Posted by: artsound | March 19, 2010

Community broadcasting secures community relevance

DEBORAH WELCH

March 16, 2010 – 6:12AM

As we wrapped up Radio Adelaide’s broadcast and online coverage of Womadelaide last week, I reflected on the festival’s aim to excite, inform and to create awareness of the worth and potential of a multicultural society.

For more than 35 years, Australia’s unique community broadcasting stations have been doing this and much more, fulfilling our remit under the Broadcasting Services Act (1992) to develop and reflect a sense of Australian identity, character and cultural diversity.

Radio Adelaide, where I am Station Manager, was established in 1972 as Australia’s first community radio station. But our sector has blossomed in many directions and is as diverse as the Australian communities it reflects. We’re now looking to the future with Vision 2015, our five-year plan for the next era of community media.

When you listen to ethnic and Indigenous broadcasting in over 100 languages, hear Radio for the Print-Handicapped make media accessible, or tune in to youth and seniors stations, you’re listening to community radio.

When you download podcasts with local arts and current affairs programming, stream Indigenous stations online or keep up with the latest local bands via much-loved specialist music stations, you’re listening to community radio.

In response to these community needs and people’s desire to be involved, there are now 526 services around Australia. Notably, 80 per cent of long-term licensed community radio services are now located in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia. We are Australia’s largest media sector and we are not-for-profit.

Every month an audience of 9.5 million Australians – 57 per cent of the population – tunes in to community radio. Between 2004 and 2008 our audience grew by 20 per cent. According to the biennial McNair Community Radio National Listener Survey, Australians value most the local content and diverse music formats that community radio offers.

In fact, our programming is as Australian and as local as content gets. It is created by community members, for their communities and it’s much-needed: 30 per cent of community radio stations report that they are the only source of local programs.

At a time when commercial radio is seeking exemptions from Australian music quotas for digital broadcasts, community radio genuinely supports local talent, exceeding our 25 per cent quota by broadcasting 36 per cent Australian music.

Yet Australia’s community broadcasting sector must renew itself. As we’ve grown to meet demand and stepped up to the challenges of digital media and media convergence, Federal Government support has declined in real terms by 15 per cent since 1996, leaving a cumulative funding gap for both our facilities and operating costs.

Community broadcasters already generate three-quarters of our operating funds, but Government funding is an essential factor in our sustainability and an important recognition of our valuable contribution to media diversity and social inclusion.

Our 2010 Budget submission to Minister Conroy sets out Vision 2015, a five-year plan to deliver significant community outcomes with the aid of increased funding in four areas: content development, co-ordination, training and infrastructure.

In the 2009 Budget, the ABC received more than $165 million in new funds. More recently, the Federal Government recognised broadcasting’s “unique role in preserving our national culture,” granting license fee rebates worth $250 million to commercial television operators. In 2010, community broadcasting is asking Minister Conroy to recognise our unique role through an additional $25 million funding over the next financial year, with stepped funding increases to 2015.

What our keen, lean operations will do with an extra $25 million is an exciting prospect. Beyond radio and TV, all community stations are also working to engage volunteers in multi-platform production and multi-media delivery of local content to audiences. More than 20,000 Australians are involved. Stations in the mainland capitals begin the sector’s move to digital transmission in 2010, with new services to come.

It’s clear that there is strong support for community broadcasting and for the future we outline in Vision 2015. This support recognises that we create something more than media diversity: we provide a dynamic way for people to participate in the life of their communities. And we have an essential role in making sure all communities are able to be part of Australia’s transition to a digital economy.

The Federal Government has undertaken to “embed a commitment to fairness in everything the Government does.” Community broadcasting engages a diverse range of people who may be left behind in the digital economy. To achieve its aims, the Government needs the access, skills and audience of our sector.

Deborah Welch is President of the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia.

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