Community digital radio is set for a mass switch-off around the country after the federal government failed to fill an apparent $1.4 million funding shortfall in this year’s budget.
Budget papers show that Stephen Conroy’s Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy will provide $5.4 million over five years “to assist the production and transmission of community radio”, but none of that new money is specifically reserved for digital or even for community broadcasters. The sector was seeking an extra $1.4 million next financial year for digital, or $5.9 million over four years with appropriate indexation.
Community radio will receive regular funding totalling $15.5 million in 2013-14, of which just $2.3 million is set aside for digital.
Stations ran a prominent pre-budget campaign highlighting the shortfall, writing to federal MPs and lampooning Treasurer Wayne Swan and Conroy as wreckers of grassroots broadcasting. Thirty-seven stations say that without the extra cash they may have to pull the plug.
The $5.4 million in new money, first announced in April, includes $2.7 million over four years for 20 community stations to access subsidised broadcast site access and one-off funding to help 1261 community satellite retransmission sites to upgrade reception equipment. A further $2.7 million would go to continue the Australian Music Radio Airplay Project. Some $2 million will be provided in 2013-14, $1 million each in 2014-15 and 2015-16 and $1.1 million in 2016-17. But this new bucket seems strange given that most of wouldn’t necessarily end up in the hands of stations.
Government sources told Crikey inside the budget lock-up that community radio should be able to find its own cash to make-up the shortfall, if indeed there was one. Digital radio has had a low take-up rate, they added.
Community Broadcasting Association of Australia president Adrian Basso said the sector was “disappointed: It’s not over yet and we’re going to continue the fight to have it restored and we’re mindful that it’s an election year.”
“They’ve managed to find $100 million dollars for ABC and SBS and so not finding $1.4 million for us is unbelievable. It’s a blow to diversity and fairness.”
A spokesperson for Conroy confirmed there was no new money for community digital radio in this year’s budget.
*Disclosure: Andrew Crook is a director of analogue and digital broadcaster SYN Media