“It doesn’t make any sense”: Channel 31 grapples with its impending forced closure

“It doesn’t make any sense”: Channel 31 grapples with its impending forced closure

Words by Charisa Bossinakis

There’s less than a week left before Channel 31 gets switched off.

After six short-term license renewals, which caused instability for the not-for-profit sector, the broadcasting license for Community TV (CTV) in Melbourne will expire on June 30, forcing Channel 31 to officially come to an end.

C44 in Adelaide was also set to cease this year; however, the station was issued a 12-month free-to-air broadcasting license by the Minister of Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher.

Calls for the renewal of the free-to-air broadcasting license are ongoing. Greens Spokesperson for Communications Senator Sarah Hanson-Young wrote to Minister Fletcher back in April requesting for CTV to continue operating as it provides an essential service to its local communities.

“The case for renewal is even stronger given the global coronavirus pandemic which has resulted in more people consuming even more broadcast content than ever,” Hanson-Young said in a statement.

“CTV provides content for culturally and linguistically diverse members of our community and, therefore, programming that isn’t available on commercial TV.

“CTV is an invaluable service for multicultural communities, journalists, screen and media practitioners and students as well as many volunteers. It would be a terrible shame to take CTV away for no reason at all and the Greens will be doing all we can to help save it,” she said.

Channel 31 management has attempted to seek a similar offer to the one extended to C44 from Minister Fletcher, but the Melbourne station announced they will not be receiving the same license extension and will be effectively switched-off next Tuesday. This begs the question, ‘If an extension is possible for one station, why not both?’

General Manager of Channel 31, Mitchel Kalika, is “devastated” by the forced closure and emphasises the pivotal role CTV stations played in launching the careers for many prolific Australian presenters, entertainers and journalists.

“Not only does it provide broadcasting training for volunteers, but Channel 31 also gives a voice to individuals, groups and ideologies that would otherwise be ignored or rejected by Commercial or National broadcast,” he says.

“Australia’s airwaves are filled with alumni, ranging from Hamish and Andy and Rove to Emmylou McCarthy and Dilruk Jayasinha – all of whom would likely have had a much tougher time breaking into the industry without having a place to showcase their skills and build their profile.

“It’s a unique place to cut your teeth and losing that incentive of going to TV, and the challenges associated, will be detrimental to the ongoing development of our screen and media sector in Australia,” says Kalika.

CTV stations have lobbied for the extension of the free-to-air broadcasting license and even tried to reach out to Minister Fletcher, but received no response and have instead been “handballed” to his advisors and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

“We have not had any direct correspondence with Minister Fletcher since he took his position in 2019,” he said. “We don’t receive any regular salary from the (Federal) government to supplement our operational costs, it doesn’t make any sense as to why we should be switched off.”

And with Channel 31 shutting down, workers will be forced to enter voluntary administration with limited resources and produce content solely online as operations wind down due to lost revenue.

“Forcing an entire sector to transition to a new broadcasting model that is untested is an impossible scenario, especially given the marginally small scale that each CTV station operates at,” says Kalika.

The ACMA has advised that there will be no alternative use planned for CTV in Melbourne for the next five years and stations are to remain closed within that timeframe.

We contacted the Minister of Communications, Cyber Safety & the Arts, Paul Fletcher, but he declined to comment.

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