Judgement day looms for community radio

A fierce row threatens to split community broadcasting. It has erupted over plans to centralise or ‘corporatise’ control which could strip local stations, particularly ethnic broadcasters, of influence.

Confronted by the digital revolution that has put paid to most media, community radio also faces a decision in Melbourne on February 26 by the Community Broadcasting Foundation (CBF) about whether to radically change how federal government money goes to the 350 or so stations across the country.

The shake-up began about three years ago when the CBF decided that it wanted to do more than just handle the roughly $17 million it gets annually from the government. Modest as it seems, this is what helps keep the stations afloat, although most money, comes from membership, subscription and sponsorship.

Community broadcasting has been around since the days of the Whitlam government, framed by the then Minister of Communication, Dr Moss Cass. But it was Malcolm Fraser who introduced it, and it’s always had cross-party support.

Local people are the heart and soul at most community stations, volunteers who broadcast news, current affairs, music, magazine shows and much more. In return, the stations look to local individuals, groups and businesses for the dollars to keep going.

The broadcasting is either general, religious, indigenous, ethnic or by disabled people.

Anger over the changes is chiefly coming from the ethnic community whose stations get most of the government money and will be hardest hit.

The origins of this dispute are back in 2014 when the CBF hired a consultancy, the Nous Group in Melbourne, to review the funding structure and governance. The Nous Group whose most prominent staffer is Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, found that the digital media revolution meant the CBF must radically transform itself and the way it hands out money. A self-appointed board would replace the elected board. The stations and representative organisations directly represented on the board would nominate candidates to a pool from which board members would choose fresh members on the basis of skill.

But it was how the money was to be handled that is causing the greatest ruckus. Money for ethnic programs is given to stations on the basis of the hours of non-English speaking languages broadcast. The amount per hour is weighted more heavily for people new to Australia. The new model proposes, however, that ethnic program would have to apply for funds “on merit” and the CBF would decide on who gets what.

The National Ethnic Multicultural Broadcasting Council (NEMBC) reacted in fury describing the proposed Board model as a corporate model that flies in the face of the principles that define community radio – transparency, democracy and fairness. And it undermines a local station’s ability to decide a program’s “merit”. For them it means an encroaching centralisation of power in the hands of the CBF to determine what happens at the local level. They are no longer a funds administrator, but a “sector shaper”.

The council has rallied its troops accordingly and have mobilised their three million constituents to strongly oppose the CBF moves, with a campaign of petitions and letter writing. This, in a federal election year, is grim news for the Turnbull Government.

A former ALP Victorian Minister for Transport, Peter Bachelor, presides over the CBF. He is best known for the massive cost-overun and teething problems of his State’s Myki transport card.

The NEMBC’s executive officer, Russell Anderson, points to the statistics that shows radio, especially if it is local, is growing in face of the digital revolution. “It is the only media to do so.” He also says it’s not true, as the CBF suggests, that the ethnic radio stations are not keeping up with the digital challenges.

A study conducted, again by the Nous Group and for the CBF, shows many station programs have social media links, were broadcasting in the digital spectrum and had digital on-demand services. “This idea of us lagging behind is just a nonsense – it’s beaten up to sound like there is a crisis in broadcasting to camouflage their flagrant attempts to centralise control”.

Bachelor’s CBF claims to have consulted and listened to the community. The NEMBC on the other hand claims that their concerns have been totally dismissed and that the CBF is intent on “bulldozing” the changes through despite vigorous opposition.

The NEMBC has now approached the Commonwealth to intervene, demanding that the Commonwealth Deed that underpins the funding arrangement stay, as would rules governing funds distribution. That is, the hourly rate model is maintained. Anderson says : “The problem with their new model is that it will be much more bureaucratic and cumbersome to administer. Centralisation of power is always accompanied by more bureaucracy”.

What’s more the NEMBC asked the Commonwealth to hold an independent review of the CBF and its governance. Says Anderson: “We don’t think the Nous Group was truly independent. They were hired by the CBF to conduct the review, and so they came back with a model that suited the CBF’s strategic purposes”.

If the CBF fails compromise, the NEMBC threatens to “go it alone”. Although reluctant to go down this path, it also believes this would solve their problem if its proportion of the Government funds were directed to the NEMBC outside its control.

Already there is an impact locally. The NEMBC says it knows of stations jettisoning ethnic programs “because its all too hard to maintain their funding”.

A 10 page submission from full time, Brisbane ethnic station 4EB President Nick Dmyterko to CBF describes the process as disappointing “with conference presentations, webinars and documentation focusing on selling a proposed model with no specific detail of how all of these changes will provide greater value to community broadcasters and not threaten future funding for the sector.”

He says the threatened removal of democratic participation in making decisions would eliminate what sets community radio apart from all other media.

A briefing paper said the changes were underlined by a more “competitive funding process”, which suggested tendering and discouraging dependency on CBF money. Dmyterko says performance outcome aspirations around money were inappropriate for community radio.

Putting ethnic broadcasting cash in the same pot as everyone else’s was a step towards questioning the legitimacy of ethnic programmes.

