Defund Brock University Student Radio – yes or no?

From Oct. 29 – 31, CFBU 103.7 FM will be put to a student vote as to whether or not students will continue funding the radio station as it currently operates. However, there are more facts that you should know about before you vote.

In theory, student media is a noble effort by students becoming cultural producers and engage with those who consume it in a meaningful way.

In practice, student media may seem to lose relevance in the lives of both those who produce and/or consume it, but should we really blame the people involved or the medium itself?

That question is far from answerable. People attempt to answer the failures of student media by blaming apathy or claiming that newer technologies render print and radio, for example, obsolete.

Instead of reinforcing these answers, a better question to ask is what are some of the barriers student media has in realizing its full potential?

Student media is not just sanctioned media outlets. From radio, print or digital video, anything created by students with the purpose of sharing/informing others is media. This also includes social media, blogging, podcasts, etc.

The importance of public space

Illustrations by Brittany Brooks

Illustrations by Brittany Brooks

Media is, no doubt, public space and students have the ability to claim that space for themselves to challenge dominant discourses in mainstream media.

The importance of public space exists as a place for community building and space for social justice, separate from commercial and state interests.

In the 1920s, Canada’s attempt to establish a National identity was also caught up in the effort to control Canadian aerial space but missed opportunities to include marginal voices of “the people”, writes Marc Raboy in the journal article Radial radio: and emancipator cultural practice.

A success story in student media history was when Concordia University Television (CUTV) in Montreal offered their voice to the 2012 student movement, covering live protests against Plan Nord and throughout the city. Their system was to send live images over cell phone networks, which gave them a head start in covering the events. Countless other stories have occured because student media was able to document important events.

Lisa Monk, campus-community radio researcher, wanted to go deeper and reject the binary struggle between those with power (the state) and those without (the people).

Monk understands that political resistance to state and economic spheres is also a cultural phenomenon, where resistance can be an everyday occurrence, happening anytime and anywhere.

The fight to gain power as cultural producers if we follow this logic, is that we don’t have to spend all our time “struggling against external organizations and structures” in an attempt to gain power.

It is hard to grasp the differences in power between everyday people and corporate interests, especially in terms of media.

Many people who seek to challenge power have a difficult task of facing it head on. In our society where those in power refuse to be accountable but instead hide in their offices on the top floor, how are those locked outside in the cold expected to respond?

Independent and student media have their strengths, but the power imbalances — in terms of economics — are astronomical. Power is definitely not equal.

For example, community and campus radio in Canada requires additional support by the Community Radio Fund of Canada, which commercial stations fund as a requirement of their licensing agreements with the CRTC.

Brock University Student Radio (BUSR) even received $18,000 from the Community Radio Fund in 2013 which covers the wages for their Spoken Word and Development Coordinator.

However, Barry Rooke, another researcher, writes in Campus/community radio in Canada: linking listeners to broadcasters with web 2.0 technologies that this type of “Funding is based upon acceptance and implementation of one time goal-oriented proposals and not around long-term funding for a station’s overall stability.”

Even without the economic inequality between commercial and campus and community radio, the competition for air space also leaves out minority voices.

This year, the largest expansion of community radio in U.S history took place. After a 15 year campaign led by the Prometheus Radio Project, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened up the airwaves to receive applications for low-power FM radio stations. Voices of non-profits, labour unions and community groups are now being amplified as public space is claimed.

In an interview with Democracy Now, Ash-Lee Henderson, from Concerned Citizens for Justice (CCJ), expressed the importance of the project. “We have to fight for those spaces. We—we, as social justice movement builders, need to really own spaces and be able to control narratives, because we believe that, like, the people know how to tell their own stories, and they know the solutions to their own problems.”

It always about the money- isn’t it?

Carving out our own public spaces that help us produce media is one ongoing struggle that people will continue to fight for. The need for non-corporate controlled information is a very serious matter. One large barrier that these forms of media have, especially community/campus radio stations, is the ability to have the money to help realize their potential.

Rooke writes that “The current and long-standing financial struggles chronically challenge the campus/community radio sector.”

BUSR’s operations can be seen as also limited due to finances. To put it in perspective, stations with markets fewer than 100,000 inhabitants in CRTC’s 2008 census found that the profits of 13 stations had a combined profit of $152,834, with the data showing that the stations’ operating expenses were higher than its revenue, not including staff wages (the average salary was $15,393).

Based on this census data from 2008, on average, a station’s revenue is $133,959 and its’ expenses are $119,664 before staff wages. BUSR is included in this data and relies on a $1.50 per credit ancillary fee which amounts to a budget of about $120,000 per year. In one year, by this data, a station on average will have a surplus of $11,756 before paying staff wages.

Looking at campus radio levy amounts for Canadian universities in 2013, the average amount a station receives is $146,815.

To put it in perspective, Brock’s Strategic Expansion Fund started in 2006 and receives $7 per credit from the student levy, amounting to $500,000 per year.

BUSR’s funding is comparatively low to other funded bodies on campus, leading one to question what the real problem is behind continuing BUSR’s funding from students.

 Yes or no? Brock University Student radio

The upcoming October referendum for BUSR seeks to defund the radio.

The main motivation behind the referendum is that Brock University Student’s Administrative Council (BUSAC) has not seen enough students taking ownership and involvement with the media outlet, and seeks to reform the radio in spring 2014.

