Thursday 21 January 2010

Community radio president orders another meeting block out

The problems at Cairns community radio, 4CCR 89.1FM are getting worse as the second meeting in as many weeks was ordered to be cancelled by president Rodney Coutts, just minutes before it was due to commence.

In a series of tactics to block out the community since September last year, the venue was changed with no public announcement or communication to all members. Last evening's general meeting of the community radio was advertised in the station's December newsletter, however the venue was never booked.

Raintrees Centre Manager Russell Mitchell-Smith, confirmed yesterday that he was only approached two weeks ago by Rod Coutts and said he refused permission for use of the food court area because of his concerns about "disturbances."

Just under 24 hours before the meeting was scheduled, Coutts approached the neighbouring Raintrees Tavern to use their upstairs function room, which is leased to a church group who allowed the radio station to use it. It is still part of the Raintrees shopping centre jurisdiction.

Russell Mitchell-Smith confirmed that his security staff would enforce removal of people, even with valid proxies if requested by Rod Coutts. Coutts also contacted the Police yesterday, in anticipation of a large number of dissatisfied people turning up. Mitchell-Smith also said that photography, including by media representatives, is banned within the Centre unless permission is obtained, including the car park area.

Cairns Regional Councillors Diane Forsyth and Linda Cooper are leading the charge for more openness and transparency and want the community to reclaim their radio station.

A number of shop owners in the shopping centre have told CairnsBlog that they are sick and tired of all the disturbance and disruption occurring in their shopping centre. A cafe owner, who wished his business to remain anonymous, said that he has seen the police and security called "more times than I can count." "I don't know why they don't terminate their lease up there, it's just not appropriate how it is being run," he said.

"We see them [Coutts] come in here, and go over to Brumbys to get their lunches and then go and get the security, and we all talk about what's going on. I thought it was a community organisation," the concerned shop owner said last evening.

Last night's meeting cancellation follows the release of secret CairnsBlog video footage yesterday that showed president Rod Coutts and his deputy Pieter Blaauw obstructing and "vetting" new memberships. Both men also refuse to give any reasons why the person's membership was rejected "unanimously" by the committee.

The release of the video promoted the ACMA to launch a second investigation into Cairns community radio over the mass rejection of memberships last week, something that was common in the former Arona-controlled committee.

Two weeks ago on the 6th January, a number of members turned up with Cairns Regional Councillors Linda Cooper and Diane Forsyth as their guests, to present 15 new membership forms to a meeting. The forms were thrown out the room onto the corridor floor. The door was then slammed into Diane Forsyth's arm, which is now subject to a assault investigation by Cairns Police against the station's vice president Pieter Blaauw.

25 minutes before the meeting was due to start, Rod Coutts, along with two of the remaining on-air presenters Gerd Loedige and Col Johnson, plastered "Meeting Cancelled" notices on the entrances to the shopping centre.

"Oh here we go. Watch out, photos," Coutts bellowed at CairnsBlog author Michael Moore. "You're not allowed to take photos here you know," he said dismissively.

I reminded the visibly-distressed president that he was yet again closing the public and legitimate members out of their community radio station.

"This is a public radio station Mr Coutts, and the community is watching what you are up to," I told him.

Coutts then went to the security officer and reported my photography, but they failed to pursue it.
In a statement released late last evening, Coutts said that "the committee took a last minute decision to postpone its members' meeting out of the concern for the welfare of invited members."

The statement makes a mockery of Coutts' condoning the vice president's physical assault on Councillor Forsyth just two weeks earlier. The 30 or so supporters that turned up last night, are committed to reforming the station, and were there to listen and legally and legitimately participate in the meeting. Many were members or held proxy.

Coutts' implication that those who planned to attend, many of whose membership were rejected the previous week, constituted a physical danger to others, is outrageous. He should first look at the thuggery of his own committee including vice president Pieter Blaauw, who is being investigated by police for alleged physical abuse.

Last night people called for Mr Blaauw to stand-down pending the criminal assault investigation.

The community radio statement goes on to say...
  • "Rod Coutts, the newly elected president, said that the committee's duty of care for invited members, and also members of the community who might have mistakenly attended, was paramount.

