CTV no go digital – Threats to community television in Australia

Presentation prepared for APC Equitable Access forum, 10 November 2007, Rio de Janeiro. Prepared by Andrew Garton based on materials by Karen Woulfe, C31 Digital Campaign Coordinator.

Background

  • Australia supports a healthy community broadcasting licensing regime
    Since 1989 Australia has enjoyed an active, licensed community television community (CTV) of five broadcasters in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth.
  • CTV provides open access to under-represented sectors of the community
    Melbourne’s C31 broadcasts to 1.4 million viewers a month.
  • CTV’s support local focus, promoting an inclusive and diverse community

Australia has traditionally supported a healthy community broadcasting licensing regime.

Since 1989 Australia has enjoyed an active, licensed community television sector (CTV) supporting five broadcasters in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

CTV is made by the local community for the local community and provides open access to under-represented sectors of that community, diverse programming and industry training.

Melbourne’s C31 reaches 1.4 million viewers a month making it a competitive to free-to-air broadcasters.

The station has a local focus. Many independent producers create fantastic shows for the station, with everything from cooking shows to fishing and gardening! CTVs are also a training ground for volunteers and staff to gain valuable industry experience in producing, presenting and technical skills. C31 Melbourne broadcasts up to 98 unique programs a week. That’s 98 individually produced programs being created every week, many who are syndicated across the country.

Issues

  • The Australian Federal Government released its Digital Action Plan on 23rd November 2006.
  • This paper on the media reforms was supposed to tell CTV sector exactly what our digital future would look like.
  • However, no concrete time lines were given, nor promises made.
  • Every Australian TV viewer will be watching digital by 2010-2012.
  • If CTVs don’t get a digital license, simulcast, and funding, soon no-one will be able to watch community television.

The Federal Government, represented by Minister for Communications, IT and the Arts, Senator Helen Coonan, released its Digital Action Plan on 23rd November 2006.

This paper on the media reforms was supposed to tell C31 and the community TV sector exactly what our digital future would look like.

However, no concrete time lines were given, nor promises made.

The only thing we know is that every Australian TV viewer will be watching digital only by 2010-2012.

This means that if we don’t get a digital license, simulcast, and funding, soon no-one will be able to watch community television, which would mean the end for C31 and the entire CTV sector!

Community television must have a place on the digital spectrum.

Other issues impacting on CTVs

  • The control and accumulation of ownership.
  • The growing share of foreign capital in national media.
  • The centralisation and homogenisation of content.
  • The convergence of different technological platforms.
  • The weakening and privatisation of public services.
  • The globalisation of media markets and industries.

Strategies and interventions

  • In 2005 a community spectrum taskforce was formed, Open Spectrum Australia (OSA).
  • OSA lobbies the Federal and State Governments and local members to ensure policies are put in place to ensure CTV access to the digital spectrum.
  • OSA publishes discussion papers and responds to Federal Government inquiries.
  • OSA performs interventions in various standing committees and receives media coverage as a result.
  • A campaign “Don’t Go Until We Do” is launched to educate the public to spectrum issues.
  • Digital Information Kit is launched. Contains information about the issue, what has been done and what can be done.

What CTVs are calling for

  • Provide digital access as soon as possible so CTVs gain viewers who use digital televisions, whilst not losing our current viewers, members and sponsors.
  • Allow community television (CTV) to broadcast on both digital and analogue (simulcast) until the analogue switch off date, likely to be 2012. This is so that all community members can continue to receive C31 regardless of whether they’ve ‘gone digital’ or not.
  • Provide funding for our digital transmission costs during the simulcast period ($1.7 million per year of simulcast, plus $6 million for conversion of equipment. This figure is for the whole Australian community television sector, not just C31 Melbourne).
  • A long term commitment to a full “7MHz channel” for community TV.

Support and strategies

  • Several rounds a letters to Federal Government have been initiated, in particular to coincide with the current Federal election.
  • We are also seeking support from local sporting, cultural, church, political, community,
  • charitable and business groups to ensure a digital future for community TV.
  • OSA researchers and partners continue to present papers at local and international forums gaining support from like communities.
  • Seek local and international collaborations policy based networks and organisations to ‘intervene’ in the policy decision-making around digital spectrum in Australia.
  • Digital spectrum issues are not, and will not be local to Australia only.
  • Particularly as we see the increasing exclusion of civil society, community and not-for-profits from decision making processes world-wide.

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