COVID-19 and community radio - an important update from CBAA's CEO

Katrina Hughes, 28th March 2020
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The role community radio plays as a space for connection and community coming together is really being highlighted right now. While our listeners may be going outside less and less, they’re still connecting to local news, voices and updates, and being soothed with music and distraction through you and your teams. Stations are being inundated with phone calls, text messages and emails from listeners emphasising how community radio is helping them get through these very troubled times. A handful of many examples: 

  • Thanks SO much for continuing your show as we all self-isolate at home. Music soothes the soul especially during these times. Stay well and look after yourself mate!! Seth Yarra

  • Good morning Milo! It was a beautiful sunrise indeed. Just wanted to say thank you for the work you do. Radio is so important during these times to make people feel connected. The music in particular this morning is perfect way to ease into the day, definitely made me take a deep breath. Cheers Jes.

  • Thank you for continuing to broadcast good music and adapting creatively to the challenges. People might say that good music is 'not essential' for the times we live in, but in hard times there's even more need for beauty and human goodness. Thank you for your courage, and stay safe and beautiful. Olivia from Toorak

The CBAA must do all we can to support the community radio sector, for which the impact of COVID-19 is catastrophic. Station revenues, especially from sponsorship are down in many cases 100%. Stations are already laying off staff, volunteers are staying home. Some stations have had to shut their doors completely and/or have been forced to cancel their programs and activities. But we will get through this together.

Following is an update and summary of the key questions and issues that stations are raising with us. Click on the headings to take you through to the content.

Ensuring stations can keep broadcasting in case of further shutdowns

The CBAA is working hard to ensure that your studios remain accessible in the case of a state or nationwide lockdown. We want to ensure that community radio stations can remain accessible by personnel – even just one or two at a time, following strict hygiene and social distancing measures. This ensures that a single presenter or a tech can access facilities as needed. Community radio, like all media, will be a vital source of information as well as comfort over the coming few months.

Getting this confirmation is not simple, it’s an in-depth process as it is a state by state conversation. And it’s the entire media industry that this affects, not just community radio. I’m in contact with the Federal Government, the states and territories, ABC, SBS and other media organisations and we will provide further updates as soon as we have them.

Many stations are broadcasting remotely or partially remote and the innovation showed by stations so far is amazing. Keep up the great work! 

Stations must continue to follow Government rules on social distancing and hygiene, now and for the foreseeable future. This is essential if we are going to be allowed to keep accessing our studios.

CBF Grants

During this time of crisis, the CBAA is working with the CBF to do all we can to support community radio. Over the next few days the CBF, in consultation with the CBAA and other stakeholders will be reviewing, planning and considering the best way forward.

CBF have established a COVID-19 crisis Taskforce. This to identify the best way to use CBF funding to address station need. It will be working quickly and consulting appropriately. The CBAA supports expediated access to funding where possible and flexibility for stations’ to meet their needs.

The CBF announced yesterday that grant assessments have been temporarily put on hold for a four days until Tuesday 31 March when CBF meet again. This will also enable the CBF to see what can be done immediately to respond to the critical situation faced by stations. Many stations have advised us that what they applied for a few weeks ago is not what they need now – many just need support to pay the bills, others that they feel the process should continue. We will be working hard to ensure that some certainty is brought to this process next week and provide further updates as soon as we have them. These are challenging times for everyone. Please don’t hesitate to call us if you have any questions or concerns.

Government CSA Campaign

Bookings for the Federal Government sponsorship campaign have begun to roll out via Spots and Space, direct to stations or via State media representative agencies. The CBAA is calling for an increase in the governments spend on community radio and has had great support from members of parliament for this. Give us a call if any questions.

What other financial support is available?

All stations that employ staff and pay PAYG should get a minimum of $20,000 and up to $100,000 though the federal governments stimulus package. Whilst this doesn’t directly help stations that run on an entirely volunteer basis the CBAA is actively advocating support for these stations too. The situation continues to evolve and there is phenomenal calls for government support – we are in there working for you, including building the case for a one-off support package in respect of the Coronavirus impacts.

The State and Federal Governments have announced and are considering other stimulus and support. We will continue to update the sector. You can access more information about packages and support here.

I have also been asked to join the Charities Crisis Cabinet, co-Chaired by Rev Tim Costello AO and Susan Pascoe AM. Its purpose is to enable as many charities as possible to survive through this pandemic and contribute to building flourishing communities after the crisis.  It will draw on the broader charities sector to provide advice to governments, business, philanthropists and the community. Most Community Radio Stations are charities and I will also be sharing your feedback and suggestions at this broader level.

ACMA, licensing and requirements

The ACMA has recognised that this is an unprecedented situation - and understand that it may be hard for stations right now to access studios, supplies or even meet some regulatory requirements. To ensure stations can focus on maintaining their services, the ACMA is reconsidering reporting requirements and timeframes for responses to statutory notices.

As always, the ACMA would prefer you to be upfront if you are having challenges with meeting your licence renewal. Please call them if you have concerns on 02 9334 7922 or email via communitybroadcasting@acma.gov.au

CBAA Services

The CBAA has been running various virtual meetings and webinars and we will be announcing other opportunities and important conduits for station feedback next week. We will work together with you to co-design solutions for the host of new challenges we face. Some of the things we have done to date or are doing includes:

  • Providing six-month free access to the Community Radio Network for new subscribers/stations who are struggling to source content because of COVID-19. More than 25 stations have now signed up – let me know if you’d like to.
  • Sharing information to help you stay on-air and safe while doing so. Read our collated resources here and join the COVID-19 Facebook Group.
  • Commenced reviewing all our services and fees to see how we can best support stations
  • Presented several webinars in collaboration with CMTO and have more planned. They have been some of our most popular ever! Please join in ?? You can also watch them live on Facebook or watch back at a later date. Register for future ones or watch back here.
  • Our phones have been running hot as we provide support to hundreds of stations. Please don’t hesitate to call (02) 9310 2999 if you have any questions.

What else is CBAA doing?

It has been incredibly important to hear from so many stations – I’ve now personally spoken to nearly 70 on the phone in just the past week. I’m so proud of the creative responses and how everyone is pulling together and collaborating. It is a priority for the CBAA to understand the effects at a station level – and its different for every one of you. 

We want to hear from stations across Australia about what will assist them to remain operational. You can support this effort by continuing to share your feedback and suggestions with us. By email to Holly (hfriedlander@cbaa.org.au) or I, or feel free to call any time on (02) 9310 2999.

Getting this feedback and input is vital to making the case to Government and the CBF to ensure you are best supported to continue serving your community in this trying time. Conducting research and analysis to identify immediate and long-term impacts of COVID- 19 on stations and the broader community radio sector is critical. We emailed you yesterday to ask you to please complete this very short Financial Impact Form. If you haven’t already, please complete the form online now - it should only take 5-10 minutes. 

We are also working closely with the Federal Government and the Minister for Communications to provide advice and information to assist the Government’s response to this urgent crisis. The CBAA is making the case to Government for a one-off support package in respect of the Coronavirus impact.

That’s it from me for now, except to say a big and heartfelt THANK YOU!  I’m sure we are all feeling the very real pain of those that are experiencing difficulties that they never thought they would, and off the back of an unprecedented bushfire season which many of us are still grappling with. You and your teams are doing the very best you can in order to work through scenarios to achieve the best outcomes for your community radio station and community. 

The community radio sector should stand proud in front of the contribution you have made during this time. We matter, and there has been no greater evidence of this than right now. The genuine sense of community and companionship we offer the community has never been more important to maintain during this time of social distance and isolation.

Jon Bisset
CBAA CEO

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