Sunday 6 June 2010

Community radio send first newsletter in months, amid misappropriation allegations

Cairns Community radio, 89.1 FM, that is currently subject to substantial scrutiny from the federal communications watchdog, ACMA, has sent out a newsletter to selected members.

The leaked newsletter, supplied by a close friend of the station's embattled president Rodney Coutts, is the first letter to the membership in months. It comes amid new claims of misappropriation allegations and more secrecy surrounding the management of the station's funding.

When the new committee took over in early October last year, around $300,000 in government funds were still in the bank account. However, eight months on, Cairns Community Broadcasters Incorporated has refused to provide any monthly accounts. Several written requests, and deputations by members to the Raintrees offices, including Cairns Regional Councillor Linda Cooper who is also a member, asking for an inspection of the accounts, has been in vain.

"I was told in January that they were with the accountant, and have since requested a number of meetings with president Rodney Coutts, but he cancelled these at the last minute," Linda Cooper told CairnsBlog. "Now Mr Coutts refuses to co-operate and is referring all communication via the station's solicitor, Tom Stevens [of O’Reilly Stevens Bovey Lawyers]."

However CairnsBlog investigations reveal that Jessup accountants did not have any accounts at the time of Cooper's request.

Councillor Linda Cooper, who has an extensive background in media and radio, has said that she is seriously concerned about the management, the lack of transparency and public accountability of Cairns Community Radio. Cooper is now calling for an urgent meeting with the station's lawyer this week.

There has been only one meeting - on 22nd February - since last September's AGM. This followed two cancelled meetings due to public protests questioning the station's secret management and a pattern of dismissal and membership rejections. Besides lack of financial transparency, at the heart of the concern is the refusal to accept any new members, and the termination of those who have stood up and criticism president Rodney Coutts. Six of the nice committee that were elected last year, have all resigned or had their membership terminated.

16 new membership applications that were presented to the committee on January 6th by Cairns Regional Councillors Diane Forsyth and Linda Cooper, were unilaterally refused and the forms thrown into an adjoining corridor. All appeals have been ignored, with three participating in lengthy litigation through the station's solicitor. Conservative estimates put the figure at around $30,000 in legal fees the station has forked out since October, with no end in sight.

At the on 22nd February meeting, Coutts attempted to illegally change the Constitution without following due process. Linda Cooper, who attended the meeting, raised points of order, but was ignored. Coutts also attempted to change the rules to extend his current term as president for another year, to avoid a re-election in September.

Both matters were reported to Queensland's office of Fair Trading, who are investigating.

All correspondence to the committee is intercepted by president Rodney Coutts [pictured right] regarding membership applications, is now directed to Tom Stevens at O’Reilly Stevens Bovey.

Coutts acknowledges that there has been harsh criticism of his actions over recent months.

"I would like to thank you all for your ongoing confidence and support, regardless of the challenges faced," Rod Coutts writes in his June newsletter.

The June 2010 newsletter contains matters of serious concern, in light of the ACMA's December 2009 ruling when the station was found in breach of not allowing or encouraging open membership, a fundamental principle for participation in community radio.

The newsletter states that there will now be two classes of membership, "membership forms are being restructured... the new forms will be colour-coded so that there will be one for members and one for presenters."

However, Cairns Community Broadcasters Rules state:

    4. (1) The membership of the Association shall consist of Ordinary Members only.

The ACMA have also requested six months ago that the proposer and seconder rule for new members, be removed, yet this still exists, and is being used to discourage new members who would often not know current members for endorsement.

The newsletter also announces a membership fee increase (from $20 to $25), yet only a General meeting can approve such a change, which has not occurred.

The newsletter states that the new membership forms 'should be effective' by 1 July. All current memberships cease on 30th June, so that if the forms are not 'effective', there will be no members. The previous committee run by the Arona group, as was appropriate, used to try to ensure, and not always effectively, that renewals took place before 30th June each year.

As a final damming and insulting error, the newsletter contains a story with an accompanying photograph, of a deceased Aboriginal person. Printing such a photograph, that also carries no warning, is a breach of indigenous protocol and respect for the dead. As a mark of respect, CairnsBlog has blocked the photograph from the newsletter.

The ACMA investigation, the third in the last 12 months against Cairns Community Radio, is expected to be announced in the next two weeks. Alexander Ash, the investigating officer, gave the licensee up until last Thursday to respond to numerous questions about irregularities and possible breaches. "We expect to release our findings in the next two weeks," Ash told CairnsBlog.

1 comment:

Nigel Muso said...

O’Reilly Stevens Bovey Lawyers are likely the most incompetent legal company in Australia. This firm specialises in protecting the guilty and corrupt with underhanded legal tactics and outright lying to everyone. It's no wonder they've been retained for community radio here. They did little good for me before I hired real solicitors.

O’Reilly Stevens Bovey Lawyers show a "pig's ass" in their ads. A fine porcine representation of this company. One of their lawyers was even convicted of drink driving such is the level of ethics at this firm.

Note that I have deliberately referred to the company herein involved, as by law companies cannot be defamed. Readers here can figure out the obvious.