ACMA toughens up sanctions on Sunshine FM

Sunshine FM has been issued with “remedial directions” by the ACMA after failing to “implement agreed measures” to fix licence condition breaches.
In what is an unusual move for the regulator, it has escalated its compliance requirements on the Sunshine Coast older listener targeted community station.
The station is required take action to remedy breaches of two licence conditions found after an ACMA investigation in August 2013. The breaches relate to the requirements to continue to represent the community interest; and encourage participation in the selection of programs.

ACMA says Sunshine FM (4SFM) was “given many opportunities since the breach findings were made to implement agreed measures and it was advised of the consequences of non-compliance, including escalation to formal enforcement action.”

If 4SFM fails to comply with the remedial directions within the specified timeframe the ACMA could suspend or cancel the licence.
The problem for Sunshine FM goes back to a dispute we reported on last year, when Alan Quinn and some other presenters claimed the station was no longer representing the interests of its listeners.
The complaint alleged that “programming had taken on a more ‘commercial’ tone and was not catering to 4SFM’s community interest, namely, the mature-age community interest of the Nambour RA2 licence area.” It also alleged 4SFM was not taking sufficient steps to identify and monitor the needs of its community interest.
The station replied that it used a variety of methods to identify and monitor the needs of the community, “including the use of broadcasting surveys such as the McNair Ingenuity and CBAA Surveys, plus holding focus groups and visits to mature-age groups such as Probus, Rotary and U3A etc. We also monitor feedback we receive via email and our website. In 2012, during our Radiothon, we took the opportunity to ask questions of our respondents regarding music and programming. The focus groups numbered six (6) and each group had between 9 and 14 attendees.”
The ACMA found the station in breach of this issue, saying:

“While 4SFM indicated that it was responsive to community needs, as the feedback it received supported the station’s mainly music program format, it is arguable that the needs of the mature-age community in the licence area were being monitored routinely and regularly… [But] some shortcomings in the methods it used to identify and monitor the needs of its community interest were noted.

“For example, while 4SFM visited persons in mature-age groups, the licensee did not provide any details on the frequency of these visits or the needs that were expressed by the mature-age persons in those groups. Further, given that mature-age persons comprised close to 45% (108,560 persons) of the licence area population, six focus groups over two years, each comprising between 9 and 14 participants, represent only a small sample and infrequent monitoring of the community’s needs.

On issues of membership, the complainant was found not to have substantiated his complaints and the station was found not to be in breach on that issue.
The complaint stated that membership was declining, the station was not taking adequate steps to attract and retain financial members, that volunteer numbers were declining dramatically and the station was not taking adequate steps to encourage the community to participate in its operations. But the ACMA found that the complaint about declining membership was not substantiated and affirmed that Sunshine FM was “implementing the relevant provisions in its constitution relating to members who have not paid their membership fees for two months or more.”
On a third matter, the complainant alleged that a small group of people were arbitrarily removing and replacing its most popular programs and the number of presenters was decreasing.  The station responded, saying:

“We have endeavoured to include the volunteers and members to be involved in our programming and music… We met regularly until the disenchanted 1-2 members who were on that committee could not get their own way and commenced their destructive and vicious campaign which has kept me busy writing responses to you and you department.”

But the ACMA found it had breached in this area too, with the investigation report commenting:

“On 1 July 2013, the licensee stated that 4SFM currently has 15 volunteer presenters on air. This figure represented a 32% decrease from the 22 volunteer presenters on air at the time of the 2012 licence renewal and supported the preliminary breach finding that 4SFM was not encouraging its members and volunteers to participate in the provision of programs.

Sunshine FM was licenced in 2002 and has been serving older listeners on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast since then. The station’s current licence is due to expire on 8 December 2017.
The ACMA now expects the station to remedy the problems “within a specified timeframe.”

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