Channel 31 Melbourne and Geelong (C31) is Victoria's not-for-profit community television service, watched by more than one million people every month.
The station delivers an essential service in providing access and representation to Victoria's diverse communities, special interest groups, small and independent producers, industry newcomers, and tertiary students as part of their course work in Film & TV and journalism degrees.
It also plays a vital role in servicing Victoria's multicultural communities, which according to the 2016 census represent 28.4% of the state’s population with citizens from more than 200 countries, speak 260 languages and follow 135 different faiths.
The station currently works with 24 multicultural producers supporting the production of content reflecting and sharing the culture and lifestyles of their communities which helps to promote cross-cultural understanding and social cohesion.
It also works in partnership with the NEMBC to produce the Multicultural AFL Show, and All About A-League produced entirely by young people from multicultural and multi-faith backgrounds.
“It’s remarkable the sheer volume and diversity of people and communities who have contributed content for Channel 31. And the overwhelming majority of them are volunteers doing it out of passion – whether that be to launch their own media careers like Rove and Waleed Aly or to express themselves creatively or share their interests” said Channel 31 General Manager, Matthew Field.
Since its establishment in the 1990s, C31 has steadily and successfully grown, but the station is facing an increasingly uncertain future.
Unlike the government-funded ABC and SBS, C31 is financially self-sufficient driving revenue primarily from TV advertising, live-streaming production and funded content production.
In September 2014, the Minister for Communications announced that Transmitter Licences for community TV stations would not be renewed beyond December 2015 to allow for testing and trials of new compression technologies on the broadcast platform, Spectrum.
Since then, C31 has been fighting to keep its free-to-air access and to remain financially viable.
It has worked with Government to secure several transmitter licence extensions, but the continued uncertainty around C31's longer-term operation has had significant financial impacts with advertising revenues falling sharply.
C31 recognises the landscape has changed since 2014 and has made substantial progress identifying opportunities and understanding the complexities of delivering services online.
Consequently, C31 believes that the unique service and benefits it provides are best realised with free-to-air TV, complemented by online platforms.
Community TV predicts there will be no change to the spectrum broadcast they occupy until at least 2024, and yet their free-to-air access is due to be switched off in June 2020.
The petitioners, therefore, request the Senate call on the Morrison Government and the Federal Minister for Communications to authorise a minimum five-year extension to C31's transmitter licence.
This period of extended certainty would enable C31 a period of stability to return to financial health and continue to develop modernised business and operating models.