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$15.3 million for town squares in a feudal broadband system

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Community broadcasting Public broadcasting Radio broadcasting Broadcasting Australia
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Forget media diversity in the fast broadband world. The new model for local media is top-down and centrally controlled.

While community media was largely ignored in the 2009–10 Federal Budget, the ABC reaped $15.3 million to begin providing “regional broadband hubs.” The money will be used to train local “user-generated” content makers and to employ a new cohort of ABC regional staff to manage them.

In a self-congratulatory internal memo following the Budget announcement, the ABC’s new Head of Radio yesterday stated that the funding will “enrich our own websites and see us take another concrete step towards being the ‘town square’ in local communities.” The initiative will be directed by the Head of Multiplatform and Content Development. According to Dundas, the mission is to broaden the ABC’s role “to encourage and foster regional communities to develop skills in contributing to digital content.”

Meanwhile the only funding increase for the community media sector was an undisclosed sum for digital radio transmission (not for content) and $2.5 million over four years for the continuation of the National Training Program. The comparatively small training amount will be used to provide certified management and broadcast training, targeted at underserved groups. Funding for Indigenous broadcasting was adjusted for indexation, with no real increase for new projects. Community television did not receive any funds for digital conversion, despite repeated promises from successive Ministers. The national Indigenous television channel, or NITV, has also been overlooked for digital conversion, while $140 million has been allocated for an information campaign to alert consumers to the imminent analogue switch-off. The community broadcasting sector does not have the means to support online media development by member stations, let alone non-broadcast media organisations.

The irony of the online world is that the newfound capacity for media participation is not being matched with the kinds of community-based structures that would ensure access and collaboration at all levels. Jim Remedio, chair of the Australian Indigenous Communications Association and Head of Radio at CAAMA in Alice Springs, says that the government’s approach to online content development is backward, displaying no real understanding of grassroots innovation or media autonomy. “The town square metaphor is mediaeval,” he says. “Putting community development in the hands of the ABC will eliminate local ownership. For the Indigenous sector, this kind of centralisation is akin to assimilation.” CAAMA has recently had to suspend its award-winning online news service as there are no funds within the Indigenous media sector to support web-based initiatives.

Community radio audiences grew by 21 per cent between 2006 and 2008. Audiences gave “local information and news” as their main reason for listening.

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