22 June 2017

I rise to speak on community television in Australia and to call on government to continue its support for the transition of community television broadcasters to go 'over the top' to an internet distribution method.

Community radio and community television play an important role in meeting the objectives of the Broadcasting Services Act, which include: promoting the diversity of broadcasting services available to the Australian public; developing and reflecting Australian identity, character and cultural diversity; and providing programming material that is locally significant.

The need for the local content that is being produced by Channel 44 in South Australia is a case in point. Channel 44 provides a platform for local stories, events and community activities. They promote many arts activities and events. This year they have been part of the Adelaide Fringe and the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, for example, and have created better access into the arts communities.

Community broadcasting services must be provided for community purposes and cannot be operated for profit, or as part of a profit-making enterprise. They are unable to broadcast advertisements, they are subject to limits on the amount and placement of sponsorship announcements and they are subject to conditions pertaining to the sale of access to airtime. This helps maintain competitive tensions within the Australian broadcasting mix and ensures that Australians enjoy a range of services—national, community, commercial and subscription.

Community broadcasters require a licence to use the broadcasting spectrum, a finite and valuable public resource. In September 2014, the then Minister for Communications announced that the transmitter licences, which authorise community TV stations to use the broadcasting spectrum to deliver their services, would not be renewed beyond 31 December 2015. This meant that the services would have to migrate to online delivery or simply cease operating. The government gave two main reasons for its decision: first, it believed that the best long-term outcome for community TV was that it use the internet as its distribution platform; and second, moving community TV out of the sixth channel spectrum would free up the spectrum needed for the testing and migration of MPEG-4 technology.

Since then the government has supported the transition of community TV operators to an online-only delivery platform with financial assistance and by licence extensions, which are set to expire very soon, on 30 June 2017. In that time, community TV operators have been working very hard to make the best of the situation that was thrust upon them. All of the stations have made difficult decisions to reduce staff and expenditure and have worked to develop new sources of income, in anticipation of a reduction in revenue that comes with the transition to the online model. Channel 44 in South Australia has made concerted efforts since launching their app and online portal last year.

Community TV stations are not asking for more money. They simply need more time. For these reasons, I call on government to extend community television licences until tests are actually planned or re-planning is done, and that community television licensees be given six months' notice of the requirement to vacate the spectrum. This would be a pragmatic approach in the absence of an alternative use for the spectrum in the near term and would support diversity in our broadcasting landscape.