Community Radio in Australia enjoys a unique and special position within the broadcasting system. The democratization of radio broadcasting began in Australia in the early 1960s. Different groups had initiated the reform process by campaigning for their “own” radio and a separate space on the dial.
The demand for increased access to the airwaves stemmed from the unhappiness with the mainstream media and the fact that the airwaves- a public resource -was being exploited only for profit. While early campaigns for a community (then called public) radio were led by Universities like University of New England (UNE), University of New South Wales (UNSW), and Adelaide University, and fine music enthusiasts. There were pirate radio attempts like 3DR and 3PR that came into existence to convey their disagreement and oppose Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
The pirate radio initiatives were shut down, but they showed the path for a new style of non-governmental and non-commercial broadcasting. Despite different reasons, these distinct groups were united by a common goal – access to the airwaves. The campaigns ultimately merited an inquiry in 1967 by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. Its report in 1972 recommended the inclusion on FM radio and supported the idea of non-government, non-profit community broadcasting. Australia made history and became the first country to legislate community broadcasting.
Today the sector is vibrant and has more than 400 community radio stations, which service diverse community groups including indigenous Australian, ethnic communities, print disabled communities, religious communities, youth and senior citizens, and education, sports, music, art and culture and other special interest groups including LGBTQI communities. Community broadcasting in Australia prides itself as being different from other media by promoting access and participation.
Although the reach of the community radio station is less than that of commercial or public radios because of lower ERP levels, the categorization of licenses proves a degree of flexibility. Specifically, categories of license awarded depend on the intended area, namely rural, regional, metropolitan, suburban or sub-metro. While in most cases, a single license is given to a station, in the event of poor reception areas, repeaters have been allowed.
Granted on the basis of merit according to a criteria established by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the licence eligibility and application process also deserves consideration. The criteria include: an identified community of interest, volunteer support, financial planning, community involvement, ability to sustain the licence over time and the ability to meet the technical requirements of their license area. It is worth pointing out that no new analogue radio broadcast licences have been granted since 2001.
With respect to funding, while advertisements are not permitted, stations are allowed to take up sponsorships of up to five minutes in one hour of programming. Stations also actively seek memberships, subscriptions, donations, gifts, and hold the annual Radiothon, a fund raising event. In addition, the Community Broadcasting Foundation (CBF) , an independent, non-profit body acts as a funding agency that distributes funds that come in from the federal government.
(to be continued)
Pinky Chandran, Director, Radio Active
(Recently in Australia)
With inputs from Shane Elson,
Alternative Radio, Australia
Part II of Pinky’s Australian CR experiences was published in CR News, July-September 2015 issue. You can read it here.