The fact that the community ethnic and multicultural broadcasting sector didn’t receive additional funding in the latest budget reflects a misunderstanding of the important role of ethnic media in Australian society.
Ethnic print and broadcasting have a long history in Australia, dating back to at least 1848 with the publication of Die Deutsche Post.
Early foreign language broadcasting featured on commercial radio in the 1930s, and throughout the middle of the 20th century. This was before the boom days of the 1970s, when both the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) and community radio were firmly established.
Today, along with SBS, more than 100 community radio stations feature content in over 100 languages. There are also ethnic media organisations that broadcast or print content in English.
How ethnic media are funded
Much like mainstream print, ethnic newspapers receive little if any direct government funding. They rely on advertising dollars, as well as occasional small grants.
Ethnic broadcasting is primarily funded through two streams:
- government funding of SBS
- funding of community ethnic broadcasters through the Community Broadcasting Foundation (CBF), which is itself funded federally.
According to the peak body of ethnic community broadcasting in Australia, the National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasters’ Council (NEMBC), an annual indexation freeze in funding introduced by the Liberal government in 2013 has cost the sector almost A$1 million. That’s approximately 20% of their total support.
A significant fund of A$12 million over four years has been granted to the community broadcasting sector. But this is generalist funding rather than aimed at ethnic broadcasting specifically. It’s directed towards assisting community stations to transition to a digital signal, the production of local news in English, and management training.
The NEMBC is also in its third year of a new competitive grants process introduced by the Community Broadcasting Foundation.
According to the NEMBC, many ethnic broadcasters are facing a precarious funding environment. This is due to the lack of specialist funding, the costs associated with transitioning to digital broadcasting, and the complexity of the Community Broadcasting Foundation grants process.
Why it’s important
The difficulties facing ethnic broadcasting impact the unique contribution it can make to modern Australia. And it’s a problem that extends beyond policy – media funding for public service, community and ethnic broadcasting is regularly under siege. It’s also a broader social issue.
Ethnic media are often thought of as either quaint services for nostalgic migrants, or as dangerous sources of ethnic segregation. For many, the role of ethnic media rarely, if ever, extends beyond a specific cultural, ethnic or linguistic community.
What’s missing from this image is the role of ethnic media in facilitating successful migrant settlement. Research shows that ethnic media can facilitate feelings of belonging and social participation among first and subsequent generation migrants. Ethnic media connect migrants and culturally and linguistically diverse Australians with other social groups, as well as with their own local communities.
On a more practical level, ethnic media are important sources of information. When advice is needed on a range of issues, from health care services to migration law, ethnic media play a vital role.
This is not a case of migrants staying in their linguistic “ghettos” and building separate ethnic economies. Rather, it involves seeking sources of relevant, and culturally and linguistically appropriate, information in order to live and thrive in Australian society.
That might be providing advice on voting or taxation to migrants from Sudan. Or informing elderly German migrants of changes to aged care services. Ethnic media provide information that is attuned to the particular needs of their audience.
This is a service that mainstream media are largely unable to provide, with their focus on a broad audience. But without it, migrants potentially miss out on important information.
These are also services that benefit both recent migrant groups, such as those from Africa or the Middle East, and more established communities. For elderly Germans in South Australia, information today comes in the form of German broadcasting in Adelaide, with presenters and producers who understand the needs and histories of their audience.
Essential sources of vital information
Ethnic media may also be valuable allies to relevant government departments and settlement service providers. My own ongoing work with ethnic broadcasters and community leaders indicates a level of dissatisfaction with the way government services are communicated to migrant groups from non-English speaking backgrounds.
Ethnic broadcasting is often able to capture the subtleties and nuances that one-size-fits-all government communication campaigns cannot. They are therefore in a unique position to effectively communicate government initiatives at a local, state and national level.
It is no surprise that what would become SBS Radio was originally designed to inform migrants about the introduction of Medibank health insurance scheme.
It’s important that the services provided by the ethnic media sector, particularly those that cannot be measured in purely economic terms, are understood and supported.