The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'community radio'
Australia's community radio sector, facing the onerous costs of switching to digital radio, got a reprieve today, in the form of a $6M government funding package, passed in the last moments of the Gillard government's last parliament. The funding boost came after an earlier bill which left the stations several million dollars short, and following a campaign which attracted more than 43,000 signatories.
Which is just as well, because community radio cannot expect any sympathy from the incoming Abbott government; the best it could hope for is indifference, and the worst, active hostility. Community radio in Australia leans towards an urbane, university-educated and mostly left-leaning audience, all considered with deep suspicion by Liberal Party strategists and the predominantly right-wing commercial media; in the views of the Australian Right, it would be a nest of “un-Australian” opinions, such as empathy for refugees, support for depraved and immoral art, and anti-business sentiments verging on “Cultural Marxism” being part of the same neo-Whitlamite crypto-Communist conspiracy as the Greens. Indeed, its very existence outside of the purview of the Free Market is anathema; why should a bunch of latte-sipping trendies and subversive degenerates who don't share the values of the Silent Majority Of Suburban Battlers have a slice of the radio spectrum reserved for their esoteric interests, and protected by law from the democracy of market forces? Were community radio left to the Abbott government, any solution would probably look like a radical Thatcherite big-bang of deregulation, abolishing the distinction between community and commercial licences and “freeing up” community stations to sell advertising, enforce playlists mandated by advertisers, lose the uncommercial niche shows and chase the commercial mainstream, or just get bought up for their spectrum by existing radio networks. Such a move would, in the views of the Right, drain the stagnant pond of un-Australian opinion that has been fermenting in the inner cities since the Whitlam era, once and for all. (In fact, I wouldn't be too surprised if there had been an editorial in The Australian advocating that very course of action.)
This morning, 3RRR had an interview with Sarah Maddison, one of the editors of a book titled Silencing Dissent, which alleges anti-democratic and authoritarian measures by the Howard government in recent years. Maddison gave a few examples of the way the government has allegedly used its power to suppress dissent, such as gagging CSIRO scientists on issues like climate change, pressuring non-governmental organisations to suppress criticism of policies, and banning unsympathetic journalists and photographers from the Parliamentary press gallery. From the book's web site:
Silencing Dissent uncovers the tactics used by John Howard and his colleagues to undermine dissenting and independent opinion. Bullying, intimidation, public denigration, threats of withdrawal of funding, personal harassment, increased government red tape and manipulation of the rules are all tools of trade for a government that wants to keep a lid on public debate. The victims are charities, academics, researchers, journalists, judges, public sector organisations, even parliament itself.3RRR has taken a position consistently critical of the Howard government and its allies. For example, this morning's news mentioned the government's dealings with a nuclear power consortium, suggesting improper collusion between the government and mining concerns which have funded dubious research denying global warming.
I predict that at some stage (possibly after the next election, should they win it), the Howard government will get around to setting its sights on the community radio sector. This sector was established in the more politically liberal climate of the Whitlam government and those which followed it, and has a similarly anachronistically progressive outlook. In the mythology of Howard's Australia, the bulk of community stations represent a minority range of views—those of the inner-city latte-sipping pro-refugee socialist elite—increasingly out of line with the (economically aspirational, socially conservative) views of the Silent Majority Of Suburban Battlers in the marginal electorates. It is obvious that such an arrangement on scarce, federally regulated radio spectrum is not sustainable the climate of the Howard culture war; the only question is, how long will it be allowed to stand by default.
Perhaps sometime after the next election, we'll see a bold plan of community radio "reforms", with stations being subjected to the same majoritarian "objectivity" criteria as the ABC on pain of loss of licence, or possibly the three liberal stations in Melbourne (RRR, PBS, and the radical-leftist 3CR) being reduced to one, with remaining licences either being sold commercially or given to new stations run by groups "more in line with mainstream Australian values", such as, say, the Hillsong Church.