Community radio hit hard in Federal Budget, while commercial benefits
Digital community radio was hit hard in Treasurer Scott Morrison’s first Federal Budget last night.
Metropolitan community digital radio services in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide have been served a cut of $1.4 million per annum.
Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA) CEO Jon Bisset said the cut has the potential to remove community broadcasters from a digital broadcasting future.
“For over 40 years, Australian Governments have been committed to community radio standing alongside commercial and national radio services on available free-to-air broadcast platforms,” said Bisset. “Today, with little explanation, we have seen a reversal of that position.
“[…] This unfortunate decision reflects the lack of value that the government places on these media services that contribute to public interest outcomes and media diversity, generate high levels of local and specialist content, and provide opportunities for participation in free-to-air media,” Bisset added.
The blow to community digital radio services precedes planned reforms to Australia’s pre-internet media ownership laws. The changes will do away with the two-out-of-three rule, which stops any proprietor from owning a newspaper, radio station and television network in the same major market.
Over 5 million people tune in to not-for-profit, community-owned and operated radio services in Australia each week. Originally the community radio sector didn’t rely on government funding but in 2013 it required funding to support its transition into digital radio.
Speaking to TMN last week, award-winning community radio host Maddy Macfarlane said the sector’s presence in a digital future was promised government support. “We have to hold the government to its specific, promised support, to ensure community radio’s transition to digital radio, and make sure this is not reduced or reneged.”
Bisset said the CBAA will be pursuing the issue further with the Minister for Communications, Senator Mitch Fifield.
Meanwhile, commercial broadcasters have benefitted from the Federal Budget. Last night saw the announcement of a 25% reduction in commercial radio licence fees, to be applied from the 2015-16 licence period. The licence fee relief follows the Government’s review of broadcast licence fee arrangements, which found Australia’s media market to be applying significant financial pressure on commercial broadcasters.
It also follows the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s (ACMA) Annual Report. It found commercial radio stations paid $24.83 million in broadcasting licence fees in December 2014 for the 2014-15 period; that was up $3.23 million from the 2013-14 period when stations paid $21.60 million.
Joan Warner, CEOof peak industry body Commercial Radio Australia, said she’s disappointed the reduction is not greater as Australia’s commercial broadcasters operate in one of the most intensively competitive industries in the world.
“This has been a key issue for the industry for some time,” said Warner. “We need to be able to better compete against global players who are largely unregulated and do not carry the many costs, obligations and restrictions that local radio broadcasters do.”
Malcolm Turnbull’s government has also slapped the ABC with a funding cut of$18.1million. The ABC has said the cut will affect its Fact Check unit, whichspecialises in verifying claims made by politicians and government officials in the media. The public broadcaster has said it will now be making changes to staffing and programming.