|Pacific Media Watch|
Pulling the plug on ethnic TV
Title -- 4426 AUSTRALIA: Pulling the plug on ethnic TV
Date -- 27 May 2004
Byline -- None
Origin -- Pacific Media Watch
Source -- InterPress Service 25/5/2004
Copyright -- IPS
Status -- Unabridged
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PULLING PLUG ON ETHNIC TV SHRINKS SPACE FOR DIVERSITY
By Kalinga Seneviratne
SYDNEY (IPS/Pacific Media Watch): Sydney's ethnic community
groups are outraged by the media regulating body's
decision to pull the plug on an innovative television
channel in Australia that has been giving a voice to
them for 11 years now.
Channel 31, run by Community Television Sydney and
Australia's first truly multicultural channel run by
ethnic communities, lost its test licence in mid-April
after the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA)
decided to give a permanent community-television
licence for Sydney to another group called Television
Television Sydney (TVS) is a consortium of educational
institutions that includes a sprinkle of predominantly
Anglo-Saxon community groups.
In the wake of the ABA's decision, ethnic communities
held rallies outside the Sydney town hall.
Meantime, some broadcasters are starting to look
beyond this issue and trying to look at the
possibility of using satellite and digital
subscription channels to air programmes.
Community leaders argue that they have been
disenfranchised now that the channel is off the air.
"The ABA has given the licence to an organisation
which doesn't have the facility to broadcast - not at
least for a year,'' screamed an angry Salvatore
Scevola, an ethnic programme producer, at one rally.
"We have been broadcasting for over ten years and
have built a monthly audience of 1.3 million in
Sydney," Edmond Taouk, president of CTS, said in an
"They (ABA) gave us 12 hours notice to go off air . .
. . That's the amount of recognition they gave to our
efforts of developing a huge network of ethnic
production houses and running a successful community
television station without even a dollar of government
money," he added.
Community television programmers say this shrinks the
room for diversity in a media market already dominated
by larger, commercial and mainstream interests.
"Loosing the channel is a blow for ethnic
communities, because a lot of people of non-European
background within Sydney came to rely on different
programmes broadcast on Channel 31, not only for news
from their homelands but also for information on
activities within their local communities," said
Rihab Charida, a programme producer of Palestinian
"Because we are marginalised in the mainstream media,
it is important for us to have a media made by us and
controlled by us," Charida told IPS.
Channel 31 had both news and entertainment programmes
for various ethnic communities such as Italian,
Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian and Latin
American. There were also current affairs programmes
from left-wing groups.
The mix is a reflection of the fact that about
one-third of Australians today are born overseas. The
biggest communities are Greek, Italian with emerging
groups of Arabic speakers, Latin Americans, those from
the Baltic states and Chinese.
Taouk pointed out that the new consortium that got a
community television licence, is 80 percent
educational and only 20 percent community.
"And they haven't included us in that community component after
all the community broadcasting we've done,'' he added.
But Professor Janice Reid, TVS chairwoman, said in a
press statement: "TVS has a strong commitment to
deliver high quality Australian content and culturally
diverse programming for all sectors of the community.
We have been inundated with offers of support from
many Channel 31 programme providers."
But CTS says that TVS has refused to discuss with it
the possibility of continuing the broadcasts on a
temporary basis until it is ready with its
Gina Herro of ABA's licensing section told IPS that
the authority cannot offer another temporary licence
once a permanent one has been issued. But TVS can
agree to allow CTS to broadcast using their licence on
a transitionary basis.
When the federal government allocated in 1992 the
spectrum for community broadcasting, it did so on the
basis of freeing up the airwaves for community access
in the name of equity.
But since the 1996 election of the conservative
government led by Prime Minister John Howard, critics
say there has been an assault on multiculturalism and
the access and equity principles that underline that
policy, and point to CTS as the latest victim of this
Already, many ethnic community groups here see the ABA
action as reflecting a trend in other Western
democracies where ethnic minority groups are seen with
a measure of suspicion by authorities.
"What we have seen is a bloodless coup," Farzin
Yektaparast, an Iranian-born community television
producer, said in an interview. "The ABA wanted to
give control of the station to someone whose agenda
they know about and they could control."
Added Charida: "Mainstream stations don't cater to
us. It's Anglo media made for them."
"CTS ran a very diverse TV station. They had a
diverse network of programme producers from the far
right to centre and the far left in a political
sense," noted John Reynolds, director of Actively
Radical Television, a left-wing group that produced a
weekly current affairs programme on global issues
broadcast on Sunday nights.
"It has allowed access to a broad spectrum of
perspectives to go on air from groups and communities
who otherwise don't have access to the airwaves on
government or commercial channels," he said in an
He expressed concern that the new operators
may not be that accommodating of "progressive
political programming" because of its educational
"We created a very interactive community media in
Sydney,'' argues Yektaparast, who was trained in
Channel 31 and now works as a community media trainer
There were 18 hours of ethnic programming on prime
time every week on Channel 31. TVS had indicated in
their licence application that this would come down to
less than four hours per week.
But a spokesman for Slice TV, the community component
of the new licensee, denies plans to scrap ethnic
"Our membership will be open to ethnic
programme providers and we expect a big influx of
them," John Curtis of Slice TV said in an interview.
"What worries people is the absolute power ABA has
over making and implementing broadcasting law in
Australia," said Tom Zelinka, station manager of
Channel 31. "It is ridiculous to ignore and wipe out
eleven years of cultural development of television in
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