The recent closure of 3WRB Stereo974 has highlighted the problems some community stations have remaining financially viable while trying to service their communities and/or special interest groups.
It also highlighted the reliance that stations can place on grants from the Community Broadcasting Foundation to remain open.
On the subject of Ethnic Broadcasting and funding, radioinfo’s Wayne Stamm asked the CBF CEO, Ian Stanistreet, about recent changes to the grants process and the closure of Stereo974.
radioinfo: One of Stereo974’s ethnic presenters, Raymond Chow has said “The federal government has supported multicultural broadcasting grants through the Community Broadcasting Foundation. A reform by CBF in grant allocation in 2017 to 2019 has led to a drastic drop of ethnic grants for many radio stations.
Ian Stanistreet: 3WRB’s decision to close is a great loss to the many communities it served so well across Melbourne’s inner western suburbs for so many years. The station was a regular recipient of CBF funding support both prior to and since the changes to our funding process introduced in mid-2016 that took effect from 2017-18.
The level of CBF grant funding received by 3WRB has changed over recent years however fluctuations in the level of funding support received by a particular grantee are not uncommon in a competitive merit-based grant process. Details of all funding allocations made are published and available from our website.
While the community radio sector is characterised by low resource levels, stations are largely self-funding principally through business sponsorship, fundraising, listener support and grants. We join with others in thinking that it’s a great shame that the station was unable to continue in the face of a forced relocation and decline in key income sources.
radioinfo: What do you see as the CBF’s responsibility for Ethnic Broadcasters?
Ian Stanistreet: Our role is to assist the sustainability and development of community broadcasting, including the ethnic community broadcasting sector. As the funding agency supporting the maintenance and development of Australian community broadcasting we are the stewards of funding support provided for the sector by the Australian Government.
The community broadcasting sector is very diverse with over 450 services serving local communities and communities of interest in metropolitan, regional, rural and remote areas right across Australia. Ethnic community broadcasting plays a significant role within the community broadcasting sector and broader Australian society as the voice of local ethnic communities.
The Australian Government provides specific support for ethnic community broadcasting, being primarily non-English language programming for the benefit of people of non-English speaking backgrounds, including support for ethnic youth programs, new language groups and new and emerging ethnic communities. Our responsibility to Ethnic community broadcasters is to disburse that funding impartially through our bi-annual grant programs.
radioinfo: Has there been a reduction in available funding?
Ian Stanistreet: No, there has been no reduction in the amount of funding available for the support of Ethnic community broadcasting. The amount of funding available has increased marginally over the past few years principally due the application of a level of indexation to compensate for inflation. In the current financial year to date almost $3.9m. has been been paid or committed as grants in support of ethnic community broadcasting. Stations receiving ethnic funding support also have access to the general funding pool available to all eligible applicants.
The Community Broadcasting Foundation restructured its grant programs that took effect from 2017-18 following an independent external review of our structure and governance. Prior to this change ethnic funding was distributed under a discrete ethnic grant category and disbursed through an assessment process based on eligibility criteria being met and funding being provided on a fixed hourly rate for each eligible hour of ethnic programming.
The restructure consolidated over thirty grant opportunities into three grant programs, making almost all funding available under competitive merit-based assessment processes. Specialist radio programming costs including the direct costs of production for ethnic radio programs remain available on a non-competitive basis however broader access for operational and development costs drawn from ethnic funding is now competitive.
Stations with a significant level of ethnic programming will receive funding support for ethnic program production costs and can receive further support from the ethnic funding available based on the merit of each application they make. Over the three financial years since these changes were introduced the same amount of funding has been available. We know the ethnic community broadcasting sector has found it difficult to adapt to the changed grant structure. Our grants team continue to provide support assisting stations to understand and respond more effectively to our grant processes.
The Foundation has a strong commitment to better practice and regularly commissions independent advice on how our support of the community broadcasting sector can be improved such as the current work being undertaken by Think Impact on a Supporting Station Resilience Review. An external independent review of the broad structural and governance changes introduced from mid-2016 is scheduled for 2021/22.