Radio board members were elected by their peers at conferences, he said. “The proposed model will allow only a select few in the decision-making process, with an unclear procession [as] to the appointment to these new committees.”

Some broadcasters travel more than 100 kilometres to stations he said and some, such as the Kurds, had no financial support in the community.

Demanding more detailed budgets would put extra strain and cut the time of making programs.

Importantly, Dmygerko says in recent years the total amount of money available has not been announced in advance. Lack of clarity about grant categories reduced opportunities for broadcasters.

Grants for content development should be restricted to broadcasters. “Making content grants available to individuals is encouraging a cottage industry of semi-professional broadcasters making a career in the sector.” The futility of calculating grants was shown by the fact that a station broadcasting 21 hours of specialist programs weekly would receive the same weighting as one producing more than 100 hours.


CBF executive director Ian Stanistreet told Daily Review today (February 16) that is likely, but not certain that his board will reach a decision on 26 February. “If final decisions are reached at this meeting I expect that a paper summarising the outcomes will be published in early March,” he said.

He said the review was a response to a request from community broadcasting sector representatives brought together in November 2012 to consider the CBF’s future as part of framing its strategic plan.

“The CBF has been a careful steward of funding support provided by the Australian Government for the maintenance and development of community broadcasting in Australia since our establishment, however after more than 30 year’s operation we agreed that a structural and governance review was timely.”

The review was aimed at deciding how the CBF structure and governance might be revised to better meet the needs of community broadcasting.

“In doing so it has dealt with a broad range of issues, among them — the scope for simplifying our structure and consolidating our funding opportunities; how we can make our grant processes more applicant focussed; ensuring that the CBF has an appropriate skill base to undertake its current work and to expand its role into fundraising; how we can increase our capacity to support greater sustainability and development as well as providing a level of operational support; achieving a volunteer base that reflects the diversity and dynamic nature of the community broadcasting sector at all levels of the organisation; and how the CBF can most effectively support community broadcasting as it engages with a rapidly changing media landscape produced by the disruptive forces of the digital revolution.”

Stanistreet says there has been extensive consultation with community broadcasting sector as a key part of the review. Two Review consultation papers were published last year and responses to them were helpful, he said. (There were 66 submissions from community stations, organisations and individuals.)

“The Nous Group report was an early element of the CBF Review process which the Foundation responded to in June last year,” he said.


One response to “Judgement day looms for community radio


    Dear Mitch,
    I’m not sure that you are aware of the archaic tagging of sponsorship announcements (referred to of late as advertisements by a Community station Chairman).The sound of Sponsorship tagging grates many listeners. The Commonwealth Government would like to see Community Radio stations raise their own operational revenue and has stated that grants will be lessened or even chopped out as the “age of entitlement (even for community ventures and commercial businesses is seriously enforced, placing Community Radio stations at peril. The Government wants Society to have the tools to stand on their own two feet and self generate income ranging from the Unemployed through to Commercial business and Community organizations all of which are direct cost or burden to the Government. If this is so Community Radio should be competitive in its’ fund raising beyond selling toffee apples and crocheted key rings and kiddies booties at Saturday fetes! If not the Government continues along the paths of the Broadcasting Services Act of 1992 in dictatorially continuing Restraint Of Trade and competition and without modifying or rescinding law and procedures of another time in Australia’s backward Community Radio history! It is 2016 and look at the development of Advertising value at SBS who started with a no advertising allowed policy raising funds from the toffee apple market. See the table below in regards to SBS revenue now!
    Times and restrictions have or need changing since the 1992 the Broadcasting Act was amended to allow Community Radio Stations to commence transmission and over the years further licences have been granted. Naturally the commercial stations and various people, politicians with financial interests and through bribes have impeded the free flow of Community Radio and the sound of Community Radio. Talk to Jeremy Cordeaux (afternoons 5AA Adelaide) who had two commercial stations at the time, he was a fierce opponent of the introduction of Community Radio. Funnily he took a position in Community Televison before returning to Commercial Radio as a presenter, in recent years. The Commercial Stations feared that the Community Stations would destroy the revenue base of Commercial Stations, this never happened to this day. Community stations lumbered with “Sponsorship Tags” sound dreadful, it is time to drop such an out dated requirement of stations. Do you ever hear a Commercial station saying “tennis shoes sponsored by Sportslover” or “Cottees jams 5AA sponsor”. Pardon me but it is crap and poorly unprofessional in backward Australian Community radio. I have heard properly produced Commercial Radio advertisements played on Community Stations with the required tags, proving there is no difference between the words sponsorship announcements and commercials both communicating a product, goods or services. Who set these out of date 1992 rules? It is time for modification of the Broadcasting Services ACT bringing it in line with the 21 st., Century. Draft a proposal and circulate it to the law makers etc. Above all get the rules changed and let the Community Radio Industry survive and not sink like the Titanic or the Australian Economy at the same time reduce or save or eradicate the Commonwealth grant expenditure to Community Radio Stations where stations become self sufficient!
    Another point is that Commercial Radio Stations do not have restrictions on their time in regard to the number of Commercials per hour so why should there be “Restraint Of Trade” placed on Community Radio Stations? I am sure that you know that Commonwealth funding for Community Radio stations is getting less every day placing some stations at the doorstep of extinction. These stations need access to the market place without just relying on sausage sizzles, roadside lemonade stands etc.
    So let’s make Community Radio exciting and worth listening to without the heavy hand of a restrictive negative Goebbels Nazi like party machine. Both ACMA & CBBA should have some forward thinking people who would like to see the survival of Community Radio, before it is too late and your own department could develop guts if it wants to because there has been none shown since 1992 and I fear it will continue with negative non forward thinking people trampling down the masses! Mitch my comments are that of a private citizen with 12 years Commercial Radio experience and 7 years of Community Radio experience. I look forward to a reply if you can squeeze me in. All of my points could be put into practice quickly. There should be a Presenter’s revolution organised by email to refrain from tagging Sponsorship Announcements/Advertisements. Not one presenter likes the odious practice of tagging.
    Alan Carmichael
    There has been an incredible amassing of revenue by SBS television, SBS radio is a division of operations and revenue. To highlight the statement please read the following:
    Free to air television advertising revenues since 2006-07:
    Financial Year SBS All Commercial FTA networks
    2006-07 41.7 million 3.6 billion
    2007-08 50.2 million 3.8 billion
    2008-09 56.9 million 3.5 billion
    2009-10 World Cup 77.6 million 3.7 billion
    2010-11 57.2 million 4 billion
    2011-12 51.9 million 3.8 billion
    2012-13 58 million 3.8 billion
    World Cup 73.4 million 3.9 billion

