Ethnic Voices Endangered by Turnbull’s Plans


Clock ticking for Australian community television as minister decides to axe channels by December 2015


Community television producers believe the voices of local cultural groups could be silenced with Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to axe Australian community television by December 2015.

The Communications Minister announced that community television stations in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide will no longer be able to broadcast by the end of 2015.

Turnbull wishes to use community television’s broadcasting spectrum for testing of the MPEG-4 format, which will allow for more high definition channels.

Community television is a free-to-air service that broadcasts programs created and run by locals, which are funded by individual sponsorships.

Minister Turnbull maintained that community television should use the Internet as its sole distribution platform.

Community stations around Australia already stream all their content online.

TVS scored high ratings recently, with over 20,000 people tuning in to watch an André Rieu concert. Despite its ratings and popularity on its television broadcast, the service only received an audience of five people online.

Henri De Gorter, the Station Manager for Television Sydney (TVS), said that community television cannot survive online. “Without the sponsors, there isn’t any money, without money, the five channels will close,” he said.

“We have so many shows that are for the Maltese community, the Chinese community or the Greek community,” he added.

TVS currently airs shows focussing on over eight nationalities.

In 2008, Raj Natarajan, TVS board member, created the cultural program OzIndian.

“It was time to have a show which can reflect that input of Indian culture into Australian culture,” he said.

Mr Natarajan’s show aims to promote culture, diversity, charity and sport within society, and celebrates the various culturally-oriented events in the community.

Many of these events do not have access to the mainstream media for advertising.  His show is one of the many community-oriented shows that will be affected by Turnbull’s decision.

Minister Turnbull said community television would benefit from a transfer to internet broadcast and that it will deliver wider audiences, at less cost on a wider range of devices and the ability to do more than linear broadcasting.

DeGorter said the shows that will be affected by the Liberal Government’s cuts are unique. “[They are] kooky things you get on community television that is aimed at an alternative audience—and the audiences respond—they love it,” he explained.

Move it or lose it is a show that DeGorter described as exemplary of shows on community television. It is an exercise program aimed at elderly people, with disabilities or limited movement, which airs twice every weekday. This show has received daily phone calls from nursing homes and retirement villages.

“It’s not what you call a high ratings program, it’s targeting specifically at a proportion of our population who would not normally be given any consideration,” he said.

In the UK, over the past three years, the BBC has pledged around £40mn to support local television in the United Kingdom. The BBC generates money through the annual licensing fee that United Kingdom citizens must pay to access live television broadcasting. Their annual income of £3.7bn from this fee has made the process of funding local television easier.

This year 19 new, local television stations have been licensed by the British Government’s media regulator, Ofcom. Meanwhile, the Australian government wishes to shut down five community television stations, two of which have been running for 20 years.

“The government there sees such a value in community television, but the minister here doesn’t,” said De Gorter.

Community television executives suggested to instead broadcast these programs on SBS 3.

The government has declined this offer.

De Gorter believes that Minister Turnbull has not clearly explained why he thinks community television should not continue on free-to-air. He believes that the SBS solution is the most logical.

Mr Natarajan feels that the move to solely broadcasting on the Internet is not feasible.

“We are still not prepared. It needs to be a smooth and gradual transition. Right now that shift, if made, virtually is the death of community television,” he said.

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