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Community television faces endless white noise

Media and marketing

Adelaide community television station C44 will most likely go into insolvency – despite an increase in viewership in the past three weeks if the Federal Government doesn’t grant the channel a free-to-air broadcasting license by June 30.

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C44 Adelaide acting general manager Kristen Hamill said the station had been lobbying Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher for a renewal of the broadcast license of up to five years but had not received a response.

Hamill said the minister had previously made it clear to C44 Adelaide and fellow community stations C31 Melbourne that he would not consider renewing their free-to-air broadcasting licences.

In 2014, then Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull made the decision to move community broadcasting onto an online-only delivery model.

The sector had since received six short-term licence renewals, the instability of which had led to the closure of community stations in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth – leaving only the Melbourne and Adelaide stations.

The latest renewal expires on June 30.

Hamill said without an extension C44 Adelaide would “almost certainly go into insolvency.”

“There really isn’t any capability for us to sustain the business with an online-only model right now,” Hamill said.

“We need to also be working as a community production house or as a training facility as well and those things just can’t be possible right now given the restrictions and the impact on businesses that we work with.

“An online model will just not sustain the business as it is.”

She said COVID-19 had shone a light on the importance of the business with an increased viewership of between 60 and 70 per cent in the past three weeks.

“Generally we’re important as a range of diverse voices, so programming that you wouldn’t normally see on the commercial stations,” Hamill said.

“In the context of the pandemic, we’ve been doing a lot of work with multicultural and community groups to be able to grant contact for those groups that wouldn’t normally be able to meet face-to-face.

“In the past couple of weeks we have done a series of live-to-air broadcasts with the Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church, which were watched by thousands of people that couldn’t necessarily get to the church for those religious services.

“We’re sort of acting as an alternative to online streaming because there’s so many people in the community who don’t have access to the internet or don’t have access to smart devices and our broadcast services can serve as a really meaningful alternative to that.”

She said if community television was switched off for good “it would likely be replaced with white noise.”

“We feel this is an irresponsible use of the spectrum, when we are currently using it to broadcast content that helps connect, comfort and inform our local Adelaide community.”

InDaily contacted Minister Fletcher’s office but did not receive a response before deadline.

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