Speech for CBAA Conference
12.00–12.10pm, Friday 22 October 2010
Theme – Let’s Take Charge of Our Future
Title – Good business practice in community broadcasting
Speaker – Olya Booyar, General Manager; Content, Consumer and Citizen Division, ACMA
Duration – 10 minutes
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, it is good to be here with you and to learn more about the issues that concern you at this, my first, CBAA conference as the General Manager of the Content, Consumer and Citizen Division at the ACMA. Before the ACMA, I was Deputy Director of the Classification Board, and prior to that, I was in various roles at the SBS, including as Station Manager of SBS Radio. I am also the President of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television.
Community broadcasting services
I think it is always valuable to remind ourselves of the size of the community broadcasting sector. It is worthwhile to note that as at 30 September 2010, there were 456 community radio broadcasting licences (356 long-term and 100 temporary). This compares with 273 commercial radio broadcasting licences on the same date. Also, there are more than 20,000 volunteers and some 1,000 staff working in community radio stations. These numbers paint a picture of how broad and significant the sector is and why we take it so seriously.
Community broadcasting services, like other broadcasting services, are operating in a dynamic environment. Both radio and television services are moving to transmitting in digital mode. This brings challenges to the community broadcasting, with its heavy reliance on volunteers, one of your hallmarks.
While not a hallmark, your ability to cover local issues is certainly one of your strong suits. As the Honourable Dr Mike Kelly AM, Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, said on Q and A on Monday 18 October:
[...] some of the reports on BR projects in my specific electorate were just totally unbalanced and inaccurate. There was no question about that. When you drill down and look at each one of those projects, I was a bit dismayed about that, but I think the reassuring thing is that we are seeing a democratisation of media now. [...] We now have community radio stations that are gaining a lot more influence. For example, in Tumut, the local community radio station there, Sounds of the Mountains, has by far the overwhelming majority of the listening audience. So I think it is a good thing to have diversity in media reporting and competing sources of information to balance your access to what's being told to you.
So the more you demonstrate your value to your local communities (as the Parliamentary Secretary is affirming), the stronger your case for maintaining your position as an effective and contributing player in the Australian broadcasting sector, especially given it’s such a rapidly changing media landscape.
One way by which you must demonstrate your value to your local communities is by complying with your licence obligations. Your ability to do so shows your commitment to being a good corporate citizen. This is essential to maintaining your reputation as a strong local media player, the credibility of the community broadcasting sector and the confidence of the regulator.
Throughout my professional career, I have been well aware that community broadcasting services play a crucial role in promoting diversity and contributing to the development of our cultural identity, especially at the local level. Community broadcasting services also contribute to the social fabric and well-being of a civil society, particularly through coverage of matters of local significance and by encouraging dialogue and cooperation between disparate groups and ideas.
The theme of this conference is a very apt one - Let’s Take Charge of Our Future. So how do you do this? In my view, the answer to this question is straightforward from a regulatory perspective: you already have free access to an important public resource – broadcasting spectrum. So the real question for me is: how do you make best use of that spectrum so that you continue to have a relevant and enduring role in the broadcasting landscape? The answer to this question is more complex.
I will start by focusing on good business practices, as I believe that these are fundamental to the success of your services. The ACMA is sponsoring the Good Business Practice stream at this conference because, as I’ve implied above, good business practices are the bedrock upon which a successful service will lie, enabling you to continue to maintain your relevance into the future.
Good business practices
So what is good business practice for a community radio station? A fundamental start must surely be to have in place practices that enable you to comply with five key licence conditions:
- the prohibition on advertising;
- the time limit on sponsorship announcements;
- representing the community interest;
- encouraging community participation; and
- not operating the service for profit or as part of a profit-making enterprise.
Let’s consider what good business practices can help you to comply with these licence conditions.
Prohibition on advertising and the time limit on sponsorship announcements
The two licence conditions – the prohibition on advertising and the time limit on sponsorship announcements – often go hand-in-hand. If a licensee has received financial or in-kind consideration for the broadcast of a promotional announcement, it must be acknowledged on air. The announcement must be tagged for it to be a sponsorship announcement. If an announcement does not have a tag, then it is likely to be an advertisement.
Good business practices in relation to these two licence conditions would include:
- Documented and easily accessible policies and a clear fee structure for the sale of sponsorship timeslots;
- Appropriate records of sponsorship sales, including sales receipts and signed agreements; and
- Clear guidelines for presenters regarding announcements made during their program.
Implementing these practices would enable you to have:
- transparency regarding the sale of sponsorship and
- accountability and documentation in the event a station is asked to provide evidence to demonstrate that it is complying with these licence conditions.
These two licence conditions are well covered in the ACMA’s Community Broadcasting Sponsorship Guidelines with which you are no doubt familiar. So rather than go through those, I will move on to the next two licence conditions.
Representing the community interest and encouraging community participation
Again, these two licence conditions – representing the community interest and encouraging community participation – often go hand-in-hand. By encouraging participation in the operations and programming of a service, a licensee is best able to demonstrate that it is continuing to represent its community interest.
Good business practices in relation to these two licence conditions include:
- Regular surveys or consulting with the community to identify their needs and interests, including unmet demands and changing needs;
- Documented policies and procedures on how unmet and changing needs can be addressed, when and by whom;
- Boards and committees that the community can join so that they can participate in decision-making processes;
- Documented policies and procedures on how members of the community may be involved in producing or presenting programs, including applying for airtime, with a clear fee structure where applicable;
- A programming committee or other structure that receives and considers applications for program involvement or access to airtime;
- A program schedule that is updated regularly, based on changing and unmet needs; and
- An easily accessible register of airtime sales and a transparent receipt system.
