Community TV given stay of execution with broadcast licences extended until end of the year

Minister for Communications and the Arts Mitch Fifield has granted another extension to broadcast licenses for community TV before the sector is forced to transition to an internet-based distribution model, giving stations access to the terrestrial spectrum until 31 December, 2017.

The news follows strong campaigning from the Community TV sector and representations from Labor at both federal and state levels.

Fifield announced a six-month extension for CTV across Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, to allow them to transition their services to online streaming while services in Brisbane and Sydney have already ceased broadcasting.

Broadcasters were told in 2014 the government would require them to vacate the terrestrial spectrum from 31 December 2015 and use the internet as the new distribution platform.

At the time, the decision was justified on the grounds that the internet was the best long-term distribution platform, and spectrum – which is of high value to the government – needed to be vacated for testing of new technologies like MPEG-4 and ultra-high definition 4K television.

The government has since provided extensions for an additional 18 months, with the latest extension occurring at the end of last year, and allocated $450,000 in funding to assist with the transition, while it considered options for using the vacated broadcast spectrum.

A statement from Fifield said: “Spectrum is a scarce and valuable community resource which the government needs to manage in a way that delivers best value to the Australian public.

“The government is considering a variety of options for using the vacated broadcast spectrum, including for the trialling of next-generation broadcasting technologies that could enable new services for viewers, such as the terrestrial broadcast of ultra-high definition 4K television.”

In a statement today, shadow minister Michelle Rowland said while the decision was welcomed, it exemplified the government’s “lack of vision for the media and communications sector, their flawed decision-making and their inability to execute a plan”.

“I have been calling on government to give the CTV sector the time they need to transition to an internet-only distribution model for over two years now. A successful transition is win/win for government, the CTV sector and the Australian public, yet the government stymies an orderly transition by meting out short extensions and denying certainty,” she said.

“With this latest six-month stay of execution for CTV, Senator Fifield demonstrates the Turnbull government’s disregard for the objects of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and the important role CTV plays in promoting the diversity of broadcasting services and programming material available to the Australian public.”

On Facebook yesterday, C31 Melbourne and Geelong said: “To our many viewers, producers, alumni and just mates of the station whom have been vocal in their support of us through this roller-coaster ride, your passion and spirit for Community TV has most likely had an impact and we sincerely thank you.

“We will use the next six months to continue the progress we’ve made over the last three years, whilst giving us along with our friends at WTV in Perth and Channel 44 in Adelaide a fighting chance to make an online transition work. For your continued support of your local community TV station we love and thank you!”

Adelaide’s Channel 44 said in a Facebook post: “4 days before switch off and we have just had news that Minister Fifield has granted Channel 44, WTV and C31 Melbourne and Geelong a further 6 month extension. We want to thank you for all your support and for making your voices heard.”

WTV Perth added: “After extensive and intense lobbying over the last month, the Federal Government has agreed to extend the community television license after saying it would not extend it beyond this month.

“Thanks to everyone who has supported community TV and worked on the campaign!”

Today also saw Senator Fifield announce a one-off $127m relief package for commercial broadcasters, who will be exempt from paying their licence fees this financial year after the media reform package stalled in the Senate.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.