In times of crisis or change, almost 10 million regional Aussies rely on radio. That’s all at risk

Fiona Ellis-Jones, ARN's head of news and information, explains how the future of regional radio will be impacted if the PPCA is successful in having the current music cap removed.

It can be easy to underestimate the powerful role radio plays in regional Australia.

That unparalleled ability to unite. Sometimes divide. But always to connect.

For the 9.6 million Aussies who live in our regions, radio brings people and perspectives together. From Bundaberg to Bendigo, local on-air voices are trusted companions, reflecting their community and providing a sense of belonging.

And nothing demonstrates that more than in times of crisis or change. The reassurance of the local radio voice to explain. To ease raw emotions and the fear of the unknown. Radio is a vital platform for fostering real-time dialogue and engagement on the issues that matter to communities. Radio is a town crier for news and information.

During times of emergency, local journalists act as literal lifelines of information. In many parts of regional Australia, radio remains the sole provider of local news and current affairs. Managing breaking news. Delivering the most devastating of developments. Guiding communities to safety. This year alone we have provided rolling news coverage for fires, floods and cyclones.

Traditional media outlets have been forced to adapt or face obsolescence. Radio has pivoted to audio on-demand. We’ve embraced new technology, that enables us to continue with our craft of storytelling. Time and time again radio has proven resilient and relevant. And there’s a critical reason for this – we offer listeners a unique blend of immediacy, localism, and personality that digital platforms struggle to replicate.

It’s our ability to pivot quickly to meet the demands of audiences.

It’s our enduring presence in cars and homes that makes us a stalwart in the face of this wider industry upheaval.

While our distribution methods have changed, radio remains a way to amplify the stories and issues that matter most to audiences. The preservation of local identities. A platform to celebrate local achievements, mourn collective losses, and provide a platform for diverse voices to be heard. A sense of belonging. A connection that cannot be quantified in financial terms alone.

But despite radio’s adaptations and important role in the community, I, like many within the industry, have deep concerns around the unintended consequences from the potential amendments to the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth).

These changes will impact the viability of Australian radio, particularly in regional and remote communities. The proposed removal of the cap on royalty payments for sound recordings would increase operating costs and in turn lead to the scaling back of original local news content to the minimum required for compliance.

These changes will also kill any inclination to innovate and expand.

They will force reflection on how radio networks operate and how additional costs are absorbed, with already stretched resource and personnel the first line of sight. The cuts may lead to a significantly diminished product. Without this local content, regional Australia risks being left in the dark, isolated from the broader discourse, and disconnected from their community.

I’ve worked in broadcast news for more than two decades. Throughout that time, I’ve seen dramatic disruption to the news landscape — with the rise of digital media, streaming services, social platforms, and the constant diversification of audience consumption habits.

This debate is not about politics; it’s about the reality of being a viable commercial media player in 2024 and beyond. And with the sanctity of news being eroded on many levels, we have a responsibility to prioritise and protect local content.

The future of public interest journalism and free media depends on it.

Fiona Ellis-Jones is the Head of News & Information at ARN – based at 7HOFM in Hobart. She was a witness into the recent Senate Inquiry into the recent Copyright Legislation Amendment (Fair Play for Radio Play). The committee is due to report back in June 2024.


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