Tonight’s announcement of the Federal Budget for 2009-10 has promised a windfall for our national broadcasters, ABC and SBS, but the community TV sector – again – appears to have been left out in the cold.
ABC has been allowed an additional $151.7 million in its budget allocation to fund the launch of its new children’s channel, ABC3, and to increase Australian content, particularly drama. ABC will also receive some additional funding to support the development of online content in regional areas.
SBS has been given an additional $20 million over three years to boost Australian content. This is despite the broadcaster asking for an additional $70 million to fund programming initiatives and a new channel to replace the digital World News Channel. Regardless, SBS appears to be moving ahead with its new channel, SBS2, to launch next month.
The Government has also promised $140 million to assist regional communities in the transition to digital television.
However, the community TV sector – surely, the most financially-starved of all broadcasters – has been omitted from tonight’s budget promises. This is despite past assurances by Senator Stephen Conroy that community TV will be looked after in the transition to digital transmission.
So far, both previous and current governments have done little to assist or support community TV in migrating to digital – despite the national and commercial broadcasters being given assistance in funding, infrastructure and broadcast spectrum – and have also been allowed to simulcast in both analogue and digital to allow viewers time to make the move to digital equipment before analogue transmissions are shut down across Australia between 2010 and 2013.
Recent news reports indicate that 43 per cent of capital city households have already made the transition to digital television – and, potentially, just as many households are now without access to community television.
Over eight years since the launch of digital television in Australia, Community Television continues to be restricted to analogue-only transmission with no confirmed migration path to digital. The only concession allowed to the community channels to date has been the inclusion of the community channels in the to-be-launched Electronic Program Guide (EPG) as part of the Freeview platform.
The Australian Community Television Alliance, representing TVS Sydney, C31 Melbourne, C31 Adelaide and QCTV Brisbane, has already called for an urgent meeting with communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy to discuss the budget developments.