Australia’s last surviving community television channels have just seven days to keep themselves on air.
Melbourne’s Channel 31 and Adelaide’s Channel 44 have been told their free-to-air broadcast licences will not be renewed after June 30.
After that, their channels will be turned off, replaced with just white noise and leaving little option but insolvency for both businesses, and up to 15 job losses.
What’s more, it is another blow to Australia’s already bleeding media and entertainment landscape, Channel 31 general manager Shane Dunlop said.
The community television sector does not receive government funding, whereas ABC and SBS do.
Australian media personalities like Waleed Aly, Corrine Grant and Rove McManus – among many, many more – started their careers on community television.
This week, Andy Lee from Hamish and Andy voiced his support for the stations, as did comedian Tommy Little.
An online petition has surpassed its initial target of 5000 signatures.
Labor last week pushed a motion through to the Senate to keep the stations on air.
But still the federal government has remained steadfast.
Community TV has enriched our communities for decades and it's brought us closer during times of crisis.It's fostered…
The government is pushing the channels to switch to an online-only model, a decision made by then-communications minister Malcolm Turnbull more than five years ago.
Mr Dunlop said – even without the interference of COVID-19 – navigating a largely volunteer-run operation to an alien space, where revenue streams are even harder to come by, was a death knell for community TV.
Despite plea after plea to Communications and Arts Minister Paul Fletcher, the federal government has refused to extend the licences, saying the nod they were given in 2014 to make the transition was sufficient.
“Community broadcasters each received $90,000 in government support in 2015 to assist them to transition their services online,” a spokesman for the minister told The SMH.
“And as recently as November 2019 they applied for – and secured – a government-funded grant of $34,366 to develop an online video platform.”
Pivotal to Australian identity
The opportunities community TV provide are embedded in Australia’s media and entertainment culture.
More than 90 per cent of its programs are new, Australian content and universities use the stations to train young journalists.
“Community TV provides a platform for niche interest groups and marginalised communities that the mainstream media does not,” Mr Dunlop said.
“A diversity of views, opinions, cultures and preferences are community TV’s bread and butter. It is truly representative of the local community it broadcasts to, not something that can always be said about the mainstream media.”
Mr Dunlop said the community TV industry had been in turmoil since the 2014 announcement, a stop-and-start process that led to the demise of stations in Sydney and Brisbane.
Perth’s channel folded in February.
“What was going to be an extremely difficult proposition became an impossible one,” he told The New Daily.
“With the current climate impacting production, tertiary engagements and small business advertising budgets, the remaining community TV stations will not survive this pending switch-off deadline.”
Community TV has received a handful of lifelines and extensions in the past six years, some with as little as three days to the cut-off date.