Wednesday 21 July 2010

Cairns community radio found in breach of licence conditions

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has found that Cairns community radio 4CCR breached their broadcasting licence.

The ACMA found that 4CCR, also known as Cairns FM 89.1 FM, breached a licence condition that requires them to encourage community participation in the operations of the service.

CairnsBlog exposed the alleged corruption and sinister activities last year following the mass resignation of the former committee, and the volatile new committee that replaced it, under the leadership of Rodney Coutts, a retired Air Force officer and an insurance and photocopy salesman.
The ACMA's investigation (report 2350) was sparked following a meeting on January 6th 2010, when 14 membership applications were refused and thrown outside the meeting room. The same evening, Cairns Regional Councillor was physically assaulted by radio vice president, Pieter Blaauw, that is subject to a Police investigation.

"I am disgusted and shocked by the way I was treated by Mr Pieter Blaauw with his aggressive and violent behaviour," Forsyth said at the time, after lodging her complaint at the Cairns Police station.

The ACMA investigation followed a large number complaints, launched by an initial letter from CairnsBlog author, Michael Moore. 12 more members of the Cairns community also provided documentation, outlining a series of abuse of power and restricting community participation in the community radio.

The ACMA found that the licensee was not encouraging the community to become involved in the operations of the service, and proved it had policies that restricted membership.

In it's decision, the ACMA said it "considers open membership to be critical to encouraging participation in the operations of a community broadcasting service."

4CCR was found in breach of Clause 9 (2)(c)(i) Schedule 2 of the Broadcasting Services Act - "failing to encourage community members to participate." The station refused most of the new membership applications because an "unauthorised membership form [was] submitted (copy paper)."

The ACMA called this "problematic" and said that the 'copy' was in fact a true representation of the original form. Of course, this was simply a tactic to restrict membership on nebulous grounds. This was a practice the former Arona-controlled committee engaged in.

Station president Rodney Coutts, in his submission to the ACMA, was concern how the form had been sourced, however the findings said this was not a valid reason to deny membership, nor was any such clause in the station's constitution.

Just last month, Coutts announced that there would now be two separate and different membership form, on specific coloured paper. This is also in breach of the ACMA's latest findings, and shows that Cairns community radio has continued, even after making submissions to the ACMA, continued to flagrantly ignore previous rulings to encourage community participation.

"In response to the breach finding, 4CCR has begun the process of redeveloping its membership policies and constitution to ensure it has open membership," the ACMA said today. "This process is being undertaken in conjunction with a range of agreed measures that were implemented in December 2009 when 4CCR’s licence was renewed." However, no such action has occurred and only one meeting for members has been held since last September.

Cairns community radio has been dogged by serious problems and corruption allegations for ten years. I outlined the torrid history in a series over recent months, which was then picked up by Cairns journalist Gavin King in the Sunday Mail...

In late January, CairnsBlog released a secret video, that showed both president Rod Coutts and his deputy, rejecting members without reason. The video was used in the ACMA complaint to expose the covert goings-on at the community radio.

In the last 10 months, not one financial report has been provided to the membership or the wider-Cairns community. This alone has is cause for serious concerns.

It's believed that a number of committee are receiving secret payments, including the treasurer and Rod Coutts' estranged partner, Mimelle Alvero. This was in direct conflict with the will of the annual meeting in September 2009, when it was revealed than many committee members were receiving substantial and non-disclosed payments. A forensic audit was also called for, but has not occurred, following a mass resignations of committee members due to Rod Coutts' management.

The ACMA says that it considers 4CCR is demonstrating a commitment to meeting its obligations under the licence conditions and that the current management committee is working to address these operational issues. However their actions since the January 6th meeting clearly show no change in actions or behaviour from the management committee led by Rod Coutts.

"While the ACMA will take no further action at this time, it will continue to monitor 4CCR’s implementation of the agreed measures," the report said today. "In this regard, 4CCR is required to provide regular reports to the ACMA."

Today's findings have angered many who have been fighting for open and transparent management of the community radio, that collects as much as $300,000 government funding a year.

"This is so weak," one complaint told CairnsBlog in receipt of the findings. "They are off the hook again."

Intervention by Federal MP Jim Turnour failed to have any effect.

Former station manager and presenter of the community radio from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, Tony Hillier says little has been achieved by ACMA's findings.

"What has actually been achieved? This parody of a community radio station continues to go to air with the same puerile amateurish pap, presented and listened to by only the party faithful," Tony Hillier said today.

Another former member who was refused membership, calls Rodney Coutts "Capt Mainwaring" and says his "Dad's Army march on to the beat of their own drum ad nauseam."

"This is a huge disappointment -it is less than a slap on the wrist for Coutts," former committee member of Cairns community radio Judi Corcoran said today. "Cairns has lost a community asset and Coutts will ride the rest of the funds into the ground and probably blame Friends for the station's demise. I am trying not to be too upset by this but it is hard to remain detached after all the work we all put into trying to keep a community radio for everyone, not just a few."

Of course the only winner in all this is the station's lawyer, Tom Stevens. It's hard to imagine how much of the community funds of $300,000 has gone into legal advice.

Sadly Cairns is still deprived of a community radio and those on the committee continue to show no will at all to actively welcome and encourage participation. Their submissions to the ACMA mount to nothing more than lies and invention when they say they are now encouraging community membership.

Cairns Regional Councillors Linda Cooper and Diane Forsyth are steadfast that they want to see reform and change at the community radio station.

