A major priority area at last weekend’s Community Broadcasting Association Conference were the new procedures surrounding community radio licence renewals which have been implemented by the ABA.
The ABA has instituted a new government policy which requires much more detail about how community stations are fulfilling their licence conditions before a renewal is granted.
In the past, renewals were almost automatic, but now they require a detailed form (Form ABA 66) to be completed, which seeks evidence of the station’s community commitments and investigates whether the station is serving its ‘community interest.’
The form asks for programming details and supporting documents indicating the level of community support for the station.
The ABA’s Giles Tanner explained to conference delegates that this is required because there are no extra “safety valve” frequencies available in many markets now.
Tanner says, in the past, station volunteers who were disgruntled by the way a station was run could apply for another licence. Now, with the Licence Area Planning process complete for analog spectrum, and with most populated markets at full capacity, there are very few possibilities for break-away groups to secure an alternative frequency.
The scarcity of spectrum has made the government and the ABA more aware that stations should be accountable for the valuable spectrum they are occupying and that they should remain relevant to their communities and their programming promises.
The possibility of handing back a licence that no longer served the community was also mooted, although Tanner told delegates there has been no contemplation of that course of action at this time.
The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 was amended at the end of 2002, giving the ABA more discretion to for this kind of review process. When renewing community broadcasting licences now, the ABA can take into account the same matters it had regard to under section 84(2) of the Broadcasting Services Act in deciding whether to allocate a licence.
The ABA will be able to refuse to renew a community licence where the applicant no longer meets the criteria set out in section 84(2) and the ABA will be able to consider a change to the community interest the licensee is required to represent if required.
A licensee must lodge their renewal application (Form ABA 66) 12 months before their licence is due to expire.
The conference heard that some stations had already been through the Form ABA 66 process, but that many more were due to complete the form in coming months. A peak of renewals is expected in October 2007.
There was a high level of anxiety in many community broadcasters about the process to be followed and there were some complaints about the form. Broadcasters’ views were taken on board by ABA representatives, who promised streamlining in some areas.