Channel 44 has been in limbo since 2014 when then-Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that all Australian community televisions stations would have to move to an online-only delivery model by the end of 2015 to allow the stations’ broadcast spectrums to be repurposed and trialled for new telecommunications technology.
Since then, Channel 44 and its Melbourne sister station Channel 31 have been granted a series of last minute one-year licence extensions to continue broadcasting.
The two stations were scheduled to go off the air next Wednesday, June 30, but amendments tabled by South Australian Senator Rex Patrick on Tuesday night and passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday will allow community television to stay on the airwaves until 2024.
Channel 44 General Manager Lauren Hillman said it was the eighth extension the station has received since 2014 and will give staff much more certainty going forward.
“This three-year licence extension means everything to us because we’ve been fighting to save our community licences for the past seven years,” Hillman said.
“Having it validated and legislated in federal parliament is a gamechanger for both Channel 44 in Adelaide and Channel 31 in Melbourne.”
Hilman said the previous temporary extensions had dragged away resources from the channel as it was forced to lobby to keep its survival.
“When we received a one-year extension, half of that time – six months of that time – has been lobbying to federal politicians instead of focusing on the task at hand which is running community television,” she said.
“Despite extremely challenging circumstances of lobbying behind the scenes, Channel 44 has experienced significant growth which we’re incredibly proud of.”
But the government is cautioning that the three-year license extension will be the last granted to community television.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher welcomed the passage of the amendments but noted they prohibit any new licences being given after 2024.
“This will give the two community television licensees more time to transition to online platforms,” Fletcher said in a statement.
“Moving to online platforms will vacate the spectrum in time for appropriate testing, planning and transition requirements ahead of any reallocation.”
Asked whether she was concerned about the 2024 cut off, Hillman said: “I would say that yes, this is it, but who knows?”
“We thought it was [over] for the last six years and who knows we could have a change of government.”
Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie, who worked with Fletcher to draft the timeframe for the licence extension, said the three years will give the station enough time to prepare for future changes.
“The amendment does set a clear deadline for 2024 but this will allow C44 to work through the Media Reform Green Paper process and give the station sufficient time to really plan its future,” Sharkie said.
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