Business Scoop

Hutt Valley residents lose their radio station

Press Release – Hutt Radio

The only radio station based in, and focused on, the Hutt Valley is to be forced to close following a decision by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage to transfer its broadcast licence to Wellington Access Radio.For immediate release

Hutt Valley residents lose their radio station

The only radio station based in, and focused on, the Hutt Valley is to be forced to close following a decision by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage to transfer its broadcast licence to Wellington Access Radio.

Hutt Radio has operated from studios in Naenae and a transmitter at Maungaraki for the past five years. It’s run by a non-profit Trust which includes veteran broadcasters Mike Dee and Trev James. The licence was for a period of five years and, having operated successfully for that long, the Trust was optimistic it would be allowed to continue.

Speaking on behalf of the Trustees, Mr Dee – who was amongst the group who first envisaged the station in the early 2000s – said the decision was “inexplicable”.

“A major plank of the government’s community broadcasting policy is to ‘promote innovation and a diverse range of content and formats’. Yet what MCH has done is to reduce the diversity of radio in the Wellington region. Access Radio already broadcasts to a far wider geographic area on 783kHz on the AM band.

“The policy also aims to promote ‘coverage of regional and local news, current affairs, information, sport and cultural events is supported’. With the exception of cultural events, Access Radio does not do that. Hutt Radio did, through a range of programmes including Valley Views (current affairs, 2 hours a week) and The Line (local sport, 2 hours a week), as well as an hourly pre-recorded “Community Notices”.

“Access Radio charges the groups that utilise it; Hutt Radio did not. That can be a barrier for some, especially if you don’t want to buy a whole half hour or hour just to mention a regular event. That’s not to criticise the access model – it works brilliantly for those groups to which it’s suited. But so did Hutt Radio’s ‘curated content’ model. The two services were complementary; the Ministry decided to make them competitive, and then picked a winner.”

Mike Dee says it’s particularly upsetting that one of the reasons the Ministry gave for cancelling Hutt Radio’s licence was doubt about its financial stability.

“NZ On Air – which also comes under the Ministry – refuses to acknowledge the role of community stations such as Hutt Radio and gives one hundred percent of its community radio funding to a very small number of designated ‘access radio’ stations. Wellington Access Radio, for instance, gets $250,000 a year.

“So what they’ve said is, ‘we’re not going to give you the same support we give this other station, and now look, you’re struggling financially in comparison. So now we’ll take away your licence and give it to the station we exclusively fund.”

Hutt Radio’s application for a renewal of its licence was supported by the Hutt City and Upper Hutt City Councils and local MPs Chris Bishop, Trevor Mallard and Chris Hipkins. Mr Bishop has already contacted the Trust to express his deep concern at the outcome.

Mike Dee says the Trust has yet to decide what the next step will be. “We’d like to have a judicial review of the process, which we believe was unfair in a number of respects,” he said. “But we’d need a local law firm willing to handle that pro bono.”

While anyone can start a Low Power FM (<1 watt) station, the Trust believes would not give sufficient coverage of Lower Hutt and would mean Upper Hutt wasn’t covered at all. “While Hutt Radio’s signal was not yet available to everyone in the valley, we were working on filling in coverage black spots such as Wainuiomata and parts of Stokes Valley when this decision came down,” Mike Dee says. Hutt City Council had granted the Trust $5,000 top help with this – money it will now have to hand back. Aside from 12 to 14 hours a day of local content, listeners will also lose access to the BBC World Service, which the station transmitted overnight, and to ethnic programs aimed at the Samoan, Tokelaun and Filipino populations living in the Hutt. “How can cancelling these services and re-transmitting one which is already available to everyone in the Wellington region benefit anybody?” Mike Dee asks. ends

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