Senator Scott Ludlam, Stephen Hahn, Kath Letch and David Sice at #CBAA2012

If there were two things to take away from this morning’s panel discussion, titled ‘Building Capacity’, it’s that we need to protect our spectrum and get loud about our integral role in Australian lives.

The morning started off with a report from Community Broadcasting Foundation president, Peter Batchelor, which seemed to set the tone for a main focus of the morning- funding. Though much was discussed, the main points of focus for the CBF were identified as funding support for community television, content development funding, financial distress assistance as well as emergency grants for television. Batchelor also addressed the lack of government funding for AMRAP and the digital radio project, raised for the first time today though by no means for the first time at the conference.

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Second up to the plate was guest speaker, Greens’ Senator Scott Ludlam, talking about why he believes the government should support the community media sector and why it is so important. He addressed his key belief as to why the community radio sector needs to exist, that being as the antidote to the banality of commercial radio, stating that commercial radio is “like listening to junk mail with a broadcasting licence”.

Tweets during Senator Ludlam’s address

Senator Ludlam spoke highly of the excellent role community radio plays as a training ground for engineers, presenters and producers, and offered thanks to the sector as a whole for their innovation and “occasionally downright weird broadcasting”. Once again, Senator Ludlam expressed his frustration at the current state of AMRAP and DRP, noting the incredible value they hold. The entire situation of the lack of funding made Senator Ludlam “scratch his head”, considering the small amount of money required that just wasn’t being given.

That said, the Senator ended on pointing out the powerful position the community broadcasting sector is in, being able to transmit their woes, stating that though the government is always looking for squeaky wheels to silence, the sector needs to “be squeaky” to get the funding it needs. The Senator ended by stating that the community broadcasting sector only costs 3 cents per Australian per week, believes that it’s not a bad investment calling to see if “we can get it to 4”!

It was then time for the main discussion on ‘Building Capacity’ with Senator Ludlam, Stephen Hahn (CBOnline Project Manager), David Sice (CBAA Technical Consultant) and Kath Letch (General Manager of the CBAA) sitting on the panel. Letch began by stating that the discussion would focus around a range of issues including sector development, infrastructure (both national and local), digital convergence and how the sector gets by with the scarce resources it does have.

David Sice went quite in depth into the issues that are facing the sector in the changing landscape, spectrum and digital convergence (you can read more of his opinions in the Technical Consultant’s report on page 52 in the CBAA Annual Report 2011-12 by clicking here). Sice stated that “the very idea of broadcasting as a concept is under threat”, speaking of digital convergence and the battle for spectrum ahead (to hear more of this self-titled ‘rant’ listen to the podcast of the discussion in the post after this).

The discussion then turned to the situation the sector is currently facing where, after being given funding for content development, they are set to lose both AMRAP and the DRP, a situation Letch called “a bit depressing”. Senator Ludlam expressed that he believed that  the sector really was taken for granted due to being run on love rather than money. The Senator believed that was the case because the government are focused on the big players in the media industry, rather than the community sector and its important cultural role in Australian life. The Senator went further to say that the sector, unfortunately, just have to get louder and utilise research to show how important they really are to the government.

Stephen Hahn commented on the research that the sector now has, displaying the numbers and patterns in listener-ship and though “25% of the available audience is ours” that they were still seeking more research into the audience and what connects people to the sector.

It was time for questions, and the floor really wanted to utilize the unique position the sector is in as broadcasters and take up the “crisitunity” to unite and speak with one voice as to what was required in the sector. But how and what does the community broadcasting sector need to say?

I believe that it really is worth starting to look into utilizing artists as an untapped resource to really push for AMRAP funding, a suggestion from the crowd. Though working with the government was a viable option, it is slowly getting to the eleventh hour and to not pull out all the stops to save such a value resource as AMRAP, seems like stupidity. Considering AMRAP only needed 0.05% of last year’s Australian Federal Budget to survive, it really isn’t too crazy a notion that AMRAP can be saved with the right campaign. But clearly displayed in the discussion, the planning and implementation of that campaign needs to begin now. A campaign on a much larger scale, involving all relevant community radio stations, to save the Digital Radio Project also seems like the sector’s best bet. Simply waiting for the government to act really isn’t doing it anymore.

Also, in terms of the idea of “spectrum as a scarce resource”, a topic brought up by many during this discussion, I believe that we really do need to get vocal on protecting the spectrum we’ve been given. Community radio has lasted through many hardships and digital convergence is just another one to overcome and embrace.

The discussion ended with the big question- how do we collaborate on these issues? Considering we’re all at the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia’s national conference, it’s probably, nay, definitely the best time to get talking to other community stations about how we can unite on this and really get the community sector’s voices shouting as one.

Squeaky wheel, it’s time to start squealing.