We live in an age of media plenty, says everyone. I’ve even
said it myself. But it isn’t true, or not as true as it ought to be. Australia
is surely the only country in the world where investing in digital television
actually reduces your choice of
viewing.

The reason is that despite successive election promises,
community television stations have so far been denied
digital spectrum. Buy a set top box or a digital television, and you will no
longer be able to receive them. The result is that CTV – surely the most
diverse if not the most polished television on offer – has begun a “fade out”.

The irony
is that the “fade out” comes when the sector is booming in terms of people
involved and viewer interest. All this is fuelled largely by young people
disenchanted with mainstream media and keen to get experience in broadcast at a
time when national and commercial broadcasters are cutting back on training
programs.

C31
in Melbourne and Geelong
has increased programming from
less than 30 hours per week to over 112 hours per week in just five years, and
has 1.3 million viewers a month – outrating pay TV on some programs, which may
be why Foxtel, Austar and Optusvision have declined to carry it.

In most capital
cities CTV can be found at UHF 31. It can be quite ratty, and it can be
excellent. There are foreign language programs, programs for the deaf and
idiosyncratic programs on fishing, food, four wheel drives and
youth music. Some programs are shared between the stations. It’s like the
liveliest days of community radio, long long ago.

Now there is a campaignto persuade the Government to grant digital spectrum to community
television, and quickly. So when might CTV get its digital access? Senator Helen
Coonan’s office answers in the same way it answers all questions about digital
spectrum at present. The Government is considering responses to its discussion
paper. Wait and see what results.

Peter Fray

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