The changes to media ownership laws demanded by the Nationals are set to guarantee a certain amount of local content on regional radio, which might sound like good news for regional listeners, but what about radio operators?

The Australian reports that regional operators, “big and small, have condemned new regulations that will force them to broadcast more local content.” Under the changes, regional radio stations will need to broadcast 4 1/2 hours of local and live content a day, and 12.5 minutes of news five days a week.

And Macquarie Regional Radio has warned it would be forced to close at least ten stations in towns in Tasmania, Western Australia and Queensland under new local content requirements. They argue that the smaller stations simply can’t afford to provide that much local content.

“It’s unfortunate that regional radio, the smallest arm of the three major media …is the one that’s bearing the costs of the compromise,” a radio insider told Crikey.
“The problem with radio is that it has the largest number of owners… 103 separate markets and three dozen radio owners — two dozen of those would be owners who run two to four stations in small remote areas. They’re very small businesses, the equivalent of a 7 Eleven shop in Melbourne in terms of turnover.”
A radio station operator agreed, “Regional radio stations range from small milk bars to large milk bars and that most of them are owned by small independents…”

So why did the Nationals pick on the little guys of local regional radio? “It’s the one medium where politicians get the most local coverage,” says one insider. “It’s the least expensive to produce in the smallest markets, and in really small markets there isn’t a local newspaper… so local radio is the medium that the pollies have the best chance of getting an interview on and raising local affairs.”

And according to some, country radio hasn’t proved to be a strong voice when it comes to lobbying Canberra. “They would’ve used Commercial Radio Australia as their advocate… but because they’re an industry body they have to strike a balance between small and large, so you have Austereo at the other end of the spectrum… and they may want to sell out in the future…,” says one insider.

“You have to keep in mind that most markets already comply with these local content guidelines,” says the insider. “It will only be in a handful of markets where they don’t meet that standard… and if they don’t put on that amount of news what’s the purpose?”

At the end of the day, it seems it’s the same old story when it comes to Coonan’s media legislation – “the big guys got some of what they wanted… the little guys didn’t get what they want and have to pay the price…”

Peter Fray

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