"I want this organisation to be accountable and open to the community again," Forsyth said earlier this year. "Along with Linda Cooper, we want to see transparency and openness. It's clear that they didn't want us or our membership applications when Mr Blaauw threw them out the door on the floor at us. But we are going to see this through."

In February, a splinter group formed called the Friends of 4CCR, led by former Mulgrave City Councillor Ross Parisi. He, along with Cairns Regional Councillor Linda Cooper, were the only two to be granted membership in January. Because of his actions to reform and engender community involvement in the station, Parisi's membership has recently been called into question. He was summoned to a closed committee meeting last month to defend his membership termination.

This ACMA ruling is the fourth investigation against the radio station in the last 12 months, with another one pending. This proves that bodies like the ACMA and Office of Fair Trading, provide little confidence in public accountability and transparency of community organisations.

It's abundantly clear that the current committee have little or no skills in radio, let alone community organisations. On the station's website the committee has a dog named Jack on the committee. I think this says it all.


CBD Warrior said...

All your hysteria about this subject seems to have been misplaced, don't you think Mr. Moore?

ACMA has pretty much told the station that she'll be right.

spangled lady said...

Well the station must be doing OK -Mr Coutts has traded his scooter in for a car -courtesy of Cairns community funds no doubt! Hope this goes into the financial report if it ever sees the light of day!
This is a perfect scenario for Scam 101 -find a suitable community fund -bleed it to death and suffer no consequences!

Bryan Law said...

Actually CBD, ol’ chook, ACMA has ruled that the station is in breach of its license conditions, and has told the station that it needs to conform to a set of principles about how it treats membership and community involvement. Some of these are basic principles of natural justice, like giving reasons and notifying of appeal rights.

At other points ACMA observes that many of the stations submissions amount to piffle (like objecting to seven applications because they were made on a copied form instead of a station-produced original).

Rodney Coutts is no lawyer, not even a bureaucrat.

I’ll be following through on my membership application, because it’s apparent to me that Rodney has been outright lying to ACMA. He claims that Police advised him to call them if I ever appear on the station’s horizon – so I’ll be following that up with Queensland Police. He likewise claimed that I am an extreme activist, which amounts to defamation and political discrimination.

As a matter of general interest, I’m wondering if Rod’s ignorance preceded his arrogance or vice versa (an interesting philosophical question).

KFC said...

What shits me is the amount of Australian taxpayer's dollars that are obviously going into a station that is hardly listened to and has little relevance to the Cairns Community. Not only that, it is depriving us of a truly community orientated radio station. Anyone interested in getting an online Cairns Community radio up and running? It seems like the only alternative.

spangled lady said...

Can we at least try to keep comments on track Bryan Outlaw -you do yourself no favours with your vindictive outcry about Bryan Law -who incidently I have found to be an intelligent and gentle man -we are talking about a community asset -a radio station -this is not a free kick at someone who wants to right a wrong -grow up and act a bit more mature, please.

Helen Smith said...

Hear! Hear spangled lady -I wonder if Coutts followers are getting their fair share of the spoils?
If they are getting nothing - they must be dumber than we thought.

Jack Mccaw said...

Sorry, rather than addressing the points raised - theyhave gone on the attack against what they claim was the illegals.
Sorry - this just puts it in the clear that these people are pathetic.

Go on, run for the lawyers. This is a scare tactic designed to try to lessen public opinon of the Friends.

Make sure you do not engage lawyers in response, simply write lots of letters in response - costs each time a lawyer has to write you a letter or read one.

Next - I note that the Codes of Practice are not freely available to the public. Only to members... Ooops - thats a breach.

Also, requiring a proposer and a seconder for membership - ooops that's a breach in open membership policy.

No memtion of ACMA investigations to reassure us that they are taking proactive steps to include participation. Sub-committees, membership, following the Guidelines on community participation, or even the Codes of Practice.

Oh yeah - they are in receipt of CBF funding... What no acknowledgment on their website? Thats a breach.

Lets not hold back now... Maybe you want to launch a little publicity campaign. Like I said, if they won't play by the rules, and want to run a closed shop, expose them. I love these guys - they are so predictable.

Now you don't have the members anymore to call a Special General Meeting, nor can you look forward to a straightforward AGM. Encourage membership - they can (and will attempt to refuse memberships) which gives you the ammo to go to the ACMA to finally show that they have failed to meet their requirements.

I advise you to post in as many memberships, and even encourage people to take out sponsorships. A member can ask to see the correspondence from the ACMA, particularly those letters recently asking for more details.

Jack said...

CBD Warrior,
the ACMA always tends to err on the side of softly softly. However, revoking a licence is the next step - and this is brutal. Ask 2ARM in Armidale how hard it was to retain theirs - they are STILL on temporary licence.

The CairnsBlog, the Friends of Cairns FM and the multitude of posts on the CBAA website.

They have been proven to be childish, publicly humiliated and probably going to have a hard time living in that town.

Can I recommend an ad in the paper highlighting the ACMA finding? Maybe a pamphlet drop, with membership forms attached to encourage participation?

The one thing they don't want is people to know what is going on - every member, every sponsor and every community organisation should get a copy of the ACMA finding.

No need to editorialise it, no need to write any nasty cover. Just drop the official finding priontout on some desks.

Let your letters to the editor etc show the link to the ACMA. Apart from that, you are going to have to bring continuing pressure on the community to look after its station, rather than running to a referee.

Unknown said...

Gin Gin 104.9 has the same problem bunch of rejects running it to, and one of them was on air in Cairns station a few years ago like they say shit happens