Public radio; making waves

Wednesday, July 10, 1991

By Christine Kearney

(Continued from page 28.)

This freedom means that 4ZZZ, like other public stations, is able to play "non-commercial, progressive music with a bit of intelligence".

4ZZZ's motto of "Agitate, Educate, Organise" is reflected in the music it plays and in its community programs. Murri, Latin American, and Irish programs "all talk about things happening in these communities", she said.

Different sounds

Grassroots participation in public radio means that "one community radio station will sound different to another simply because of the different people involved", according to Pascal Leahy of 2MCE in Bathurst, NSW.

No doubt 8TOP FM in Darwin, which runs language programs for the local Timorese and Portuguese communities, and covers issues about Bougainville and Indonesia, sounds different to metropolitan stations like Radio Skid Row in Sydney, which have a distinctly urban feel.

According to Fernando Concalves of 5MMM in Adelaide, public radio's commitment to accessibility helps balance the right-wing views of the mainstream media.

However, many community stations lack the resources to produce quality news or current affairs.

One solution to this is networking of programs produced by the larger, better resourced public stations. Undercurrent is a new half-hour quality afternoon news and current affairs program produced by 2SER and the Public Radio News Service in Melbourne. It is networked live by satellite to 20 community stations around Australia.

2SER also networks a number of environmental, economic, and other programs by post around the country.

Sponsorship

Within public radio, attitudes to commercial sponsorship are varied. "Sponsorship in the sector at the moment is a very restricted form of advertising", said Ada Hulshoff, executive director of the Public Broadcasting Association of Australia (PBAA).

Some take a hardline approach to commercial sponsorship of public radio. According to Liz O'Brien of 2XX in Canberra, sponsorship in any form is unnecessary, and counterproductive to the aims of community radio. "It doesn't matter how conscientious people are when they first start taking sponsorship ... people self-censor, stations become dependent on sponsorship, and then will be very nervous about upsetting their sponsors."

Because 2XX relies on subscriptions for its funding, it is responsive to the needs of the community, she says. "We don't have to be particularly responsive to the needs of the business community in Canberra. That's where we prefer to be politically."

And sponsorship may not be a very efficient form of funding. According to Brian Smith of 5MMM in Adelaide, "A lot of every dollar you earn goes into hiring someone to do the sales and coordinate the on-air announcements. That's not what we're here for. We're here to provide access and opportunities for alternative points of view."

But to some public broadcasters, sponsorship is legitimate.

Mathew McGuinness, presenter on Hobart's THE FM, said the station would not accept sponsorship that would restrict its programming. He maintains that THE FM remains one of the few alternatives media in Hobart.

"We only have one daily newspaper here, so it's pretty much a monopoly of the print media", he said. Issues such as gay rights and the decriminalisation of homosexuality are covered "because it's the only way they get a mention in Hobart."

For good or ill, it seems private sponsorship is here to stay.

Government funding for public radio at state and federal levels is minimal. South Australia's is the only state government to provide direct funding for public radio.

However, Ada Hulshoff says that the general feeling within the PBAA is opposed to liberalising sponsorship restrictions, and the PBAA encourages stations to generate funding from the community.

"The better service you provide, the more willing the community will be to support you. It is a real measure of community acceptance and support if you can develop that source of funding", she said.

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