These practices help to ensure that your service:
- engages with the community and
- responds to the community
in a transparent and accountable way and the regulator can take confidence that you are engaging and responding accordingly.
If you would like more information on these points, I refer you to the ACMA’s Community Broadcasting Participation Guidelines, released earlier this year.
Not operating a service for profit or as part of a profit-making enterprise
The licence condition – to not operate a service for profit or as part of a profit-making enterprise – is the subject of the ACMA’s Community Broadcasting Not-for-Profit Guidelines, which were released in draft form in July, for comment by November. The draft was developed from information obtained when investigating complaints and in assessing licence renewal applications. It became evident to us that there isn’t a clear understanding of what this licence condition means.
For example, compliance with the not-for-profit licence condition does not mean that a licensee cannot be a financial success. Rather, it requires any surplus to be used for the benefit of the broadcasting service. This can occur in many ways, including through repairs to the station premises or improvements to broadcast studios, upgrading transmission equipment or training staff and volunteers. Using a surplus by investing in your station has obvious benefits, including for the communities you represent.
Compliance with this licence condition also requires licensees to not operate as part of a profit-making enterprise. This means that licensees need to be careful of arrangements and dealings they may have with third parties who are, or may be, making a profit through their association with a licensee. The draft Guidelines developed by the ACMA discuss this issue in greater detail.
Good business practices in relation to the not-for-profit licence condition include:
- Documented policies and procedures for financial management, including a costed strategic business plan;
- Clearly identified salaried and contract positions, including transparent recruitment procedures and records of payments;
- Checking that the terms and conditions in an agreement do not place a licensee at risk of non-compliance before entering into a commercial arrangement; and
- Ensuring that only authorised persons who have a sound understanding of the risks sign an agreement on behalf of the licensee - and that a copy is kept and is easily retrievable.
These practices emphasise:
- the importance of good record keeping and
- the overall responsibility of the licensee board or management committee to regularly scrutinise records, including sales records for airtime and sponsorship.
Which brings me to my final point on good business practices, and that is to highlight the importance of overall good governance and that of licensee boards or management committees performing their duties in a responsible manner, including:
- · having an adequate understanding of all legislative requirements;
- · acting with care and diligence; and
- · avoiding any perceived or actual conflicts of interest.
I urge you all to review your current business practices if you have not done so recently. There is always room for improvement and, if changes are made sooner rather than later, this will help underpin the valuable work of your service as well as placing you in a good position when your licence is up for renewal.
ACMA support for the sector
Before I conclude, there is one other issue I would like to address. We, at the ACMA, have picked up on some concerns that the ACMA seems to ask for a lot from resource-poor community broadcasting services that are heavily reliant on volunteers. Let me both acknowledge that we’re alive to your concerns and let me also reiterate that the ACMA administers the requirements set out in legislation and we can ask for no more, or less, than what is stipulated.
I can say that we, at the ACMA, genuinely understand the diverse nature of the sector and the greatly constrained funds and resources that you have at your disposal, such that we are actually very conscious in administering community broadcasting licence requirements in ways that do not place unnecessary financial or administrative burdens on licensees. We do this, for example, by having the Community Broadcasting Group (our ‘one stop shop’) for you to go to with any questions, a shop that does not exist for any other broadcasting sector. We call you before we send you a letter commencing an investigation or to let you know of additional information we require for your licence renewal. In cases where the Community Broadcasting Group is unable to help you, we work very closely with the CBAA and would generally refer you to them for assistance.
We are working to further assist you by reviewing the application form for the renewal of a community radio broadcasting licence, the B66. The draft has been aligned with other application forms, including for a community radio broadcasting licence. This is so that when we assess applications for the renewal of a community broadcasting licence against the statutory merit criteria, we can bear in mind the extent to which a licensee has continued to represent the community interest it represented when the licence was allocated or last renewed.
ACMA support for the sector extends to our working with you when we take enforcement action as a result of a breach investigation or during licence renewal. We know this can be a very difficult and stressful time, and can easily deflate the morale and spirits of the volunteers who give so enthusiastically of their time, and also of station staff who often have to perform the ‘fishes and loaves’ trick. Our aim is not to punish, but to both discharge our statutory obligations and assist you to comply with your licence obligations (and get renewed, and prosper and flourish).
I know for a fact that when we work together, with good will and good intentions, we not only achieve compliance, but also strengthen the service along the way.
Of course, in some situations, the ACMA has to take remedial action. And in rare cases, enforcement action has resulted in the cancellation or non-renewal of a licence. This action is at the extreme end and is never taken lightly.
So if you find yourself in a situation where regulatory compliance is an issue, I encourage you to talk to us to help you resolve your concerns in the most productive way possible.
In closing, I would like to reiterate the importance of having good business practices. They will help you not only to comply, but also to demonstrate that you comply, with the licence conditions that encapsulate the essence of community broadcasting services. This will allow you to take charge of your future by demonstrating relevance, remaining resilient and maintaining an enduring role in the Australian broadcasting landscape.
I strongly believe that Australians are very fortunate to have such a large and dynamic community broadcasting sector and good business practices can only strengthen your operations and help you to grow and thrive into the future.
If you have any questions, do talk with us during the conference. I also encourage you to come to the Good Business Practice stream this afternoon, when we will cover Regulatory Obligations: Guidelines and B66.