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Community television

Photograph of the Imparja Television workstation, Alice Springs.

Imparja Television, Alice Springs. Image courtesy of Imparja Television.

What is community television?

Community television stations, like community radio stations are non-profit organisations. This means that they do not make money from the services they provide. Community television stations use sponsorship arrangements to cover their day-to-day running costs.

Sponsorship is similar to advertising - it allows people and organisations to promote their businesses and activities by using television airtime to make announcements. Unlike advertising, the sponsor's announcement must acknowledge the financial support of the sponsor for the station. Community stations must follow strict requirements for using sponsorship announcements and these are outlined in the Community Television Code of Practice.

Almost all of the people who work in community television - writers, presenters, producers, editors, and camera operators—are volunteers. Some people volunteer because they are passionate about the role community television plays in society. Others volunteer to develop the skills associated with television production and to gain important industry experience. Still others volunteer for the sheer enjoyment and thrill of working in television.

The Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA) is the peak body representing community radio and television stations. The CBAA represents both stations that already hold a full broadcasting licence and those aspiring to hold licences.

Community television broadcasting

A number of community television stations operate in Australia, including

  • 31Digital is Queensland's only community television station. Formally known as Briz31 (and later QCTV), 31Digital broadcasts to the Greater Brisbane Area and much of south-east Queensland, including reception into the Gold and Sunshine Coasts. The community television station commenced transmission in 1994 and gained a permanent licence in 2005.
  • 44Adelaide in Adelaide, South Australia, provides open access television to individuals and groups in all areas of the Adelaide community including educational institutions, film makers, multi-cultural and community groups, sporting bodies and local businesses.
  • C31 in Melbourne and Geelong, Victoria. The Melbourne Community Television Consortium Inc. is made up of Melbourne and Geelong-based community, cultural and educational groups producing a wide range of programs that reflect the unique social and cultural diversity of Melbourne and its surrounding areas.
  • TVS in Sydney, New South Wales began broadcasting in 2005. Many programs are made locally, by and for Sydneysiders.
  • WTV in Perth, Western Australia began broadcasting on 10 April 2010 as a digital only community television station.

Most of these television stations broadcast on the same frequency. This means that if you tune in to UHF Channel 44 in Adelaide, you'll be watching 44Adelaide, and if you tune into Channel 44 in Brisbane you'll be watching 31Digital. Analogue broadcasting is still continuing on Channel 31 until the switchover to digital occurs.

Community television broadcasting licences, like all television broadcasting licences, are granted and regulated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Prior to 2005 the issuing of television broadcasting licences was the responsibility of the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA), which was established in 1992 to deal with all of the issues related to radio and television in Australia. On 1 July 2005, the ABA and the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) merged to become ACMA.

Community television program production

Most community television stations are made up of smaller groups that all produce their own television programs. For example, C31 in Melbourne is run by the Melbourne Community Television Consortium, which is made up of many groups including SKA-TV, RMITV and various independent producers of television programs.

These groups come together so that all community programs in a broadcasting region are shown via the same channel. This simplifies viewers' access to community television - they only have to tune to one channel, instead of different channels for each kind of program.

The purpose of community television

Open access television

A photograph of a presenter at C31 News, Melbourne.

C31 News, Melbourne. Image courtesy of C31 News.

Community television provides 'open access' television to all members of the community, including educational institutions, independent film makers, ethnic and specialist interest groups and local businesses. 'Open access' means that anyone can apply to have a program shown on television. It also means that anyone can join a community station and learn about producing and presenting television programs, and how to run a television station.

Locally-produced, independent television

Community television stations produce and broadcast locally-produced programs that are relevant to the communities they are based in. Local news, entertainment and information are presented as a way of addressing issues and presenting information that commercial or government-funded stations do not cover.

Community television also provides opportunities for people to broadcast television programs that they have produced independently. Independent programs are those funded entirely by the people that develop and produce them.

The history of community television

A photograph of Jon Lewis from the Access 31 program

Jon Lewis from the Access 31 program Gallery Watch. Image courtesy of CTV Perth.

In the early 1970s, the Australia Council, Australia's official arts funding organisation, worked together with various community groups to establish a number of video production centres that could be used to produce television programs. Many people began using these production centres, as well as their own resources, to make television programs.

But there was a problem. Once the programs had been made, it was difficult to get them shown on commercial or government-funded television. The people who ran these television stations thought that the programs were too short, or too long, or too different from the kind of programs that television stations were already showing.

While community radio stations were quickly established around Australia, community television took longer to develop. This was because producing television programs and running television stations is a much more expensive process. It wasn't until 1984 that a community group based in Perth applied for a community television licence, and that application was unsuccessful. In the late 1980s RMITV was set up by students at RMIT University in Melbourne and became the first community television station to receive a test transmission permit.

In 1992, the Government asked the ABA to conduct a trial of community television using the vacant sixth television channel (UHF 31 in capital cities). Community television services have been provided on a trial basis since 1994 under the open narrowcast 'class licence'. These licences are issued on the condition that they are used only for community and educational non-profit purposes. Currently, these class licences are held in Lismore and Adelaide.

In 2002, the legislation was changed to introduce new community television licences and in 2004 the first licences were issued in Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Digital broadcasting and community television

In 2001, the Australian Government made an election commitment to 'ensure that community broadcasters are provided with access to spectrum for digital. Spectrum for digital community television will be made available free-of-charge.' This commitment was reaffirmed by successive Ministers, and the 2007 report Community Television: Options for Digital Broadcasting outlined five key recommendations to support digital community television.

For some community television stations, the initial lack of Commonwealth assistance for conversion to digital broadcasting proved problematic. The Perth community television station, Access 31, ceased operations in 2008, citing the lack of support for digitisation as a significant factor for closure. In 2009 a digital pathway for community TV was announced which provided for temporary digital similcast of the three long-term community television services in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and the trial community television service in Adelaide. The trial community television service in Perth was authorised to commence transmission in digital mode only and funding support was provided to assist stations to meet the costs of commencing digital broadcasts.

Useful links

Community television stations

Last updated: 19th September 2011