Melbourne's Channel 31 faces the axe


By the Access News team

MELBOURNE — Melbourne's only community controlled TV station is experiencing a financial crisis that could result in the closure of the station forever.

Independent TV, free from government or corporate influence, is rare in today's world. Melbourne has had this resource since 1991, when MCTC 31 (the Melbourne Community Television Consortium) was formed, after years of lobbying and development.

Channel 31 is one of the few free-to-air community TV stations currently operating. The station has, over the last eight years, built up an audience of more than 1 million viewers per week. It has also brought together a large volunteer base to make and broadcast the programs.

Owned and operated by the community, Channel 31's shows are produced by and for the diverse communities of Melbourne. It broadcasts Aboriginal programs, gay and lesbian programs and programs in 19 different languages.

Many of the communities who make use of Channel 31, such as Melbourne's Tamil-speaking population, have no representation on other TV channels. Bent TV, the gay/lesbian/queer member group, is one of the most watched programs. Local independent musicians and artists are also given access.

News programs, such as Access News, are able to cover important stories neglected by the major networks and programming features stories each week on campaigns ranging from forest blockades to workers' picket lines.

A documentary was aired recently about the "McLibel" case in Britain, in which activists were sued by McDonald's for distributing anti-McDonald's information. Other stations declined to run the documentary for fear of libel or souring relations with their advertisers.

Channel 31 also provides media training and production facilities to those who are usually denied it, including the young, unemployed, poor and people from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

All this may be lost unless the community comes to the station's aid. Channel 31 needs to raise $250,000 very quickly to stay on air. An unexpected drop in sponsorship, a major court case and an extraordinarily large transmitter repair bill have left the channel in a dire situation.

There is a possibility that Channel 31 could be privatised. A business group could take control of management and programming policy, which are now in the hands of the member groups. Programs may have to pay to go to air, and many would be unable to afford it.

This would spell the end of the community project initiated in the mid-'80s, which was committed to creating an independent media organisation with a decentralised administrative structure, and which was committed to television which is accessible, local and grassroots.

If community TV falters now, it paves the way for a new commercial network to step in and replace it. Community TV stations around the country could be adversely affected. In Melbourne it may never be established again.

Channel 31 is calling on all supporters, viewers and believers in community media to pledge their support. One thousand five hundred pledges of $200 each will save the station, and the money will only be called in if the target is reached.

We've already received more than $50,000 in pledges from volunteers, members and viewers, but we need your help too. Please contact us soon. The situation is urgent — there may only be a week left.

You can phone Channel 31 on (03) 9663 5831.