    A great deal of mis-information has been spread about the nature of this meeting. It was a meeting to decide matter which constitutionally required members-only voting."

Such a statement cannont preclude anyone attending a meeting. Legitimate members and those holding proxy are allowed to attend. In fact, when I was in attendance at the AGM in September, there were also at least 40 additional guests who were not members.

  • "Our intent was to change parts of the constitution to make our organisation even more accessible and inclusive," Coutts said in his statement.

This was yet another serious breach by Rod Coutts and his illegally-formed committee.

Any change to the Constitution can only occur by calling a Special General Meeting or at the Annual General Meeting. Last night's proposed meeting was neither. Any proposed changes must be notified to all members in writing. No such notice was given, other than an announcement in the newsletter that was selectively posted to only to some members in mid-December. Any resolutions from such a meeting, would be invalid.

The former Arona-committee, that is likely to be subject to a Federal investigation and a forensic audit for it's ten-year reign, had also illegally altered the Association's constitution. In 2001, a committee meeting changed the term of the elected committee from one to a two-year term without due process being followed.

The validity of the current committee has been called into question and the ACMA is investigating this, along with the recent membership rejection fiasco.

Six of the newly-elected committee resigned in October, leaving only three, that did not constitute a quorum. However Rodney Coutts, acting on his own, co-opted a number of people, including former immediate past president John Fielder, whose committee is subject to a Federal investigation by Jim Turnour's office, along with a forensic audit.

Coutts said in his statement last night that he was also seeking more volunteers for sub-committees. This follows the mass exodus of up to 20 presenters over the last two months as a direct result of his leadership. "I simply could not continue to work there and present my programme while his committee is carrying on like this," morning announcer Wayne Hipgrave said.

There has also been widespread concern about the poor quality of on-air programming, with constant breaks in transmission, poor audio quality, and even CDs and community service announcements played on endless loops for over an hour at a time. There is now almost no local content on Cairns community Radio, and "country music" shows simply do not represent the charter.

  • "Running a successful community radio station is a labour of love, which requires a lot of goodwill and good spirit," Rod Coutts said in a stunningly contradictory statement overnight.

    "In putting off this meeting, his [Coutts'] committee was forced to postpone vital decisions for the radio station, but our duty of care to members, their safety and those of any public who might arrive mistakenly believing that it is a public meeting is of higher priority," Coutts said.

    "The stress has been enormous."

Mr Coutts' two daughters and his mother-in-law also turned up for the meeting, and were not informed it was cancelled. This shows that the president acted unilaterally.

A number of volunteer Filipino announcers travelled a long way for last night's meeting, and said they were not informed of the venue change or it's cancellation.

SWITCHED OFF: Filipino presenters Evelyn Quinn, Emily Moritz read the block out notice, whilst former station manager and presenter Tony Hillier looks on.

"We are annoyed that this is not on, as we had to drive all the way into town and were not told it was cancelled," said Evelyn Quinn, who says she has concerns about the management committee.

"When I heard about the way Councillor Diane Forsyth was treated recently by Mr Blaauw, I was very upset," Evelyn Quinn said. "The station is getting very exclusive.' I remember one time when we were on air and we asked Rod Coutts permission if we could make community announcements, but he wouldn't let us."

"I cannot understand why this is happening. It's all over power I think. I remember when Eylan Rose left the station, he was shaking, he didn't want to resign. I see the emotion about what is going on," Evelyn Quinn said. "I hope we are going to have a new beginning and a new horizon for the community radio," Evelyn Quinn said, who bought a guest with her.

A further meeting is now planned to deal with last evening's business, as well as a public meeting, however no dates have been given.

"I invite any member of the public with an interest in community radio to attend a special public meeting which is being planned," Rodney Coutts said. "Everyone will be welcome. In the meantime, a further meeting for members only will be held shortly to deal with more urgent station matters," Coutts said.

No matter what his plans are, the general public and supporters who hold valid proxy, will continue to actively participate in forthcoming meetings.

