Melbourne’s voice of dissent

Melbourne’s voice of dissent

Last year in November, I had the opportunity to visit 13 different community radio stations in Australia, made possible through the Australia India Youth Dialogue (AIYD) Alumni Grant. I decided to attend the annual CBAA (Community Broadcasting Association of Australia) conference in Adelaide to network and meet with different people.

Among them was Rachel Maher, a former 3CR Program Manager, and a former Trainer at CBAA. Over coffee one afternoon discussing the role of women in community radio, she insisted that I visit 3CR 855AM. She vouched for the station’s strong feminist fibre and suggested that I meet with Juliet Fox to understand the radio.

Soon I was at the station located at Smith Street, Fitzroy in Melbourne.  The first thing that caught my eye was the 2012 CRAM Guide which states “Invest in Independence.” The Guide discusses the dire state of Australia’s media ownership and emphasizes the need to invest in independence, a motto that this community radio station has religiously pursued.

A People Powered CR station

A People Powered CR station

Since 1976, 3CR has been Melbourne’s “voice of dissent,” a heritage in which they take great pride. With programmes that range from  women immigrants, refugee rights and women revolutionaries to issues of climate change, corruption, capitalism, military hypocrisy, oil and coal mining, workplace justice and  domestic violence, the station has consciously contributed to alternative views, and promoted  analysis, public debate and discussions.

This has been made possible by its policy to raise funds independently, without government or corporate support through a community and listener subscriber structure – a practice that merits emulation both in terms of developing sustainability and building diverse content.

During the course of our conversation, Juliet mentioned that women are part of the fabric of the station. 3CR has a strong feminist ethic, which is evident with some of the programmes like “Women on the Line”, one of the oldest programs distributed nationally, and at present through the Community Radio Network (CRN).  A current affairs programme focussing on women, it provides an in-depth analysis of contemporary issues, through a gendered framework.   Some  of these  include “Accent of Women” – by and about women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, “Feminist Focus”– another current affairs program, with a strong focus on conversations with activists, authors, academics, “Girls Radio Club”, a project for women from different backgrounds such as  indigenous, refugee, asylum seekers or migrants in the age group of 15-20, “Femme Freestyle,” which explores  issues in the community through music, poetry and storytelling among the others. Interestingly, most of the shows are not confined by a particular geography, dismissing the argument of a homogenized, geographical community or that the content of community radio must be limited to a particular boundary within the coverage area.

The important take-away for me from 3CR was the immense possibility for an “alternative view point” and, “access to marginalized communities.” With over 400 volunteers, the station is buzzing with activity, and produces as many as 120 shows. The popular term used to describe the station is “activist hub” and rightly so, given that 90 different groups came together to form 3CR in the early 1970’s. Standing testimony to this is a framed photo of early founders calling for an “Independent Radio.”

 Its activism has often resulted in 3CR being criticized from many quarters. There have been attempts to brand it as “terrorist radio” because of its support for the Palestinian struggle. Others have called it “anarchist” because of the station’s programme “Anarchist World this Week”. Volunteer presenters have been threatened for speaking about Tamil people’s fight to restore their traditional homeland in Sri Lanka.

3CR was granted full metropolitan broadcast coverage status only in 1988. At 3CR, the Community Radio Federation (CRF) continues to be the peak decision-making body, comprising 10 subscriber representatives and 10 station worker representatives (elected by 3CR subscribers and station workers) as well as one representative from each of the organizations that have joined 3CR as affiliates. They meet every quarter to make decisions about governance or operational changes. Of these, 15 members are voted into Committee of Management that meets once a month.  As I leave for my next meeting,  I carry indelible images of a  people-powered radio at its best.

Pinky Chandran
Director, Radio Active CR 90.4 MHz

Part I of Pinky’s Australian CR experiences was published in CR News, April-June 2015 issueYou can read it here.

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