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Community Television in Australia is Dead

Good news for anyone out there who hates local screen culture.

Good news for anyone out there who hates Australian screen culture: community television is dead!

That’s right. After surviving the transition from analogue to digital, community TV has not proved resilient enough to transition from a Labor Government to a Liberal Government. For although former Minister for Communications Stephen Conroy was able to guarantee community television’s move to the digital spectrum, he was not able to guarantee that once it got there it wouldn’t be beaten up by Malcolm Turnbull. It’s very similar to the plot of The Terminator, in that Turnbull also wears a leather jacket.


What is the reason behind this? It’s not financial, as the community TV sector receives approximately nothing (rounded up to the nearest zero) in recurring funding from the federal government.

This is an ideological battle. We’re living in a time where logic and common-ground is shunted aside in favour of whether or not a topic is aligned with one’s own political leanings. Issues that have no inherent political affiliation are now associated with whichever side takes them up first: climate change and public transport are of the Left; immigration and not-letting-Russia-invade-Ukraine-any-more is of the Right. Ultimately, the fundamental difference between Left and Right comes down to the benefits of community vs liberty. Maybe its adoption of that word, community, is why the sector is under attack. Perhaps it’s like a red flag to a bull. “Red” as in communist and “bull” as in Turnbull, obviously.

Malcolm Turnbull has always been the Left’s favourite member of the Liberal Party, not because he doesn’t have terrible policies, but because he delivers terrible policies with easily the nicest smile. Plus, the leather jackets. But just because he’s the least objectionable member of an objectionable government doesn’t make him any less dangerous as a priority-skewed Communications Minister.

Quoth Malc: “[The government] believes that the best outcome for community television is that in future it uses the internet as its distribution platform.”


He explained the benefits of losing the key method of distribution thusly: “I have no doubt that this transition is in the best interests of community television. It will deliver wider audiences, at less cost, on a wider range of devices and the ability to do so more than linear broadcasting.”

This internet thing sounds great! I expect we have some great new NBN system for its delivery, right? Right? Malcolm? OH YES, WE WENT THERE.

So, forgetting for the time being that Malcolm considers the internet to be the way of the future even as he rolls out his ridiculously obsolete fibre-to-the-node plan, let’s look at his argument: community TV is better off because more people use the internet than watch TV.

This is, presumably, why Channels Seven, Nine and Ten, as well as all their digital channels plus Foxtel, are all scrambling to get away from traditional broadcast and into this exciting new internet thing. In fact, if they all desert it en masse, community TV can pick up all their obsolete bandwidth! That’s how it works, yes?

The government is not saving money by obliterating community television. Its only role in the sector is to allow use of the available channel, and it’s this part of the spectrum that the government would like to sell.

Meanwhile, community TV moving to the internet essentially means YouTube. There will be no use for this distribution model, and local content producers will fall like droplets into an ocean of overseas product as they find themselves competing hopelessly with cashed-up competitors on the other side of the world. Globalisation as cultural homogeny.


Community TV has long been an investment in the future, and a very, very cheap one. It’s where Rove McManus, Hamish & Andy, Stella Young, Adam Richard, Peter Helliar, Corinne Grant, and numerous other on- and off-air talent got their start. (And yes, it’s where my career started as well, so it’s not all good news.)

But it allowed for the types of programs that you can’t simply get from mainstream television, or even the internet. It was the breeding ground for a generation of Australian voices, and to hand-wave that away with the vague declaration of “internet!” is to ignore the vital role that the structure of stations like Channel 31, TVS and others play.

Selling off the community television spectrum is an idea fuelled by the desire to privatise assets: short-term gain that ignores the bigger picture. It stems from the idea that the government is there to handle finances, instead of create an environment in which our culture will prosper and grow. Because we may make a bit of coin by the selling the bandwidth, but in twenty years when you’re complaining that everything on television is imported from overseas, or what little we make here is a pale imitation of overseas product with no real local voice, you’ll realise what it is you really sold.

Here’s what others are saying:

Stella Young, former host of No Limits, C31: “Community television provides unique opportunities for voices that are so rarely heard in the media. We want to see our lives and experiences reflected and discussed and be empowered to tell our own stories. Axing this platform means silencing already marginalised communities.”


Shane Dunlop, Independent Producer & Production Manager at C31: “I like vacuum cleaners and powerful blenders as much as the next guy, but I love Community TV infinitely more and I'm committed to fighting to protect it from likely becoming a seventh shopping network. Malcolm Turnbull's insistence that he isn't killing Community TV by forcing it online further illustrates his lack of interest in media diversity and community interest. More insulting, are his claims that this move would be in our best interests. Access and opportunity for everyone with a desire to express themselves, to be creative, to make mistakes and learn from them and to be inclusive of all points of view and perspectives is what is at stake here. Clearly Mr. Turnbull has failed to realise this and I hope he rectifies this oversight soon.”

Rove McManus, presenter of The Loft, C31 1997-1999 (via Facebook): “What I gained from my Channel 31 experience was collaborating with fellow creative people in a group environment that taught me how to be a host and them how to be producers, camera operators, lighting technicians, set builders and editors. This is the type of invaluable experience that prepares you more for the real working world than something like writing, shooting and editing your own YouTube channel can. And it is this that will be lost if community television disappears.”

Marieke Hardy, journalist and screenwriter (via Twitter): “Many creative people got their start on community TV. This, to quote the Dalai Lama, is fucking bullshit.”

Henri de Gorter, Station Manager TVS: “Minister Turnbull’s statement in which he declared that ‘… this transition is in the best interests of community television. It will deliver wider audiences, at less cost on a wider range of devices and the ability to do more than linear broadcasting’ is wrong on so many points. The IPTV move would decimate our audience (many of whom do not have, or can't afford, access to the internet), and as a consequence our sole means of financial support via sponsorship would disappear. Hardly in the best interests of Community TV! Also it should be added, Community TV is delivered on free to air, so it can't be cheaper to the consumer to access it. Simply put, if it is the Ministers intention to kill off Community TV, then withdrawing our free to air spectrum is the quickest way of achieving this outcome.”

Shannon Marinko, co-host/co-creator of The Bazura Project, C31 2006-2008: “I fear these waters are far murkier than we initially yelled at. On the one hand, all television (and all media, most likely) will be moving to an internet-based delivery system in the very near future anyway. So arguing against the Government's plan of "airwave ethnic cleansing" (their term) seems like a moot, if a little expedited, point. However, on deeper reflection, I reckon Turnbull can just go suck a fat one.”

Sign the “Commit to Community TV” petition here.

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