More distress from community broadcasting as the new Government apparently prevaricates over the sector that needs decisions perhaps more than any other if it is to survive.

Just before the budget, there was the train wreck that led to community radio being shut out of ownership of digital infrastructure, apparently thanks to the inability of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s office to make a decision on bringing forward already committed funding for digital switchover.

The disaster continues. Although there was some moderately good news for community broadcasting in the budget, the failure to bring forward digital transition funding into the year when it matters is having devastating effects, creating a funding hole in the very 12 months when the sector needs to be gearing up for digital broadcasting.

This black hole has meant that the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia has been forced to lay off its Digital Radio Project manager and his assistant. Their jobs come to an end on 30 June.

The CBAA is developing a submission to Conroy’s department asking for further funds to fill the gap, but in the meantime one is forced to wonder whether anyone in the Minister’s’s office cares about the community sector.

A Conroy spokesman said this morning: “I can confirm that the Government will provide $11.2 million over three years to the community broadcasting sector for digital radio starting in 2009-10. The Minister has previously indicated his commitment to ensure the participation of community broadcasters in the rollout of digital radio.”

I have written previously about the “fade out” faced by community television as more households switch to digital technology without digital spectrum being made available for community television. This is a long-standing problem not tackled by the previous minister, Helen Coonan, and still festering away on Conroy’s watch as we await key decisions on the use of spectrum.

Is there a grand plan about to be revealed, or is it neglect?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey