Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield

Community broadcasting set to receive $12m in extra funding and community TV licence extension

Helen Henry, 15th September 2017

As part of negotiations to pass the Government's proposed media reforms in the Senate yesterday, additional support will be provided to the community broadcasting sector.

The Senate has passed the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Broadcasting Reform) Bill 2017, amending the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and impacting on media ownership and diversity regulations applicable to commercial broadcasters.

Key changes include:

  • Abolishing the 75% audience reach rule, which prohibits commercial TV licensees from controlling licences whose combined licence area populations is greater than 75% of the Australian population.
  • Abolishing the 2 out of 3 cross-media control rule, which prohibits control over more than two out of three regulated media platforms in any one commercial radio licence area.
  • Providing additional local programming obligations for regional commercial television broadcasting licensees.

As part of the Government's negotiations, community radio is set to receive additional funding support of $12 million and community television an extension on licensing. 

CBAA Chief Executive Officer Jon Bisset expressed his appreciation of the support received across the political spectrum:

"The Community Broadcasting Association of Australia is appreciative of support for community broadcasting from the Government, Australian Labor Party, Nick Xenophon Team, Senator Hinch, Senator Lambie, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Australian Greens.  This additional funding will support community digital radio, enhanced community radio news services, streaming services and training, as well as the extension of licensing for community television."

Commenting on the media reforms themselves, Bisset said they represent a significant shift in the media landscape that has significant implications for Australian broadcasters and communities.

"The media reforms will impact on radio broadcasters across all sectors. Most importantly, though, these changes will impact all Australians and their communities."

"Access to diverse media is a cornerstone of an open society, strong democracy and vibrant culture, and local content production gives a platform for sharing local voices and stories critical to building strong communities." 

"5.3 million people listen to community radio in Australia each week and these 450+ community radio services make crucial contributions to media diversity and local free-to-air content today and will continue to do so as the full impact of these reforms is realised."

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This paper examines the changing contribution of local radio to the democratic process in Australia. It takes the whole local area approach suggested by the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, to examine all the services available in three regional areas to assess their potential in facilitating public sphere discussion, disputation and deliberation, and (since the common assumption is that deregulation severely curtailed these processes) it does this in a historical frame, comparing the changes in services from 1976 to 2001. Because of its strengths in the analysis of relationships between the state (public) and private sectors, Habermas’s public sphere theory is used to frame this discussion. Recent theoretical extensions have also seen the welcome elaboration of issues of power (Fraser, 1992, 2000) and the inclusion of a new and subtle range of cultural issues (Peters, 1993; McGuigan, 1997, 2004; Keane, 1998) inside its developing literature.


Very few scholars of community radio in Britain have discussed funding in detail since the introduction of full-time community radio licences in the country (Lewis 1977, 2008, 2012; Lewis and Booth 1989). Some have pointed out the possible pitfalls in the British case of reliance on social objectives funding (Gordon 2009). Bearing in mind the historical development of community radio in the United Kingdom, this article, traces the contours of the origins and development of community radio under the New Labour government. It discusses how the change in the political landscape, with the landslide victory of the Labour Party in 1997, affected the social, cultural and media policies that followed. While, in the end, the sector got what it had campaigned for since the first lobbying efforts in 1977 (Lewis and Booth 1989), the current shape of the sector was much influenced by the political context after 1997 and the strategies adopted to get the legislation through in 2004.


In 2004 the first, national, statistically robust, quantitative assessment of the Australian community broadcasting sector’s audience reach was undertaken. Conducted by McNair Ingenuity, this research provided a major breakthrough in the wider shift to a more audience-centred approach to managing the sector. The findings, significance and implications of this research are considered here. Following recent developments in critical cultural policy studies, this paper locates this renewed concern for community broadcasting audiences within a ‘larger cycle of decision-making’ (O’Regan, Balnaves and Sternberg 2002: 2). The particular influence of developments such as the emerging spectrum market and the imminent transition to digital transmission systems is discussed. These developments are important to understanding why community broadcasting resistance to market-based conceptions of audience is being overcome, and how audience-centredness might be used to facilitate the continuing development of this ‘third’ sector of Australian broadcasting.