Community television stations, including Melbourne’s C31, will cease broadcasting at the end of 2015 after an announcement by the federal Communications Minister on 10 September.
Malcolm Turnbull told the RadComms2014 conference in Sydney the federal government would extend the current licensing arrangements until 31 December 2015. After that community television stations will be able to use the internet to distribute content.
In the short term the Government plans to re-purpose the radio frequency spectrum currently used by community TV to test new broadcasting technologies. The spectrum is then likely to be sold for non-broadcast purposes, with telecommunications companies likely to be the main bidders.
“I have no doubt that moving to an online platform will allow community TV to reach new audiences who have otherwise not had access to CTV to date,” Mr Turnbull said in a statement. “This is especially good news for regional Australia. It will deliver community TV to wider audiences, at less cost on a wider range of devices.”
RMITV’s General Manager Pamela Meagher begs to differ.
“[The internet] doesn’t replicate the television broadcast experience for people learning,” Ms Meagher told Catalyst. “I think the fight is still going on. The Commit to Community TV campaign is still active.”
RMITV is a television production house based at RMIT’s city campus, which creates community TV by students for students. It has been a training ground for many familiar faces, including Hamish and Andy, Peter Helliar, Corinne Grant and Rove McManus.
Without community television Pamela Meagher believes Australian TV viewers will suffer.
“Even if you haven’t really participated behind the scenes and seen the great people who are making these great shows and content, I’m sure when you switch on, say, Channel 10 for The Project you will be watching [community TV alumni] on the panel.”
Shannon Biviano is an executive producer of 1700, a live music show that broadcasts on C31 at 5pm weekdays.
She is still in shock after Mr Turnbull’s announcement.
“It was quite devastating to hear [community TV will stop broadcasting],” she said. “I know how much this experience has done for me and I can’t imagine that it won’t be available to people.”
Ms Biviano has been involved in community television for over two years and says it is more than just training; it’s about giving the community a voice.
“It’s easy to feel like, on the internet, you are just speaking to a brick wall sort of thing,” Ms Biviano told Catalyst. “Being on television you know that someone is going to hear it. It’s a special experience.”
In a statement, C31 said the decision to cut broadcast licenses at the end of 2015 “will almost certainly lead to the death of community TV in Australia”.
“C31 is shattered by the announcement,” the statement said. “At a time when there are six shopping channels broadcasting on free-to-air in the capital cities, it is unfortunate that the Minister does not value the contribution community television has made—and could continue to make—to media diversity in this country.”
By Matilda Marozzi
Disclosure: Matilda is a third year journalism student and Vice-President of SYN Media, an organisation that partners with C31 to broadcast 1700.