“It was twenty years ago today…” so goes the opening line from the Beatles classic Sergeant Peppers album. Well it was twenty years ago today that television viewers in regional Australia awoke to find that they now had three competing commercial television stations available to watch rather than the single monopoly endured for the previous twenty-plus years. That was if you were in NSW that is and Queensland and Victoria followed soon after.

But here in regional South Australia, twenty years later and almost at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, we still have only one commercial television company and it’s only in the last few years that they have, reluctantly, provided even a second channel.

It is probably pertinent to note that, while pretending to be “local”, the two signals actually originate from the same building in Canberra where, twenty years earlier, the management used a court injunction to delay (in an attempt to stop) the introduction of television competition to regional viewers. It seems that although the faces have changed in the last twenty years, the attitude has remained the same.

Before Christmas last year, we were bombarded by commercials on the ABC and SBS gleefully telling us that we were to receive something called Freeview and promising “15 digital channels … in 2009”. Of course, as far as regional South Australia is concerned, that was a lie because, according to regulatory authority the ACMA, Macquarie Southern Cross, the owners of our “local” television stations only have the option to provide one additional digital channel, which would take the total in this area to nine, not fifteen (including the three each for ABC and SBS).

And are Macquarie Southern Cross going to take up this option of providing long-suffering Spencer Gulf viewers with this additional digital channel? Try asking them and see what sort of response you get.

So, in the same way that we had to wait more than twenty years for the technology of FM radio to come to the area, will it be yet another twenty years before we get to enjoy the choice of even three commercial television channels that Adelaide has had since 1965? And what about the other channels that make up Freeview? Channel Ten started their ONE high-definition sport channel the other day. Will we ever receive it?

A couple of months ago in Mildura, the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, dropped a hint that satellite could be used to provide additional services to under-served regional areas, but the incumbent operators mounted a vocal attack on that idea and there has been no talk of it since, in fact, his department refuses to answer questions on the subject at all.

Do you get the impression that, as far as big business and politicians are concerned, regional South Australia doesn’t matter?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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