The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Friday 7th August 2009 - DCMS press office 'misinformation'

Press officers for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, have been instructed to contact the media to correct 'misinformation' about the Licensing Act and live music.

One result of this spin offensive appeared on 30 July in The Publican, a leading trade magazine:

The key DCMS messages are clear, whether implied or explicit: the public need protecting from live music; new exemptions are dangerous; licensing is the only protection; 'minor variations' - the new £89 permission process - will be good for live music; problems are only due to misunderstandings; a new leaflet produced with the help of the Musicians Union and LGA will clarify the 'incidental music' exemption.

Civil servants must abide by a code of honesty, integrity, objectivity and impartiality. Any honest and impartial account of the DCMS position would include an explanation of why legislation other than licensing was, in their view, inadequate to address risks arising from small gigs.

I tried to speak about this to Simon Oliver, the DCMS press officer nominally responsible for the Publican's piece, but he is apparently away 'for several weeks'. Perhaps delivering this DCMS bilge made him ill.

The DCMS position rests on its 'public protection' argument, but this is easily dismissed on several grounds: the absence of an explanation of why separate legislation is inadequate; the absence of evidence that live music is a significant source of noise or disorder; and the exemption for broadcast entertainment.

On 14 May 2008, riots broke out in Manchester during outdoor big screen broadcasts of the UEFA cup final. Questions were raised in Parliament. Would the government review the broadcast exemption in light of the violence? Answer: no. Why? Answer: Alcohol is the problem, not the broadcasts. Here is the Q&A:

Lord Colwyn asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether, in view of the serious violence and disorder that broke out in Manchester when a big screen showing the ITV broadcast of the UEFA cup failed on 14 May, it will review the exemption for broadcast entertainment in the Licensing Act 2003. [HL3715]

Lord Davies of Oldham: The screening in Manchester of the broadcast of the UEFA cup final in a public place on 14 May only took place with the consent of the local authority and under restrictions agreed with the police. It is therefore difficult to see what added control would have been available had the event been subject to the licensing controls under the Licensing Act 2003, or that such controls would have prevented the disorder that arose. It remains the Government's position that big-screen television broadcasts in themselves do not cause disorder, but that it is the consumption of alcohol at such events that can lead to problems. Decisions on whether big-screen events should go ahead are the responsibility of the local authority in consultation with the local police, who are involved at an early stage, and event organisers. It is already possible under existing legislation to control consumption and drunkenness in public places. Under the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, it is possible for a local authority to designate any area to which the public have access a place where alcohol may not be consumed. It is also an offence under the Licensing Act 1872 to be drunk in a public place. The Government are confident that the police and local authority in Manchester will ensure that safety and security arrangements provide a controlled environment at any future big-screen events. The Government therefore have no current plans to review the licensing of any form of entertainment not currently covered by the existing licensing laws.


Hamish Birchall