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Just a bit late, again

13 May 2011

Ellie Rennie looks at what the federal budget means for community and Indigenous broadcasters

FUNDING for community and Indigenous broadcasters seems always to be at least a year out of sync with wider policy changes. Back in mid-April, when Melbourne’s community radio stations launched their new digital stations in Fed Square, everyone seemed to be putting on a brave face. During the first hour, the usual camaraderie that occurs when community broadcasters get together was bolstered by a simultaneous live broadcast of the event across all stations. The conversation that took place in the second hour was more along the lines of “now what?”

The federal government had provided funding in the 2009–10 budget for digital radio transmission infrastructure but nothing for programming. Stations were concerned that without additional funding they would have no choice but to simulcast their analogue signals instead of using the digital channels for new programming and the development of multi-platform content. Luckily, the 2011–12 budget includes a commitment of $12.5 million over four years, specifically for digital radio programming. Metropolitan community radio stations will be relieved.

Meanwhile, the Indigenous Broadcasting Program has finally been returned to the Communications portfolio after a frustrating spell in Arts. But the situation for Indigenous broadcasters is still unclear, despite a major review of the sector late last year. The budget delivers NITV yet another lifeline to help it get organised ($15.2 million), with the likelihood of a major restructure. But that leaves only an additional $1 million for the rest of the Indigenous Broadcasting Program. The most likely scenario is that this will be split among stations in five capital cities, twenty-two regional centres and an extensive remote media network.

It seems that the very detailed and encouraging review (conducted by Neville Stevens) has not yet resulted in any real changes for the non-metropolitan Indigenous broadcasting sector. To quote Indigenous poet Ali Cobby Eckermann, another year of waiting is getting to be “a little bit long time.” •

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