Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, has opened the 2020 CBAA Virtual Conference by acknowledging the great work of community radio across Australia, especially in regional areas.
The Minister congratulated stations on their great work during both the natural disasters of the last summer, and during the pandemic, telling participants that community radio adds greatly to the diversity of voices in the Australian media landscape, and that it plays an important role serving its audiences, especially in regional areas.
Almost three quarters of the country’s 450 community stations are located in regional and remote areas of the country.
The minister says that while life in regional and remote areas can be difficult and challenging, there is a strong sense of community spirit that is “…reflected in their local community radio stations that broadcast local news, tells local stories, provides a platform for local voices and local music.
“Community radio helps regional Australians feel connected to their communities even when their nearest neighbour may live tens of kilometres away”
In his opening remarks this morning CBAA President, Phillip Randall, said, “The pandemic, coupled with last summer bushfire crisis, has demonstrated the vital role community broadcasting plays in keeping communities informed and connected.
“Throughout Australia, community radio stations quickly reacted to COVID-19 by setting up remote studios to ensure content including news and information about the pandemic continued to go to air, whilst protecting volunteers and meeting evolving government restrictions.”
During the fires over 80 community stations continued to broadcast, bringing hyperlocal news and information to their broadcast areas.
Randall says the CBAA is continuing to lobby the Federal Government to ensure community radio stations across the country remain viable and can play their critical role in their communities.
He says. “The 2020/21 Federal Government Budget marks the final year of targeted funding, supporting sector projects and initiatives across community digital radio, enhanced news programming, online streaming and skills development. To provide the required certainty for planning and the expansion of these successful projects, the CBAA is seeking early notice of a funding renewal at an appropriate and ongoing level beyond 2020/21.
“Without a commitment to providing this funding the sector will face an annual shortfall of around $3.7 million, as from next July. On top of the severe impact of COVID-19, this drop in Federal funding support will be a further and critical blow to key projects and the sustainability of community radio services across the country.”
CEO, Jon Bissett, welcomed participants and reflected on a difficult year that has included natural disasters and COVID-19, saying, “We’ve all been impacted one way or another to varying levels – but the role community radio plays as a space for connection and community coming-together is really being highlighted right now.
“While our listeners have been going outside a lot less, they’re still connecting to local news, voices and updates, and being soothed with music and distraction thanks to you and your teams.
“Stations are being inundated with phone calls, text messages and emails from listeners emphasising how community radio is helping them get through these strange times.”
Jon noted that some stations were forced to shut their doors completely as revenue, especially from sponsorship tied to arts and music industries, dried up overnight. Other stations ineligible for JobKeeper had to lay off staff and in some communities, volunteers are understandably staying or are required to stay home.
He told his online audience that “You and your teams are doing the very best you can in order to work through scenarios to achieve the best outcomes for your community radio station and community. The community radio sector should stand proud in front of the contribution you have made during this time.
“We matter, and there has been no greater evidence of this than right now.”