Community television stations have warned they are likely to have to switch off if their licences are not renewed later this year. (Supplied: Kristen Hamill)
Adelaide-based community broadcaster C44 and C31 Melbourne and Geelong will likely be switched off at the end of June if their free-to-air broadcast licences are not renewed.
- Community television stations say they will likely have to switch off by the end of June
- They are credited with launching the careers of young broadcasters
- Station managers say community television is not yet viable as an online-only product
Adelaide and Melbourne are the only community broadcasters still operating.
Both stations provide diverse and locally produced content on-air.
C44’s acting general manager, Kristen Hamill, said C44 had been broadcasting for more than 25 years.
“We’ve been putting representations to Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and to date we have not had a response from him about extending our licence beyond June 30, Ms Hamill said.
“It’s really frustrating for us, given the current pandemic situation.
“We’ve been providing a lot of services to the local community in terms of airing religious content, multicultural content and other kinds of educational and entertaining content to keep the community connected, informed and comforted.”
CTV stations were scheduled to be taken off air in 2014 when then Minister for Communications Malcom Turnbull ordered broadcasters to move to an online model.
The sector has endured six years of uncertainty. C44 managers have repeatedly had to tell staff and volunteers the station was finished, only to be informed – often within a week of a planned switch-off – that their licence would in fact be extended.
Community television is credited with helping young Australians get their start in broadcasting. (Supplied: Shane Dunlop)
“It’s incredibly damaging to the business from a staff-morale standpoint and for our program makers and our sponsors,” Ms Hamill said.
“We’ve had to tell them six times that we might be going off-air.
“It’s like we’ve had to start from scratch each time we face these expiry dates for our licences and then start over again.”
The instability has led to the closure of other community stations in Sydney (TVS) and Brisbane (Bris31) and Perth (WTV), which closed in February.
Switch-off may ‘lead to insolvency’
C31’s acting general manager, Shane Dunlop, said forcing a switch-off would more than likely lead to insolvency.
“We won’t even be able to make a digital future work,” Mr Dunlop said.
“The very premise of an online-only presence is probably what we’ve been battling with the whole time.
“It is not a proven business model yet.”
Mr Dunlop said the prospect of a digital transition was a difficult one.
C44 community television staff and volunteers at National Volunteer Week 2019. (Supplied: Kristen Hamill)
“That difficult task has been made impossible with the current shutdowns relating to the global pandemic,” Mr Dunlop said.
“Especially if we shut down on June 30.
“It’ll likely lead to both community stations becoming insolvent.”
Keeping people connected
Ms Hamill said the station had played an important role during the pandemic by airing masses during Easter and connecting South Australians in other ways.
“We’re able to broadcast things more quickly then the other networks,” Ms Hamill said.
“As soon as this pandemic kicked off we had phone calls and emails from a lot of the community groups 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 access to the internet or don’t have access to smart devices and need another way to consume content, so we were able to fit that role and provide a meaningful service to the community.”
C44 Adelaide and C31 Melbourne said there was no alternative use for the broadcast spectrum.
“We’ve never been funded by the government and they have no planned use for the spectrum,” Ms Hamill said.
“So when they switch us off, it’ll be replaced with white noise.”
Changing business models ‘won’t be enough’
Ms Hamill said C44 had made efforts to expand its business and offer other services, including production, training and partnerships with universities and high schools, but it would not be enough.
“We couldn’t survive with an online only business model right now.
In a statement to ABC News, a spokesperson for the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts said the Government had a long history of supporting the community television and radio broadcasting sector.
“The remaining community television stations have been well aware of the Government’s position since 2014,” the statement said.
“Community television … received funding from the government in 2018 to assist with the transition to deliver their services via online platforms.
“They have had significant lead-up time to enable them to transition by June 30, 2020 and this important task now rests in the hands of the management of the stations.”
The licence expires on June 30.