This Friday, the Australian Federal Government will cancel the broadcast licenses of the last three free-to-air community television stations in Australia. The closure of Channel 31 in Melbourne and Geelong, Channel 44 in Adelaide, and WestTV in Perth will be the final punctuation mark on a long-running battle between community TV’s passionate supporters and advocates, and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield.
Earlier this month, Channel 3 Managing Director Matthew Field penned an open letter to viewers that outlined the scenario, saying in part, “…after a three-year battle and two extensions of our transmitter licence we have today received a letter from Minister Fifield confirming his intention to switch off our free-to-air signal on June 30 this year.”
Field expressed puzzlement over the license termination, noting that the section of the broadcast spectrum reserved for them would not be being filled by any other broadcast in the near future. “…we have not been able to establish why there is such a rushed determination to kick us off air in the absence of any planned alternative use of our spectrum before 2019.”
However, he reassured his supporters that C31 would continue online. “We have been developing our digital platforms, and building our capacity to support diverse groups of content creators to produce content that is optimised for online distribution. We will maintain our linear stream channel beyond July 1. This channel is accessible on our suite of apps for web, mobile, tablets, Apple TVs and Android-enabled Smart TVs, and we are pleased to report that audiences are on the rise.”
Speaking to The Advertiser, Channel 44 General Manager Lauren Hillman expressed concern that the move will lead to a lack of local voices in television. “With ever-increasing concerns about the lack of diversity and locally-produced content in Australian mainstream media, we simply can’t understand why we are being switched off until a specific need is identified for the spectrum which we currently occupy.”
Representatives of West TV were unavailable for comment.