Simon Tayler, Sydney
Supporters of Sydney's only community television station - Channel 31 - were shocked to hear on March 18 that the station would be forced off the air as a result of a decision by the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) to revoke the license of its operator, Community TV Sydney (CTS).
Channel 31 has been managed by CTS for the last 11 years under a "temporary" licence. But, after a process of public tender, the ABA decided to award the station's licence to a rival bidder, TV Sydney (TVS).
TVS is a consortium that includes the University of Western Sydney and the Australian Film and Television School (AFTS).
On March 19, Federal Court judge Arthur Emmett ordered that CTS's licence be temporarily extended - until a further hearing of the issue on March 22. He also ordered that the licence allocated by the ABA to TVS be suspended.
The ABA's decision is a significant blow to community broadcasting in Sydney. While CTS has consistently and reliably provided broadcasting services for program providers in the community, TV Sydney has never been involved in broadcasting, and there are considerable uncertainties involved in its bid.
TVS will not be ready to broadcast until at least the beginning of 2005 - meaning that Channel 31 would be off the air for at least nine months.
TVS will need a significant injection of capital to begin operating the station. In its documentation for the bid, TVS stated that it would need to take out a commercial loan of $2 million to pay for set up and operating costs. By contrast, CTS already has a stable income base and has proven its ability to pay for its costs.
The TVS documents are unusually vague about exactly where its money will come from, but the consortium says that it will repay the loan and maintain a revenue stream through selling advertising time - much like the commercial TV stations and SBS.
Program providers also have concerns about what programs will broadcast between the advertisements. TVS's documentation makes it clear that one of its aims is to profile the students and courses of member organisations, which could potentially make much of the programming little more than an ongoing advertisement for the AFTS and UWS.
TVS has published a tentative broadcast schedule, which includes a token amount of ethnic community shows, but is dominated by broadcasts of educational programs, parliamentary question time, lifestyle programs and chat shows. The schedule is similar to that of the other TV channels.
Those program providers who are currently broadcasting will have to approach TVS individually, and ask for broadcast time. There are no guarantees that they will be able to secure slots, or what conditions will be placed on them.
One of the groups that will be under threat if the ABA's decision is implemented is Actively Radical TV (ARTV), a progressive group of program producers, one of which, Voices of Protest, is supported by Green Left Weekly.
ARTV has been a consistent supporter and builder of progressive movements, and is regularly watched by at least 15,000 viewers each week.
ARTV's producer, Jill Hickson, said she was angered by the ABA's decision. "The ABA's decision is a real threat to community broadcasting in Sydney. All of the shows that give a voice to the progressive community in Sydney will have to apply to the new broadcasters for airtime. We have no idea whether they will allow us to broadcast."
Supporters of Channel 31 will hold a rally outside the ABA's offices at 201 Sussex Street, Sydney, at noon on March 26.
From Green Left Weekly, March 24, 2004.
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