THE future of LGBTI voices on Australian television is uncertain after Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently announced he would strip Australia’s five community television stations of access to the TV spectrum towards the end of 2015.
According to Fairfax Media, community TV representatives have branded the decision as “juvenile”, but Turnbull said community broadcasters should take advantage of the internet and that it was the best distribution model for them.
Brisbane community station Briz 31, which has a history of broadcasting LGBTI shows, such as Tamara Tonite during the 1990s, launched Queer TV (QTV) back to the airwaves in 2013.
QTV co-host Michael James said he was “disappointed” with the decision.
“[I am] incredibly disappointed. Community TV has a great place on our screens as programs that wouldn’t normally make it to air have the opportunity to be seen. Especially shows like QTV, people can stumble across it more easily on TV, online they have to search to find it,” he told the Star Observer.
“I think QTV was a great addition to the bovines of our community in Brisbane. It increased visibility and awareness and was the only GLBTIQ program on air in Queensland.
“Thankfully we still have GLBTIQ voices alive on community radio at 4ZZZ and Switch 1197 but how long till they are cut or forced online too?”
Melbourne community television has also had a history of LGBTI broadcasting with production company Bent TV that was established in 1993, and its reboot in 2010.
Similar to QTV, Bent TV’s future is also uncertain according to its president, Paul Anthony.
“[Turnbull’s decision] was a shock to Bent TV and leaves us in a position of uncertainty,” Anthony said.
“The future is unclear for Bent TV at this stage as we rely heavily on the studio facilities provided by Channel 31, which we could not access at such generously reduced prices anywhere else.”
Anthony said that LGBTI shows on community television still played a vital role in reaching out to and supporting all sectors of the community.
“Many youths questioning or unsure of their sexuality, may have easy access to the Internet but would be afraid of someone accessing their cyber footprint,” he said.
“The advantage of community television is that it does not keep a browsing history. With youth suicide at such a high levels can we really put Australian young people at risk for the sake of a faster download speed?
“As for our older audience, elder members of the GLBTI community may not feel comfortable or readily accepted within a youth oriented club scene. This is the same group that are unlikely to have a smart TV or use streaming services on the web.”
Anthony highlighted its current campaign looking into Melbourne’s trans* community as a reason a strong community voice was vital on air.
“Currently Bent TV is airing Trans-Mission, a 13-week special programming event focusing on Melbourne’s trans community that is getting great response and patronage,” Anthony said.
“Nowhere else in popular media is there a place for this group of people to share their personal stories. Unfortunately none of these groups is going to be properly represented in re-runs of Modern Family.”
According to James the government’s decision was only going to consign LGBTI voices on community television to obscurity.
“We devalue our communities voices by silencing them and relegating them to the internet,” James said.
With no federal or state funding, Briz 31 general manager Scott Black told Fairfax that Turnbull had taken one thing from community television.
“The only thing they could ever take from us was the apparatus licence, which is what they’ve done,” Black said.
“We still have our broadcast licence until 2019 – we just don’t have a spectrum.”