Stay of execution for BBC 6 Music

Artists like Radiohead, Lily Allen, David Bowie voiced support

LONDON -- Following a public consultation, the BBC Trust has rejected management proposals to shutter U.K. modern rock and alternative station BBC 6 Music.

It's good news for the U.K. music industry, which has campaigned to keep the network since the closure proposals were unveiled in February 2010. The digital radio station, which has grown its weekly audience to more than 1 million listeners according to audience research body RAJAR, is key to providing exposure for new and alternative acts in the U.K.

However, closure is not completely off the agenda. Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons said it would consider closing 6 Music but only as part of a wider strategy from management on the future of digital radio.

In an initial response to the director general's strategy review, Sir Michael says that the case for the closure of 6 Music has not been made. The Trust has accepted plans to close the Asian Network speech and music radio station, and cut 25% of the online budget of the BBC.

The Trust published its initial conclusions to the strategy review alongside the BBC's Annual Report.

In a statement, the Trust said: "The Trust concludes that, as things stand, the case has not been made for the closure of 6 Music. The executive should draw up an overarching strategy for digital radio. If the director general wanted to propose a different shape for the BBC's music radio stations as part of a new strategy, the trust would consider it.

"The trust would consider a formal proposal for the closure of the Asian Network, although this must include a proposition for meeting the needs of the station's audience in different ways."

In the Trust's document of initial conclusions, it revealed that 78% of the 47,933 online consultation responses for the BBC's strategy review were focused on 6 Music, along with more than 25,054 separate emails and 242 letters. The great majority of responses opposed any plans for closure.

We note that throughout the period of our consultation we have received no evidence from the commercial radio sector to suggest that 6 Music presents any kind of threat either now or in the future so long as it remains true to its distinctive remit," the Trust reported. "We also note the strong view expressed by many in the music industry that 6 Music plays a very valuable role in the cultural life of the U.K. that would not be easily replaced and that would not be filled by the commercial sector."

Artists including Radiohead, Lily Allen and David Bowie came out in support of 6 Music.

"We are delighted that the BBC Trust agreed that the case for closing 6 Music was unconvincing," said Geoff Taylor, chief executive of labels trade body the BPI, in a statement.

"The Trust's initial findings support our case that 6 Music makes a unique contribution to the U.K.'s cultural life -- and its requirement that any future proposal to incorporate 6 Music programming into Radio 1 or 2 must ensure long-term protection for the distinctive nature of 6 Music's content. We'll be watching carefully to ensure the [BBC] Executive's review of the BBC's digital radio strategy is not used as cover for a further attempt to close the station."

Martin Goldschmidt, founder of U.K. indie Cooking Vinyl said the verdict on 6 Music was "fantastic news, a victory for great music, independent music, and diverse music."

Simon Raymonde, founder of the Bella Union label and board member of indie trade body AIM, added: "To all those thousands of people who wrote letters, signed petitions and joined protests, to the members of the Trust, we must say that today is a victory for common sense."

Around 180,000 signed up to a Facebook campaign to save the station.

BBC management has yet to comment on launching a wider strategy for digital radio. Director general Mark Thompson told Andrew Marr on his Sunday (July 4) show: "We've got big questions about the future of digital radio and one of the things I expect the Trust will say is let's look at the whole future of digital radio."
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