Community broadcasting has grown rapidly in Australia over a relatively short period.
By 2016, the specialist media sector was servicing more than 5.3 million people each week in mostly regional, rural and remote areas as the number of community radio stations expanded to 450 from 270 just eight years previously. Community broadcasters now well outnumber Australia’s licensed commercial radio stations.
The impact of this is evident where community radio stations deliver the only available local media services to some of the nation’s most remote communities, and to regional communities that no longer have public or commercial radio services.
As community broadcasting relies heavily on support from the Australian Government, challenges exist to ensure public funding is allocated appropriately and effectively.
Over an extended period between 2002 and 2016, the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research undertook three important studies to highlight the impact of community broadcasters across diverse populations including Indigenous and ethnic communities. The research ultimately led to improved funding for the community broadcasting sector while also informing government licensing across the sector.
Described by the Community Broadcasting Foundation as a project of ‘national and international significance’ and a ‘groundbreaking study of audience response to community radio’, the research has played a pivotal role in the expansion of community broadcasting in Australia.
The work helped shape the Australian Parliament Research Paper on the future of community broadcasting in 2014. The research showed that community broadcasters play vital roles as community organisers and first-level service providers, positively impacting vulnerable, minority and local communities.
The audience research techniques developed by the Griffith research team have been replicated in similar studies internationally.
A Council of Europe report in 2008 referred to this research as ‘of major importance’ in terms of its innovative methodology, ‘as a model for use elsewhere’, and as an ‘impressive collaboration of academic, government sector, and user organisations’.
Organisers of the Civil Media Conference in Austria in 2011 described the research as arguably the most extensive qualitative audience analysis undertaken in community media.
The research gave ethnic communities in urban and regional areas the opportunity to detail the importance of community radio programs to them. Indigenous communities highlighted the role of community media in maintaining their languages, culture and music.
The work undertaken by researchers from the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, led by Professor Susan Forde, has spawned further investigations of community policy internationally, highlighting the importance of community broadcasting in countries that have yet to embrace its benefits.