Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967
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The Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967 c.41, shortened to Marine Broadcasting Offences Act, became law in the United Kingdom at midnight on Monday 14 August 1967. It was subsequently repealed by the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006. Its purpose was to extend the powers of the British Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1949 (which it incorporated by reference), beyond the territorial land mass and territorial waters of the UK to cover airspace and bodies of water.
At the time that the Bill was introduced in Parliament in 1966, there were radio stations and proposals for television stations outside British licensing jurisdiction with signals aimed at Britain. These stations were at sea but there were press reports of stations planned from aircraft.
The Act included the Channel Islands and extended to the Isle of Man. As a result, offshore stations called pirate radio became criminal if operated or assisted by persons subject to UK law. Station operators thought they could continue if they were staffed, supplied and funded by non-British citizens, but this proved impractical.
In 1966, broadcasting in the UK was controlled by the British General Post Office, which had granted exclusive radio broadcasting licences to the British Broadcasting Corporation and television licences to the BBC and 16 Independent Television companies.
The power of the GPO covered letters delivered by the Post Office, newspapers, books and their printing presses, the encoding of messages on lines used to supply electricity; the electric telegraph, the electric telephone (which was originally deemed an electronic post office); the electric wireless telegraph and the electric wireless telephone which became known as "telephony" and later wireless broadcasting. In the 1920s the GPO had been circumvented by broadcasting from transmitters in countries close to British listeners. World War II terminated these broadcasts except for Radio Luxembourg.
Broadcasting pressure groups
In the 1950s a pressure group campaigned with the help of Winston Churchill to pass the Television Act 1954 that broke the BBC television monopoly by creating ITV. Some members wanted commercial competition to radio but were thwarted by a succession of governments.
By the 1960s several companies formed in the hope that radio licences would be issued. Radio monopolies in adjoining nations had been broken by transmitters on ships in international waters. The first attempt to broadcast offshore to Britain was by CNBC, an English-language station from the same ship as Radio Veronica broadcasting in Dutch to the Netherlands. CNBC ended transmissions but press reports followed that GBLN, The Voice of Slough, would transmit from a ship with sponsored programming already booked and advertised by Herbert W. Armstrong. GBLN was followed by reports that GBOK was attempting to get on air from another ship, both ships to be anchored off south-east England. Many in these early ventures were known to each other.
Some of the commercial television group members had registered broadcasting companies and were working to create offshore radio. The first venture was "Project Atlanta" in 1963, which had ties to British political leaders, bankers, the music industry and to Gordon McLendon, who had helped Radio Nord broadcast from a ship off Sweden. When that was put off the air by Swedish law it became available to British entrepreneurs. Before Radio Atlanta got on the air, Radio Caroline began broadcasting in March 1964.
Texas connections to British stations led Don Pierson of Eastland, Texas to promote three American-radio format stations off Britain: Wonderful Radio London or Big L, Swinging Radio England and Britain Radio. By 1966 other stations had come on the air transmitting to Scotland, northern and southern England, or were in the process of doing so. Press reports included rumours of offshore television stations and the brief success of the Dutch REM Island operation called Radio and TV Noordzee heightened the fear of the authorities that defacto unregulated broadcasting was becoming so entrenched due to its popularity that it would not be possible to stop it.
Although these stations maintained sales and management offices in Britain, the transmitters were not under British law. In many instances the ships were registered in other countries.
Claims of piracy
Parliamentary debates listed several reasons why unlicensed broadcasting should be stopped. Opponents referred to "pirate radio stations". Allegations of piracy included misappropriation of World War II military installations; wavelengths allocated to others and the unauthorised playing of recorded music. Other charges said the vessels were a danger to shipping and that signals could interfere with aircraft and police, fire and ambulance services.
In 1966, a dispute among offshore radio operators brought the issue of unlicensed radio stations to the fore. Reginald Calvert, operator of Radio City, had refused to pay Radio Caroline's operator Oliver Smedley for a faulty antenna. Smedley hired some riggers to occupy the Radio City facility (on Shivering Sands, a disused offshore defence fort), and in an altercation at Smedley's house, Smedley killed Calvert. This incident strengthened the position of the Labour government of Harold Wilson, who wanted to bring the pirate stations under control, enough to see the passage of the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act on 15 August 1967.
The offshore stations fell into four groups:
- Local operators of small stations such as Radio Essex and Radio City and Radio 390 who conducted their businesses with limited budgets primarily from disused forts on offshore sandbars. The UK silenced these stations by bringing the sandbars within UK waters.
- Regional operators such as Radio 270 and Radio Scotland who lacked the resources to relocate to other countries and staff their operations with non-British personnel.
- The ship stations of Wonderful Radio London and Swinging Radio England and Britain Radio. While Wonderful Radio London made money, the others had lost so they closed ahead of the law to save further expense. Radio London continued broadcasting until its last transmission on the eve of the new law, when the station closed.
- The Radio Caroline ships announced they would move to Holland, with an advertising office in New York City. The reality was felt in early 1968 when two tugs representing the supply company[clarification needed Company supplying what?] towed the vessels away to satisfy debts.
Although challenges began with Radio North Sea International in 1970, governments jammed it until it moved to a position off the Netherlands. There was no Dutch equivalent of the Act until 1974; upon its introduction RNI closed.
Radio Caroline returned through the 1970s using a vessel that later sank in 1980, then returned with a new ship in 1983, primarily conducted with volunteer help. For much of this period Caroline's ships also hosted Dutch-language stations whose revenue, along with that of American evangelical broadcasts, kept the station on the air.
In 1984 Caroline was joined by Laser 558 another vessel with American backing, and while the latter gained a huge audience, the legislation plus a sea embargo monitoring supplies out to Laser drove its operators into insolvency as well as putting additional pressure on Caroline. An attempt to revive Laser under new management only lasted a few months from 1986-7.
The Great Storm of 1987 damaged Radio Caroline's antenna tower, which collapsed a few weeks later. A smaller antenna system was built but was less efficient. Dutch and British governments then raided the Radio Caroline ship and removed much of its equipment, but again it limped back on the air until late 1990 when its funding ran out. Attempts to secure more proved futile, and thereafter it pursued legal means of broadcasting.
Apparent conclusion of unlicensed British offshore radio
The end of the offshore Radio Caroline came when the Broadcasting Act 1990, which built on all similar and related legislation, together with a storm that caused its staff temporarily to abandon the ship, caused the station to come ashore in 1991, where enthusiasts continue to build a broadcasting business using the new licensing system available to British broadcasters.
- "Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006". Statutelaw.gov.uk. 2003-09-18. Retrieved 2014-08-14.
- Official text of the Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database