Just seven days until it was set to disappear forever from Australian television, community TV has been granted three more years of free-to-air broadcasting.
Driven by the political advocacy of Rebekha Sharkie MP, Senator Marielle Smith and Senator Rex Patrick, an amendment to broadcasting legislation has passed in the Australian Senate and House of Representatives, cementing community broadcasting licences for C44 Adelaide and C31 Melbourne until 30 June 2024.
It’s a welcome relief for C44 staff, volunteers, program makers, partners and audiences, whose support for community TV has been unwavering as the sector has been forced to fight each year since 2014 for annual six- and twelve-month reprieves.
A three-year commitment enables C44 to not only continue its commitment to local TV but build upon its thriving livestreaming and production activity, its flourishing university and creative industries partnerships providing skills and employment pathways for South Australian screen creators, and its development of new training opportunities for entry-level TV and digital screen creators.
Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie said, “I am delighted that Channel 44 will remain on-air until 2024. It was an eleventh-hour save with the Senate passing my amendment at 11pm last night and it follows weeks of persistent advocacy to the Government. I would like to thank Communications Minister Paul Fletcher for listening to our community and our valid arguments for keeping C44 and C31 on-air and working with me to draft an amendment to set this timeframe in legislation. I would also like to sincerely thank Senator Rex Patrick for putting up my amendment in the Senate when my Centre Alliance colleague Senator Stirling Griff had to take a leave of absence. This is team South Australia working for South Australians to allow this valued creative service to continue. The amendment does set a clear deadline for 2024 but this will allow C44 to work through the Media Reform Green Paper process and give the station sufficient time to really plan its future.”
Labor Senator for South Australia Marielle Smith said, “This is a massive victory for South Australia and our beloved community television station Channel 44, who have been guaranteed three more years of broadcast spectrum usage. Channel 44 has stepped up for our community during the pandemic and I have been proud to fight side by side with their staff and volunteers for their future. Taking community TV off-air was a destructive and wasteful decision – it costs the Government nothing for them to keep broadcasting, and there are no plans to use the spectrum for years. This result is an admission that the Government got it wrong, and a huge win for our community and for Channel 44.”
“We are incredibly relieved and elated to receive this three-year commitment,” C44 General Manger Lauren Hillman said. “Despite the past seven years of instability, Channel 44 has continued to thrive and provide pathways and opportunities for emerging screen practitioners, fostering key partnerships and providing a platform for local arts and cultural events, but most importantly giving a voice to the local community. This is a huge win for community TV and we are honoured to be recognised and valued by the Australian Senate.”
C31 Melbourne General Manager Shane Dunlop said, “It is with great pride and considerable relief that we announce today’s news. A licence renewal of three years will finally provide community TV stations with the stability we have gone without for almost a decade. Three more years will allow us to continue our long tradition of providing an accessible, vibrant, and important service to Melbourne’s diverse communities.”
C44 extends its sincere gratitude for the advocacy and support from
- Centre Alliance: Rebekha Sharkie MP, Federal Member for Mayo
- Australian Labor Party: Senator Marielle Smith, Shadow Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland, Amanda Rishworth MP, Steve Georganas MP
- Independents: Senator Rex Patrick
- Australian Greens: Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Tammy Franks MLC, Adam Bandt MP
- Liberal Party of Australia: Senator Simon Birmingham
Channel 44 is Adelaide’s community media broadcaster, providing a free-to-air and online platform for local community groups and content creators. C44 actively engages with local South Australian communities, businesses and events to help promote and showcase the best of what our state has to offer. C44 provides industry training opportunities for more than 40 volunteers per week.
Community TV free-to-air broadcast licences were first threatened to be revoked in 2014, when former Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull announced that community TV stations around Australia would need to operate online-only from the end of 2015. Since then, a series of last-minute licence extensions have kept C44 Adelaide, and their Melbourne counterparts, on-air but operating under increasingly difficult circumstances. C31 in Brisbane, TVS in Sydney and recently WTV Perth have all folded under the pressures of licence uncertainty.
The rationale for moving community TV stations off free-to-air was that the broadcast spectrum was needed to trial new technology. With the exception of recent technology trials on the now-vacant Sydney spectrum, this has not yet transpired in other cities. Information provided by the Australian Communications and Media Authority suggests that this technology will not be ready for market for a number of years.
In November 2020, the Federal Government issued the Media Reform Green Paper: Modernising television regulation in Australia, which proposed a restack of existing broadcast spectrum to enable efficiencies and facilitate the auction of surplus spectrum to the telecommunications industry. Community TV licencees were not included in the reforms.
The Green Paper did, however, clearly indicate that, if the media reforms were adopted, the spectrum currently occupied by community TV would not be repurposed until mid-2024 at the earliest. The Australian Community Television Alliance (ACTA) therefore submitted to the Green Paper consultation that
- Community TV should be included in the proposed media reforms to ensure Australian broadcasting meets the objectives of Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to
- Promote the development of an Australian identity and reflect cultural diversity
- Promote the availability of television programs about matters of local significance, and
- Ensure diversity in broadcasting services in the transition to digital broadcasting, and
- Community broadcasting licensees should retain free-to-air broadcasting licences at least until the spectrum they occupy is reallocated—a process not expected to occur until mid-2024, as per the Green Paper.