The referendum question being asked of students to vote is “Do you support the removal of the $1.50 per credit fee for Brock University Student Radio (103.7 FM) effective May 2014.”

BUSAC councillor and student Andrew Kemble, Faculty of Mathematics and Science, is set to be the “Yes” Campaign spokesperson. The campaign spokesperson for the “No” campaign has not yet been selected.

Campaigns begin on Oct. 21 and voting takes place online and at ballot boxes from Oct. 29 to Oct. 31.

BUSR has faced referendum before; 1995, 2004 and 2012, though the 2004 BUSR referendum was not a funding referendum but asked for on-campus space.

The University of Waterloo’s campus radio (CKMS-FM or 100.3 SoundFM) went off air in 2009 after failing to win financial support from students in a referendum.

A few weeks after the referendum CKMS-FM announced it would rent out a music facility to broadcast, and began operating in part as a co-operative while providing content for students and the community. Due to funding issues, the station had to leave that space, but continued to be run by students and community member funded though co-op member fees, programmer feeds, fundraising and grants.

“Brock Radio was envisioned as an opportunity where students get involved with paid work experience in a field that is relatively hard to get work experience in,” said Kemble.

“Right now students aren’t able to host shows, or taken in to host shows. They advertise themselves as a community radio station based on campus, but it isn’t a campus radio station.”

BUSR also is licensed by CRTC and requires that the station follow regulatory policies. Campus and Community Radio Policy (CRTC 2010-499) states “programming is produced by both students and members of the broader community;” therefore the station cannot exist if the policies are not followed, allowing for a wider involvement besides students.

Campus radios cannot then solely have students creating programming. CRTC also does not make the distinction between campus and community radio in terms of who operates it. Both community and campus radio, in order to be licensed, also has to be community owned, managed and operated.

When told about BUSR’s space restrictions, Kemble said, “The way they are following that guideline is they talk about Brock events every once in a while, but it isn’t as campus focused as it can and should be,” said Kemble.

“We have [BUSR’s] audited report and they are sitting on a quarter of a million dollars in student funds before they got any money for this year. So they are sitting on a little over $247,000. For me they can’t hire students on with that money? They have received a couple grants this year for things like spoken word and other projects, and upon talking with the current vice-president, Nick Baxter-Moore, about what was being spent on that, he talked about hiring a community member for that position.

The plan to defund, as Kemble puts it, is not to take BUSR off air, but to propose the question of getting BUSR refunded in the March referendum with a different structure of how the radio is run. Kemble, as a BUSAC councillor is then essentially advocating for BUSR to reform, and believes this is the only way.

“The idea is as a non-member, I cannot make a change to how the [BUSR] board structure works. In order to make any changes, [BUSR] has to come to us [BUSAC] with these changes. The idea is that we want to vote to defund them and then eventually propose changes.”

In the radio’s defence, program director for BUSR, Deborah Cartmer says “I find the focus on the surplus interesting. In the early days of CFBU, BUSU actually handled all our funds and did all of our accounting — and we paid them to do that. It is my understanding that each year that BUSU controlled our funds we ran a deficit. In 2003 we asked to control our own funds. Since then we have had a small surplus every year.”

“We have been putting this into reserves so that we could eventually move to a larger space and hire more staff. I am not sure why this is such an issue, when we have demonstrated over the past 10 years that we know how to manage money and not run a deficit, while still providing experiential learning opportunities to Brock students.”

Barriers to involvement

“The transitory nature of workers in the field have resulted in the delay of adopting new technologies in the communication fields,” writes Rooke.

Students are transient and therefore campus radio has a high turnover, which may hinder student media from realizing its full potential.

“When Brock University was created the majority of students were from the Niagara area. Now the majority of students come from the GTA. They often go home for the summer and leave after graduation. Our community members keep things humming through the spring and summer. We are open for business, operate 24/7 and continue to train local students from April to September,” said Cartmer.

This suggests that if there isn’t long-term staff or community members involved, institutional memory will be lost.

Institutional memory can be a double-edged sword because it maintains an ideology or way of working in a group. It is important for the smooth functioning of an organization and its identity, but those who have the most knowledge can also use their power to make it difficult for new people to challenge something that has become so normal.

This can be applied to BUSAC, BUSU, BUSR or any other organization that has responsibility of being publically accountable.

Due to lack of space, BUSR can only handle training a finite amount of people seeking to get involved and on air.

Cartmer is always busy training students on a one-on-one basis.

“Last year we trained 76 students and two faculty. 14 more students were involved in other aspects of the station (general volunteering, on the board etc.) For a total of 90 students involved in CFBU last year. In addition to that, one Brock student was on a co-op placement.  As for staff, all the current staff are Brock students or Brock grads.”

Two other non-Brock grads were hired recently on the temporary grant from the Community Radio Fund.

Student involvement is difficult to expect when students are too busy to consume — let alone produce media — on a volunteer basis.

Some real barriers students face to becoming engaged in general are obvious ones; lack of time, finances, motivation, perceived skill, and their transient nature. If student media is lacking student involvement, it should seek to remove these barriers while the student union should recognize these realities and also help to address them.

Expect to see both the “yes” and “no” sides campaigning before the referendum. Undergraduates can vote Oct. 29 – Oct. 31 via e-mail (the questions will be sent to your Brock e-mail) and on campus. At the time of publication there is no representative for the “no” side. For more information you can e-mail Andrew Kemble at akemble@busu.net and Deborah Cartmer at pd@cfbu.ca

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