    Radio revenue records growth in March

    07 April 2016

    The commercial radio market has continued to record strong growth up 9.30% in March, compared to the same month last year, to a total of $69.652 million, according to figures sourced by Deloitte and released today by industry body Commercial Radio Australia (CRA).

    The 2016 Metropolitan Commercial Radio Advertising Revenue figures show that all five metropolitan markets recorded growth in March. Brisbane increased by 11.70% to a total of $11.149 million; Melbourne was up 11.46% to $21.077 million; Adelaide increased by 10.45% to $6.095 million; Sydney rose by 7.78% to $21.922 million and Perth was up 4.82% to $9.410 million.

    “The industry continues to promote radio as an innovative, effective and cost efficient advertising medium and the ad revenue increases across the board are very positive,” said CRA chief executive officer Joan Warner.
    The strong growth for the month took total revenue for the first nine months of the financial year to $572.506 million, up 6.02% on the same period in 2014/15.

    For the nine months ending in March, Adelaide stations showed strong growth of 12.09% to $53.281 million; Melbourne was up 6.07% to $174.732 million; Perth increased by 6.07% to $79.483 million; Sydney stations recorded a 5.49% rise to $175.585 million and Brisbane stations rose by 3.56% to $89.425 million.

    The Deloitte figures report actual revenue received by metropolitan commercial radio stations and include all metropolitan agency and direct revenue.

    Communications Legislation Amendment (SBS Advertising Flexibility and Other Measures) Bill 2015
    Amends the: Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991 to: increase the restriction of no more than five minutes per hour of advertising to 10 minutes of advertising in any hour of broadcasting on the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS); and clarify SBS’s ability to earn revenue through the broadcast of programs containing product placement; and Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 and Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991 to: provide consistency between the Acts; remove redundant provisions; Also repeals 26 Acts and removes redundant provisions in four Acts.
    Why is there advertising on SBS TV and SBS Radio?
    Under the SBS Act, SBS can raise revenue by broadcasting advertisements and sponsorship announcements. The SBS Act provides that SBS may broadcast advertisements and sponsorship announcements that run in total for not more than five minutes in any hour of broadcasting (to change). They can only be broadcast before or after programs and during natural breaks. This provides a valuable source of revenue for SBS, allowing more funds to be channelled towards program making.
    How many ads can be shown in an hour?
    Five minutes of advertisements and sponsorship announcements are permitted in any hour of broadcasting.
    Does advertising influence program content?
    All decisions regarding revenue are subject to the overriding principle that the independence and integrity of SBS is paramount and shall not be compromised in any way. This principle is set out in the SBS Codes of Practice.
    What happens to the revenue raised from advertising?
    Revenue raised from advertising is invested in quality content, including Australian content.
    So there we have it Mitch the quest for fairness in revenue raising at the same time lessening Government costs reining in the expenditure of grants and making it easy for Community Radio Stations to participate in revenue raising activities and opportunities to improve facilities. A Fair Go for the Community Radio Industry is well overdue without being shackled with obsolete restrictions particularly when those restrictions don’t apply to the Commercial Radio Industry and SBS ( a now pseudo Commercial organisation). A level playing field would be democratic and the Community Radio Industry will never challenge the astronomical revenues of Commercial Radio or SBS, there is nothing to fear with a few changes to the sound of Community Radio by dropping the hideous tags to sponsorship announcements (commercials) currently required by such antiquated rules (laws). By dropping the tags programmes will flow smoothly and be identifiable from normal programming (have a listen to the way Commercial Radio does it) to see what I mean. What price progress?


    Alan Carmichael



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