ACMA media release: The Australian Communications and Media Authority has announced a new approach and a number of ongoing initiatives to improve its interactions with the community broadcasting sector. The new approach will be more proactive, entail a review of processes and procedures and have a focus on improved information, consultation and transparency

This sector is incredibly diverse and its several hundred members vary widely in their size and resources and the quality of their governance arrangements. We have gone back to first principles and are looking for better ways to do business with the sector. The aim is to ensure sector members continue to serve the community while at the same time making the regulator more accessible and more accountable,’ said Chris Chapman, ACMA Chairman.The first step of ACMA’s new approach to interaction with the community broadcasting sector is the establishment of a new ACMA team, the Community Broadcasting Group (CBG). One aim of the CBG is to interact with the community broadcasting sector and, in particular, its peak bodies in a highly consultative manner.

The CBG’s work encompasses all licence allocations and renewals, complaints and investigations, compliance and enforcement, and the monitoring and review of the codes of practice that govern community radio and community television broadcasting services. A single group dealing with this range of matters will deliver efficiencies and ensure a more consistent approach across the range of issues experienced by the community broadcasting sector. This, in turn, should minimise overlap or delay.

As at 30 June 2007, there were 358 community radio broadcasting services, compared to 274 commercial radio broadcasting services.

‘This is a large number of community radio broadcasting services. As they obtain access to valuable free-to-air spectrum at little cost, it is important for ACMA to administer the legislative provisions in accordance with the public interest and in the manner intended by Parliament,’ said Mr Chapman.

‘The emphasis in the past has been on licence renewal decisions and investigations arising from specific complaints. While these processes will remain important, they are "blunt instruments" for the community broadcasting sector and the majority of community stations are likely to benefit from an increased emphasis on information and education throughout the life of their licences. This could take the form of more comprehensive and up-to-date guidelines on the various regulatory requirements of the sector and a speedier dissemination of information about decisions that set precedents for the sector.’

The requirement for ACMA to consider whether to renew each community broadcasting licence every five years came into effect in December 2002. Between 1 July 2004 and 29 February 2008, ACMA assessed 276 community radio renewal applications. Of this number, 271 licences were renewed and five licences were not renewed due to serious problems with their services. The figures suggest that the community radio sector, as a whole, is operating reasonably effectively although several non-renewals have given rise to angst in some quarters. Overall, however, the process has ensured that community radio remains open and accountable to the communities they are licensed to serve.

A highlight of ACMA’s improved communication with the sector is the establishment of a single community broadcasting portal on the ACMA homepage, providing a single point of access to a broad array of information and resources for, and about, community broadcasting services. The publication of a greater range of reports and information relevant to community broadcasting will be a growing feature of the new portal.

ACMA’s intention is that the new approach will support the community broadcasting sector’s growth by providing improved processes, procedures and information products. Community broadcasting licensees should benefit from the enhanced transparency and greater accessibility. Greater compliance with the relevant licence conditions and codes of practice is expected to be a positive result from the more pro-active assistance to be provided to the sector.