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Voices & Vision All About Community Broadcasting

CBAA News, 18th December 2014

Community broadcasting has helped shape the media landscape in Australia. It’s recognised internationally as one of the most successful examples of grassroots media.

It distinguishes itself from other media by providing the local community with access and participation in media production and management. Localism and independence are defining features.

Community broadcasting provides news, information, cultural content and entertainment to communities defined by geographical location or common interest, including Indigenous, specialist music, ethnic, educational, youth, religious and print disabled.

Australia’s community media sector is known for its size and reach. The vast number of stations spread across the country form a network that rivals commercial and public broadcasters. For many communities it is the only media producing local content in their area.

Reflecting Australia’s immense cultural and linguistic diversity, it creates an array of services and programs, and broadens the media choices available to all of us.

Community broadcasting is taking every opportunity to expand into new online and free-to-air digital platforms. Our skills and experience working on the ground in diverse communities are providing unique and exciting contributions to the digital economy.

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On Friday May 13, a national launch event was held to celebrate the establishment of community digital radio services in mainland capital cities around the country.


Griffith University researchers in 2002 presented the final results of a national survey of community radio stations. The final report ‘Culture Commitment Community – The Australian Community Radio Sector’ contained a wealth of information on the sector and covered many ‘station–based’ perspectives on issues such as localism, funding and sponsorship, Indigenous and ethnic programming and training. A key criticism of this report was the lack of data on community radio audiences. Two years later, an expanded research team received funding from the Australian Research Council along with financial and in-kind support from Department of Communication, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA), the Community Broadcasting Foundation (CBF) and the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA) to investigate community radio and television audiences. This project is the first comprehensive qualitative audience study of the community media sector in Australia and responds to a need within the sector, from policy bodies and the broader Australian community, to better understand community broadcasters and their diverse audiences. Internationally, this project, in both scale and approach, is unprecedented. Thus, it heralds an exciting and pioneering stage in community broadcasting research. This paper outlines the aims and objectives of the project and our methodology for accessing Australian community media audiences. A qualitative engagement with the diversity of audiences characteristic of the community media sector has demanded new ways of doing audience research. This paper discusses some of the methodological hurdles we have crossed in our attempts to negotiate the research terrain and we raise some of the questions associated with the qualitative method and assert its validity and portability as a tool for better understanding and knowing the nature and composition of community media audiences in Australia.


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.