Passionate voices to be silenced

A Popular Latrobe Valley-based news reading service for visually impaired residents could stage its last broadcast this week, after Vision Radio Australia pulled support for the volunteer effort.

The news was broken to the dedicated team of about 15 local volunteers last week that its weekly one hour program – in which local newspaper articles are read out live on air from Morwell’s Gippsland FM studio – would cease on 1 May.

However, with the coming Good Friday holiday falling on 18 April, it has been decided to pull the show after the next broadcast.

Vision Australia volunteer of 21 years Gail Bianconi, who has been involved in the Morwell program since it was established five years ago, said she was devastated to receive the bad news.

“We have all fallen in love with this radio show – we are all so passionate about delivering this service for people that can’t read the newspaper themselves,” Ms Bianconi said.

Tailored for people with visual impairments unable to read newspaper fine print, the service is understood to have grown in popularity among the wider community, who tune in to catch up with local news readouts.

Vision Australia Warragul team manager Debbie Deshayes said coordinating the additional service from the Morwell site had become “unsustainable”, as radio readings of Gippsland newspapers were currently being delivered in alternative formats.

“The administration of the program is unsustainable. Access to information for our clients is our priority and we will redirect the resources currently used to co-ordinate the program into ensuring our clients continue to access information in their preferred format,” Ms Deshayes said.

She said a similar outreach service in Inverloch would also be pulled off air.

“We have alternative ways for our clients to access information, including a talking newspapers service that is delivered directly to clients, and Vision Australia Radio podcasts.”

“This decision has no reflection on the dedication and professionalism of our volunteers and we thank them for their contribution.”

Speaking to The Express on Friday before what was possibly her last shift on air, volunteer Pam Tregenza said she hoped Vision Australia would reconsider their decision.

“This service really doesn’t cost that much and we pretty much run it ourselves down here – I can’t understand why they feel this decision is necessary.”

Gippsland FM station administrator Ken Thompson said due to the passion of local volunteers there was scope to continue the service independently of Vision Australia in the same timeslot.

“They have got a caucus going among the volunteer group to see if they can resource the program themselves – there’s a fair bit of commitment to the project,” Mr Thompson said.

“These guys are pretty passionate about what they do, and believe in the cause and why they are doing it – they play a real role in engaging with parts of our community.”

Morwell coordinator Janet Price said she was confident the show could continue in another arrangement with the current volunteer base.

“Whenever the blank roster gets put up, it’s full in a couple of weeks – very rarely do we have to ask for someone to fill in for us – there’s a lot of passion in this little group,” Ms Price said.