The last remaining community TV channels C44 and C31 “likely to be extinguished”
Adelaide-based community broadcasters C44 and C31 Melbourne and Geelong will likely be shut down by the end of June if their free-to-air licenses are not renewed.
- Community TV channels say they will likely have to go out by the end of June
- They are credited with launching careers for young broadcasters
- Station officials say community TV is not yet viable as an online-only product
Adelaide and Melbourne are the only community broadcasters still in operation.
Both stations offer diverse and locally produced content on the air.
C44 Acting Managing Director Kristen Hamill said C44 has been broadcasting for over 25 years.
“We have made representations to Minister of Communications Paul Fletcher and to date we have not received a response from him regarding the extension of our license beyond June 30,” said Ms. Hamill.
“It’s really frustrating for us, given the current pandemic situation.
“We have provided many services to the local community in terms of delivering religious content, multicultural content, and other types of educational and entertaining content to keep the community connected, informed and comforted.”
CTV stations were due to be taken off the air in 2014, when Communications Minister Malcom Turnbull ordered broadcasters to switch to an online model.
The industry has experienced six years of uncertainty. C44 managers had to repeatedly tell staff and volunteers that the station was over, only to be informed – often within a week of a scheduled shutdown – that their license would in fact be extended.
“It’s incredibly damaging to the company from a staff morale perspective and to our program creators and sponsors,” said Ms. Hamill.
“It’s like we have to start over every time we are faced with these expiration dates for our licenses, and then start over.”
Instability led to the closure of other community stations in Sydney (TVS) and Brisbane (Bris31) and Perth (WTV), which closed in February.
The judgment can “lead to insolvency”
C31 acting chief executive Shane Dunlop said forcing a shutdown would more than likely lead to insolvency.
“The very premise of an online-only presence is probably what we’ve been fighting against all this time.
“It is not yet a proven business model.”
Mr Dunlop said the prospect of a digital transition was difficult.
“This difficult task has been made impossible with the current closures linked to the global pandemic,” said Mr Dunlop.
“Especially if we close on June 30.
“This will likely lead to the insolvency of the two community stations.”
Keep people connected
Ms Hamill said the station played an important role during the pandemic by broadcasting masses over Easter and connecting South Australians in other ways.
“We are able to get things out faster than other networks,” Ms. Hamill said.
“From the start of this pandemic, we received phone calls and emails from many community and religious groups who were no longer able to meet face to face.
“There are so many people in the community who don’t have internet access or smart devices and need some other way to consume content, so we were able to fill that role and provide meaningful service to the community. “
C44 Adelaide and C31 Melbourne stated that there was no other use of the broadcast spectrum.
“We have never been funded by the government and they have no intended use of the spectrum,” Ms. Hamill said.
“So when they turn us off, it’ll be replaced by white noise.”
Changing business models “will not be enough”
Ms Hamill said that C44 had made efforts to expand its business and offer other services, including production, training and partnerships with universities and high schools, but that would not be enough.
In a statement to ABC News, a spokesperson for the Minister of Communications, Cybersecurity and the Arts said the government has long supported the community television and radio industry.
“The other community television channels have been well aware of the government’s position since 2014,” the statement said.
“Community television… received government funding in 2018 to ease the transition and provide its services through online platforms.
“They had a lot of preparation time to allow them to make the transition by June 30, 2020 and this important task now rests in the hands of the management of the stations.”
The license expires June 30.