28 August 2018

In the digital media environment, change is a constant.  But when it comes to diversity and localism, the principles are enduring. 

 It is crucial that the role of ethnic and multicultural media in Australia is sustained and enhanced into the future.  It’s high time we engaged in a dialogue to guide Australia’s future transition.

All around us, the media sector is transforming.  The promise of more, with digitisation and technological efficiencies, ushered in the challenge of less, with the fragmentation of audiences and the upheaval of long-established business models. Meanwhile, the very human need for connection with community, our instinct for cultural expression and the value of diversity, has remained.  Australia’s media sector has looked for ways to respond and adapt.

Like other sectors of the media, community broadcasters have been utilising complementary new platforms to engage, sustain and build their communities.  Meanwhile the broadcasting platform has continued to be the anchor to community, not least because of the ubiquity and stability of broadcasting, but because it is free to receive.

In my own electorate of Greenway in Western Sydney, Blacktown’s SWR TRIPLE 9 has both a broadcast and an online presence with links to social media and a live stream of the service.  Station 4EB FM offers programs both live and on demand, with a drop-down menu of services by language and program.  This is significant because it means that Blacktown’s many Filipino constituents (who comprise 70% of all Filipinos in Australia) might also enjoy a Brisbane perspective, from time to time.

In view of the seismic shifts occurring, the 2014 NEMBC conference theme very purposefully focussed on “The Challenge of Change” and what that meant for ethnic and multicultural community broadcasters – their role, the infrastructure they use and the quality of services they provide.  As I noted in my opening remarks at that conference in Darwin:

“The great question for us all as supporters of community broadcasting and for diversity is: how do we shape and respond to that change?”

The response from the then Communications Minister of the day, Malcolm Turnbull, did not augur well for the sector.  His response to address change in the community media sector was to send Community TV to an online only delivery model, which has seen services in Brisbane and Sydney all but disappear.

Labor recognises the importance of ethnic and multicultural broadcasters in enhancing digital inclusion, just as Labor also recognises the importance of technology in bridging the digital divide.

Labor has always believed in a future-proof National Broadband Network providing reliable internet access and supporting enhanced access to multicultural and community content services. Labor also recognises that this enhanced access is complementary to, rather than a replacement for, the value of broadcasting services, including Community TV services, which operate across Australia.

Broadcasters across Australia do a lot more than just broadcast these days.  With 4G well-established and game-changing technologies like 5G on the near horizon, we need a sensible dialogue about the future of our media and how best to serve our ethnic and multicultural communities, our indigenous communities, with the suite of options that may be available.

While it is fantastic to see more and more broadcasters with online offerings that can be enjoyed by ethnic and multicultural communities around the country, and overseas, it is essential that freely available broadcasting services remain front and centre in policy development.

Recent evidence from a joint study from Telstra, RMIT and Roy Morgan shows that the digital divide is widening in Australia.  With our population ageing, with wage growth stagnating and with the postcode lottery of the NBN, access to services remains a key issue.

Australia must commence a national discussion on the value, role and objectives of our media in the multimedia environment.

The NEMBC has been leading the way on the value and role of a multimedia environment that promotes social inclusion, cohesion and diversity and it will continue to do so.  I look forward to seeing the Australian Government follow suit.

This opinion piece was first published in The Ethnic Broadcaster Journal, August 2018.