in providing specialist support to investigation, carry out interviews with suspects, and prosecute in criminal courts.

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 and fair use of radio spectrum, and can issue various licenses to use the airwaves without the risk of conviction. 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.

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).


0207 981 3131. Select option 2 for interference.




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