J-AIR licence battle hits Senate

J-Air On air at J-AIR, Michael Burd (left) with Alan Freedman (centre) interviewing Steven Linde, editor of The Jerusalem Post. Photo: Robert Bontschek.

THE battle of Jewish community radio station J-AIR to obtain a stronger radio signal has gone all the way to federal Parliament, with a Coalition senator asking why the station has been frustrated in its attempts to gain a better licence.

Senator Eric Abetz used a Senate Estimates Committee hearing on October 18 to question Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) acting chair Richard Bean about J-AIR.

Describing J-AIR, which currently holds a narrowcast licence, as “pretty dynamic”, the Tasmanian senator and strong friend of the Jewish community, who has been an on-air interviewee, wanted to know why ACMA has rejected three J-AIR applications in the past four years for a temporary community broadcast licence (TCBL), which station management filed under the broadcasting legislation.

“It has continually been frustrated in its request for a licence,” Abetz told the Senate committee.

Abetz told the Senate Estimates hearing that J-AIR “has the potential of serving a community within Melbourne of at least 50,000 people and the general public at large”.

The senator noted that J-AIR had also unsuccessfully applied for a licence on 96.1FM, which is no longer used by Jewish station Lion FM.

“I have been advised Lion stopped using 96.1 for broadcasting four years ago and another community organisation applied to use it. ACMA, in its wisdom, has denied … J-AIR from using this on now three or four separate occasions.”

Abetz urged Bean to provide some answers for the next estimates committee hearing.

“If you could provide a good brief on all that, we might revisit this topic in the next estimates,” he said. “Of course, you can avoid all that by simply allowing J-AIR to use 96.1.”

A hearing date is yet to be announced.

J-AIR founder Robert Bontschek told The AJN some 26 community stations in the greater metro area, representing various ethnic and other communities, hold either TCBLs or full licences.

“This is a matter of giving a TCBL to a community that has a need for its own radio station, such as all the other ethnic radio stations in Melbourne,” Bontschek said.

J-AIR currently holds a  low-powered narrowcast licence that enables it to be heard over a -seven-kilometre radius around Caulfield on 87.8FM, as well as on its website, iOS and Android apps, social media and podcasts.

The J-AIR AGM will be held at Spiritgrow, November 27, 10am.

PETER KOHN