Sydney community licences announced

The ABA has made its decision on the allocation of the Sydney Community Radio Licences. They have been allocated to Free Broadcast Incorporated (FBi), Gadigal Information Service (Gadigal) and Muslim Community Radio (MCR).

The three successful applicants will be allocated their licences on 1 June 2001 and must begin their service within 12 months. FBi will operate on 94.5 MHz on the FM band at 150 kW, Gadigal on 93.7 MHz at 50 kW and MCR on 92.1 MHz on 15 kW. FBi’s original submission was not for the 150 kW licence.

In a surprise twist, the ABA was so impressed by several submissions that it has formed a view that, if possible, at some time in the future, there should be an additional wide coverage community licence granted.

FBi will serve youth and non-mainstream arts communities, while Gadigal will serve the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and those interested in indigenous culture and issues. MCR will provide the first permanent Muslim radio service in Sydney.

“This is an exciting development for Sydney,” said ABA Chairman David Flint. “These three new FM services will add to the diversity of voices that can be heard on the public airwaves. Sydney has Australia’s largest population of young people and the country’s largest indigenous and Muslim populations. The successful applicants are all strongly based in the communities they propose to serve and the ABA anticipates these new services will have an invigorating effect on those communities.”

“The ABA formed the view that FBi, Gadigal and MCR were the three applicants that are most likely to continue to meet the needs of the Sydney community in the future,” said Flint. “In the cases of Gadigal and MCR, this is because of the likely continuing need for services addressing the particular communities to which they will be directed. In the case of FBi, it is because of the likely continuing general community need for broadcasting of material reflecting new and emerging cultures and the interests of youth.”

The ABA was satisfied that there is a significant community need for a service that gives youth, and members of the community interested in youth culture, access to programming which covers a wide range of non-commercial and non-mainstream interests. While this programming will inevitably include music, which the ABA acknowledged plays a significant role in young people’s lives, it is not limited to music. There are a broad range of other activities, artistic practices and points of view of significant interest to young people in Sydney which currently have either no broadcasting outlet, or, at best, a limited outlet. This is the type of service that FBi is proposing to provide.

The service proposed by Gadigal will meet two important and presently unmet community needs:
* the need for the indigenous community to have its own broadcasting service which addresses issues of particular concern to the indigenous community, and caters to its specific cultural needs; and
* the need of the general community to be informed about indigenous issues and indigenous culture.

The unique historical and social circumstances of the indigenous community have given rise to these needs. In the ABA’s view, these needs are likely to continue indefinitely.

The ABA found there is a considerable need within the Sydney licence area for a broadcasting service that specifically addresses the needs of the Muslim community. Islam is the second most populous religion in the Sydney licence area after Christianity, and at about a hundred thousand people is of a significant size. Although there have been broadcasting services providing Muslim programming in the past, there is currently no regular programming on existing radio services, and no dedicated broadcasting service serving the community.

“This has been one of the most difficult decisions the ABA has had to make in recent times,” said Flint. “The ABA found six of the seventeen applicants had the capacity to provide their proposed service and that their proposed service would meet a clear community need. In these circumstances, the ABA regrets that it is able to allocate only three licences.”

Because the allocation process has demonstrated a high level of capacity among many applicants for community radio licences, not readily apparent at the time of initially planning the number of community radio services in Sydney, the ABA has formed a preliminary view that an additional wide-coverage community radio service should be made available in Sydney. The ABA is calling for public submissions on a proposal to vary the Sydney licence area plan to make a further community service available rather than an open narrowcasting radio service. The service is proposed to operate in the AM band on 1386 kHz from Homebush. Submissions are due by 27 July 2001.

Of the fourteen unsuccessful applicants, the ABA found eleven either did not demonstrate the capacity to provide or did not establish a clear community need for their proposed service. There were three applicants that did satisfy the ABA on both these counts but whose arguments for being allocated a licence were, in the ABA’s view, not as compelling as the three successful applicants. They were OutFM Pty Ltd (OutFM) and Sydney Gay and Lesbian Broadcasters Incorporated (FREE FM), both targeting the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and Sydney Youth Radio Inc (WILD FM), targeting the mainstream youth (14-30) community and young people who identify with the dance/club culture.

“The ABA recognises that there is a substantial need for a service that addresses the needs and interests of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Both applicants claiming to represent the gay and lesbian community presented strong applications and there is a high level of support within the community for a community broadcasting service, regardless of the provider. However, on balance, the ABA was not persuaded that the needs of the gay and lesbian community for a dedicated broadcasting service were greater than the needs of the communities represented by FBi, Gadigal and MCR,” said Flint

The ABA weighed the respective claims and evidence from the applicants proposing to provide a service which meets the needs and interests of the youth community, in particular FBi and Sydney Youth Radio Incorporated (WILD FM). The ABA was not satisfied that in allocating a licence to an applicant which provides predominantly a dance music service, namely WILD FM, that it would be best serving the interests of young people in Sydney. Even if Sydney Youth Radio Inc had been more persuasive about its ability to meet the needs and interests of its community, the ABA would have had serious reservations about allocating it a licence.

These reservations arose because of the findings of its report of the investigation into Sydney Youth Radio Inc (WILD FM) and Sydney Gay and Lesbian Broadcasters Inc (FREE FM), also released today, in particular, the finding that Sydney Youth Radio Inc is operated as part of a profit-making enterprise (see backgrounder). Having regard to the fact that under s.15 of the Broadcasting Services Act, community broadcasting services may not be operated as part of a profit making enterprise, the ABA could not be confident that Sydney Youth Radio Inc would provide a community broadcasting service within the meaning of the Act.