Community TV wants consultation process completed before switch-off

Community broadcasters C31 Melbourne and C44 Adelaide are calling on the Communications Minister to include community television in its proposed re-stack of Australian TV spectrum and keep C31 Melbourne and C44 Adelaide on-air until their broadcast spectrum is repurposed.

Since 2014, the Federal Government has provided seven last-minute broadcast licence extensions, insisting that community TV stations transition to an online-only model. During that time community broadcasters have folded in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, but Melbourne & Adelaide have endured, including through a last minute reprieve announced by Paul Fletcher on Q+A, just 26 hours before they were due to lose broadcast spectrum.

Last October Richard Windeyer – Deputy Secretary Communications and Media confirmed, “..there is no immediate plan for the use of the spectrum used by C31 and C44.

Both C31 and C44 have been invited by the Federal Government to provide a submission to the current consultation on the Media Reform Green Paper, which closes on 23 May —just over a month before both stations’ broadcast licences expire on 30 June 2021.

“We have written to Minister Fletcher asking for an opportunity to discuss our broadcast licence deadline and our upcoming submission as part of the Green Paper process,” C31 General Manager Shane Dunlop said. “We believe May will be too late as one month is not enough time to undertake a thorough and proper review of our response. To switch us off before this consultation process is completed would deny the Australian public an outcome that works towards their overall best interests.

“As stated in the Green Paper, the broadcast spectrum we currently occupy is not scheduled to be repurposed until 2024, possibly later. A digital re-stack is then slated to occur sometime around 2026. So turning us off now is completely unnecessary.

“We would also strongly suggest that community TV deserves a place within the longer-term framework of free-to-air TV,” added C44 General Manager Lauren Hillman. “The Green Paper sees all free-to-air broadcasters converting to more efficient broadcast technology after the re-stack, which would allow for more channels using much less space. There is a pathway forward for community TV and we’re urging Minister Fletcher to consider it.”

Minister Fletcher previously also assured viewers that the Federal Government would work with both stations to effect a successful transition.

C31 and C44 maintain they are committed to a digital future but to replace broadcast revenue and achieve a successful transition to an online-only model by June 2021 is not possible.

The Australian Community Television Alliance contends that free-to-air community TV should continue for the same reasons the Green Paper argues that the Federal Government’s proposed reforms are necessary to protect commercial broadcasters: because ‘older Australians, the less affluent … are less likely to use alternatives to free-to-air television …’; to keep ‘Australian stories available on our television screens’; and because, without community TV, ‘the volume, variety and quality of Australian content available is likely to decline; audiences will have access to few Australian voices and stories.’

In May, a new ACTA video-on-demand streaming platform and app will be launched, coinciding with the tenth Antenna Awards on 29 May.

10 Comments:

  1. I’m very much for keeping community tv on FTA (preferably indefinitely) – especially when no decision has been made on alternate uses for the spectrum they’re currently using.

    But, how can C31 and C44 still argue that achieving ‘a successful transition to an online-only model by June 2021 is not possible’ when they’ve had seven years to get there? Surely this argument cannot still be their go-to position; otherwise, what’s to stop the government saying ‘too bad, so sad.. you’ve had seven years and numerous extensions’?

    • That would make sense if it was 7 clear years from advice to switch off but that’s not been the case. It’s been 7 years of short term deadlines and extensions which has destabilised the businesses in a way that’s made switch off impossible. The extensions have kept the stations on life support with no capacity to weather the storm of the loss of TV related revenue. If they had of said in 2014 you have 5 years to transition it would likely have been do-able. Bad policy poorly executed.

    • “About 10 years ago 1.5 million people, on any given month watched community TV. Now that’s probably halved. But I think that’s the case of the entire Free to Air industry. So yes, there’s been a downturn, but I would say that Community TV at the point it is about to be switched off is actually going through something of a renaissance.” Channel 31 resigned to say goodbye

  2. When I was in ACT, I remember TransACT, the subscription service from Canberra and ACT had Channelvision, which featured ACT produced programming was like community TV but may not have been considered actual community TV. I don’t know if they still broadcast the parliamentary channels, but they could be possible inclusions on free-to-air digital if possible.

    C31 and C44 are only broadcast in Melbourne and Adelaide but could be considered for nationwide broadcast on digital. It would be good to have more choice on Freeview. There are more channels on UK freeview but am unsure if they are using a different digital broadcast system to Australia that would allow for more spectrum use.

    • WTV in Perth used to show the WA parliamentary question time and even cricket when the commercial stations weren’t interested-probably too late now there’s only 2 stations left.

  3. We never had legal community TV in Canberra. When I was doing Communications at uni in the late 1980s we set up a transmitter on campus and put some of our videos to air (including yours truly live talking about early rock music) for a few days before we received a visit from the Spectrum Management Authority who confiscated our equipment.

    • It sounds like a similar situation to the pirate radio stations in the UK during the 90s that broadcast garage and drum and bass music. They certainly fulfilled a community need with an arts and culture scene, but unfortunately were not legal and many were also taken down by the broadcast authorities. Some were also overriding the broadcasts of legitimate stations on the heavily packed London broadcast frequencies.

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