The large group of supporters that gathered outside the entrance last night, held an informal meeting afterwards, and will form a group to present a way forward. They vowed to "totally reclaim and reform" the station over the next few months.

Here's a short video of some that turned up last evening, and were greeting with the now all to common cancellation notice.


Unknown said...

mmm this has reached stalemate..impasse..the stubborn committee are plain bonkers with no thought for the future of their personal reputations or that of the stations whatsoever.. The station really needs the ACMA to close it down pedning the investigation. It cannot be meeting its output requirements surely? Any legal eagles got an opinion as its now at that stage.

Chris Forsberg said...

Wow - well done Mike - you've used the perfect word, 'thuggery'.

Your coverage of last night's events is excellent - Vice President Peter Blaauw should stand-down until the police investigation has concluded, as is customary in all such situations operated on public money.

It's gallingly obvious that the current management at the station are well and truly 'out of their depth' – and clearly incapable of conducting the affairs of the important community asset this radio station should be.

Mr. Coutt's odious assertion that un-invited visitors to the cancelled meeting might place "members at risk / their safety is paramount" is appalling. It's his Vice President who is under police investigation for alleged physical violence - Mr. Coutts suggestion that others might resort to such brutal tactics is plainly offensive and obviously without foundation.

I was also gobsmacked at the membership application rejections - Tony Hillier has been a fervent champion on behalf of local bands and singers for decades: part of a community station's charter is to promote local talent by playing their recorded material 'on air' (which commercial stations won't do). In trying to deny Tony membership, the current 'management' are also disadvantaging the embryonic local recording industry.

Moreover, Tony has 'hands-on' experience in the actual management of the station - at a time when it was performing well.
Mr. Denis Walls has an impeccable reputation as a fair-minded community and political activist.

Whereas I don't especially support his greenish political views, I have to say that - when I appeared on an on-air Political Forum conducted by Denis, representing the right-wing pro-development political point of view, he handled my speil with good humour and good grace. And 'the Left' and the 'Green' have as much entitlement to have their views broadcast as does 'the Right' - on the John Mackenzie show every day.

The proper function of community radio is to allow various local political spokes-folk access to the air-waves - Denis was always cognizant of the democratic nature of our society - and allowed all political 'stripes' on-air without fear or favour.

I understand that former long-serving Mulgrave Shire Councillor Ross Parisi may have also had his application rejected. Mr. Parisi has a considerable track record for community service, charity work and substantial business experience.

And, obviously, in rejecting the application of Councillor Forsyth (not to mention allegedly assaulting her), 'management' have stupidly antagonized their own LOCAL councillor: the station is in her Division, many of the diminishing number of listeners live in her Division – and she would be remiss in her duty to her constituents if she simply sat on the sidelines, letting the station 'go to rot'.

Did it not occur to these idiots that community radio stations always keep their local councillors on-side - as, inevitably, the stations will 'put out their hands' for local government funding at some time in the future. And previous Cairns Councils have supplied generous funding to this station in the past.

That these folk - and the dozen-plus more, including some of the better (former) 'presenters' and the station's former technician - should have their applications rejected defies belief.

Clearly, some major measures of serious reform at our community radio station are long overdue. As ALL the Cairns commercial stations are no longer local 24/7, (indeed, more program content is relayed from 'down south somewhere' than emanates from any studio in Cairns), the Window of Opportunity is wide-open for a correctly run, genuinely LOCAL community radio station.

The station's existing 'management' can't even see the wall - let alone the window.

Cr Di Forsyth said...

I need to correct Chris's comment that I am the local councillor for that area, I am the councillor for Division 7, which is just across the road from Raintrees shopping centre.
I would like to add that I was heartened by the number of interested community members at last nights cancelled general meeting of our community radio
4CCR. Many of the current financial members, that needed protecting, have joined the friends of 4CCR and were dismayed by the lack of communication and disrespect shown by the President and Committee.
If we are to have a viable and vibrant community radio station that the community of cairns can be proud of, then we must have an accountable, inclusive and transparent decision making process.
Locking people out of meetings and rejecting perfectly respectable members of the community membership applications leaves the committee open to ridicule and the question on everyone's lips "what have they got to hide?"