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Please grant community broadcasters free-to-air broadcast license extensions

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MEDIA RELEASE: COMMUNITY TV FACING SWITCH-OFF DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher to switch-off CTV stations despite having no planned use for the broadcast spectrum.

In March 2020, Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher made clear to Community Television (CTV) stations C44 Adelaide and C31 Melbourne and Geelong that he would not consider renewing their free-to-air broadcast licences beyond the current deadline of June 30th, 2020. To date, no explanation for this decision has been given.

CTV stations are still fighting the decision, originally made in 2014 by-then Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull, to vacate their broadcast spectrum and move to an online-only delivery model. Since then, the sector has endured six years of uncertainty and has battled the Federal Government through six sporadic, short-term licence renewals, some arriving within a week of a planned switch-off. This instability led to the closure of CTV stations in Sydney (TVS), Brisbane (Bris31) and more recently Perth (WTV). Now only C31 Melbourne and C44 Adelaide remain.

CTV stations have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with stations facing reduced revenue, staff redundancies, operational challenges and production shutdowns.

“Like many businesses, we are in survival mode,” says C31 Melbourne General Manager Shane Dunlop. “We are being asked to make a monumental and challenging digital transition work in unprecedented times. It’s an unreasonable and impossible request.”

Despite a significant decrease in resources, C44 Adelaide and C31 Melbourne have worked tirelessly to support cultural and religious groups affected by the pandemic to provide historic live-to-air TV broadcasts of their services. These live to air broadcasts are providing an essential service during Easter Week, Ramadan and Vaisakhi.

“We are proud to be able to support our local communities through this challenging period,” says C44 Adelaide Acting General Manager Kristen Hamill. “There are many Australians that don’t have access to the internet, and our local broadcasts provide an essential service to keep people connected, comforted and informed.”

C44 Adelaide and C31 Melbourne have formally asked Minister Fletcher for a renewal of our broadcast licences, allowing time to navigate this pandemic and to make a successful digital transition work at its end. C44 Adelaide and C31 Melbourne ask that they be left on air to provide a service to their local communities until there is a planned alternative use for the broadcast spectrum they occupy. If forced to switch off their free-to-air broadcasts on June 30, it is unlikely either station will survive, resulting in immediate job losses of more than 15 full time staff, over 200 weekly volunteers and insolvency for both businesses.

Neither C44 Adelaide or C31 Melbourne have received a response from Minister Fletcher.

In summary:
- Community Television is not, and never has been, taxpayer funded.
- There is no planned alternative use for the broadcast spectrum CTV occupies and according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), there is no planned use for at least the next 5 years. If switched off, CTV will be replaced by white noise.
- Community TV is a Federally legislated component of the Broadcast Services Act.
- There is currently no viable business model to support an online-only transition for any Australian TV broadcaster.

Without an extension to the free-to-air broadcast licence both remaining stations will fail. “Despite six years of instability and during a global pandemic, both C31 Melbourne and C44 Adelaide have continued to provide an important contribution to Australia’s cultural fabric,” states C44 Adelaide’s Kristen Hamill. C31 Melbourne’s Shane Dunlop added, “The Australian Community Television Alliance call upon the Federal Government and Minister Fletcher to renew our broadcast licences and show their support for culturally and linguistically diverse communities, local journalists, screen and media practitioners, small businesses, tertiary students, LGBTI+ groups and a vibrant collection of volunteers and contributors who still call Community Television their home”.



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