News

By Victoria Quade
The WWEA is a member of the Federation of Workers’ Educational Associations in New Zealand but like all WEAs in New Zealand it is an autonomous group. The principle aim of the Wellington Workers’ Educational is to encourage continuing and community education that promotes a just and more equitable society and which takes account of Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the founding document of Aotearoa New Zealand. It does this through workshops, seminars, regular discussions, film screenings and a community radio show.

Community radio grew out of frustration with conventional media, particularly its mono-cultural representations of society. It was motivated by the desire of people to express themselves through the music, and in the language, of their choice. By claiming the airwaves for general public use community broadcasters challenge the idea that only broadcasting professionals can determine what is broadcast and in what manner.

Creating spaces where people, regardless of their previous education (or lack of it), could discuss and explore art, science and ideas in a constructive and non-hierarchical manner was a radical concept for the time but it proved to be wildly popular. The fortunes of WEAs in New Zealand have varied wildly since the first WEA was established in Wellington in 1915 but there is no doubt the WEA was a foundation stone of adult and community education in Aotearoa and continue to be part of the ACE sector.

Making radio

Around the world community radio is known by different names: people’s radio, participatory radio, access radio. From tiny stations operating out of garages to sophisticated studio complexes community radio is founded on principles of representation and participation although how these principles are realised can vary from station to station. Some stations are governed by boards and operated by paid broadcasters, at others a mix of paid and unpaid broadcasters produce programmes for themselves or others as a collective
enterprise.

Today when everything you need to produce a basic video or audio recording is available on a smart phone the idea that anyone can make a video or produce an audio podcast is nothing unusual but it wasn’t always so. Before, digital communication technologies and the internet made it possible for anyone to become a broadcaster, producing radio, and even more so video, needed specialised equipment and skilled technicians to reach an audience. So, although early radio was the province of enthusiastic amateurs, broadcasting soon became a complex institutional field in which an elite few decided what counted as news and entertainment.

In the 1980s Radio New Zealand began experimenting with access radio: allowing people from the community to make their own programmes. The experiment was a success and there are now 12 independent community access stations around Aotearoa. Each station has its own character reflecting its history and the people involved. Access stations broadcast on reserved non-commercial frequencies and receive funding support from NZ on Air. Under section 36c of the 1989 Broadcasting Act, NZ on Air is required “to ensure that a range of broadcasts is available to provide for the interests of women, youth, children, persons with disabilities, minorities in the community including ethnic minorities, and to encourage a range of broadcasts that reflects the diverse religious and ethical beliefs of New Zealanders.” Programmes which meet one or more of the section 36c criteria are often prioritised by stations.

The Pacific Media Network that runs NiuFM and 531pi and Samoa Capital Radio which shares Wellington Access radio’s frequency get separate NZ on Air funding. The country’s 21 iwi radio stations, which give a voice to regional Māori communities and promote Te Reo are supported by Te Māngai Pāho. There are also community radio stations which operate outside the Access framework.

A platform for community voices

The original aim of Educating for Social Change on Wellington Access Radio was to showcase the work of different community groups in Wellington, presented by WWEA committee member Graham Howell it did just this. However by 2008 had become an educational activity in its own right and for many years the core programme making team consisted of Victoria Quade, Alan Windsor and Russell Pierce who with invited guests presented local and international union and community news, social and political comment as well as some great music in a live broadcast Sundays at 4pm.

The show’s kaupapa gives the show a very broad mandate. It has featured a wide range of topics including the Living Wage campaign, the gender pay gap, women’s reproductive health, peace activism, climate justice and environmental action, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Timor-Leste, participatory democracy and protecting human rights in Gaza. As well as shows featuring art activism and a wide variety of music including pūoro Māori or traditional Māori music.

In February 2021, the show adopted a podcast first format, reducing its frequency and duration. The show is now a half hour programme which focuses on a single topic or issue. It still airs on Wellington Access Radio 106.1FM every second Sunday at the new time of 7pm but is also available as a podcast via www.wellingtonwea.org.nz.

Shows so far this year include a conversation with Documentary Filmmaker Justin Pemberton who directed the documentary adaptation of French social scientist Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the 21st Century; Dunedin writer, socialist and bass player, Victor Billot talking about poetry, politics and belonging; Floris van Hees and Ivar Smits also known as Sailors for Sustainability, two Dutch men sailing around the world in search of solutions to the environmental and social challenges that the earth and the societies on it face; and rangatahi from UNESCO Aotearoa Young Leaders programme talking about their mahi representing young people and UNESCO.

The style of the show is conversational rather than pedantic or confrontational. According to WWEA committee member Neil Ballantyne, “Victoria uses her skill as a journalist to highlight issues that mainstream media often ignore”.

As well a platform for people involved in community education of all kinds, the show provides an opportunity for people to develop media skills. Current co-producer John Anderson says that just by doing the show he’s learnt how to write a script, interview and operate a professional radio console. Further as a full time worker and parent he finds it a really helpful way to learn more about struggles for justice around the world.

The Wellington WEA reckon community radio and community education are a good match when you’re educating for social change.