Glazed over? Rod Brice explores compliance | radioinfo

Glazed over? Rod Brice explores compliance

Wednesday 29 January, 2014

If ever there was two words to glaze over the eyes of a Commercial Regional Radio General Manager or Content Director its “ACMA Compliance”. 

Just the mention of it and quicker than Houdini the pupils dilate and you can almost begin to see the first symptoms of the walking dead.

When the Federal Government of the time in 2007 pushed through the changes to the Broadcast Services Act to allow for larger cross media groups on the regional landscape, in its rush, so close to an election, it created a monster which was not loved or willing to be owned by anyone it seems, even those politicians who created it. The Australian Communications and Media Authority drew the short straw and it was its job to interpret this group of thoughts and for Regional Radio Stations affected (read almost everyone) to comply.

For an industry that prides itself on adaptability and quick change, the whole concept of specific content, like news and weather reports being locked into timeslots forever or only being able to change the time slots of local news after filling out paperwork and applying to a government department, this was a massive and frustrating challenge.

All RA1 Commercial Radio licence holders were required to have specific local content (97% were already doing this), but some of the most onerous of conditions that came into place was for Commercial Radio Stations who have had a “trigger event” occur. These “trigger event” stations have now had some of the conditions eased, but before we look at what that means for the future it’s worth a reminder of what was done. 

In a free economy some of the most startling conditions developed one night late in the back rooms of Canberra for the revised Broadcasting Services Act were the ideas that following a “trigger event” for Regional Commercial stations, staffing numbers, studio hours and production studio hours should remain the same…. forever! The only leeway was with staffing numbers, they would need to remain at the most no less than 5% of the original numbers at the time of the “trigger event”.  So if you had 5 full time equivalent staff, the least you could have would be 4.75 FTE staff… forever. 

Hey snap out of it I can see you reaching for the no-doze!

By the way if you consistently supplied more than your local content plan you could be instructed that you have done such a great job that (wait for it) the new higher numbers would be your new benchmark…forever. Way to encourage more local content. 

All of the judgment calls are done by the ACMA employee who drew the short straw to monitor your market with a stop watch and the authority to decide what was local and what isn’t. I can only imagine the private groans from staff at the ACMA when they are allocated the riveting and pedantic task of looking after Commercial Radio Compliance. You actually have to feel sorry for them.

Some semblance of sensibility occurred around 20 months ago when further adjustments were done to the act, in particular the freezing of staff numbers, production hours and studio hours would only continue for two years after a “trigger event,” after that you became the master of your own destiny again. As a commercial Regional Radio station owner, if you are foolhardy and screw up the right mix of staff and studio hours in the market and the local audience, business’ will punish you and kill your revenue. If you give the impression you are deserting the local market you will pay the price. It’s your million dollar asset and it’s not like every market doesn’t now have literally hundreds of thousands of other generic choices on-line they can go to.

Importantly the two years of waiting by many of those under the direction of this part of the BSA conclude this year. The effect will be a period of potentially dramatic change in many regional commercial radio markets.  When the brakes are off who will have wisdom and who will have short term views will become apparent, unless of course the “trigger event” station is purchased by someone else, then everything stays the same for a further two years.    ZZZZZZ… huh what… sorry even I started to doze off.

Some things have, however, not changed. Minimum levels of “material of local significance” remain in place for nearly all except remote and racing broadcasters.  For “trigger event” stations, they are still required to supply at least 12.5 minutes of local news each normal workday, plus weathers and local community service announcements. I have seen this requirement pushed onto markets who in their entire 60 to 75 year history had never had a local news bulletin because frankly almost nothing happens in the town, but now through plain journalistic hard work the audience can get the latest on the missing cockatoo from Jacks pub only on Commercial Radio and because ABC Local wouldn’t touch it. 

I for one totally understand the need for minimum levels of “material of local significance”, it’s a worthy price of admission to be in this playground, but the day that most of these incredibly convoluted regulations are properly addressed will I suspect not just be greeted with cheers from the CRA members, but also quietly in the hallways of Pyrmont & Belconnen. 

Hey you in the back row, you can wake up now!

Rod Brice recently left Southern Cross Austereo, and is now a consultant, with specialties in regional radio, programming and research. 

Rod is contactable at [email protected]

This article is written exclusively for radioinfo.

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