Digital radio and television

Budget Review 2009-10 Index

Budget 2009 10: Broadcasting and the Arts

Digital radio and television

Dr Rhonda Jolly

Switchover from analogue to digital television is due to commence in regional Australia in the first half of 2010 in Victoria’s Sunraysia region. It is expected that switchover will be complete by the end of 2013. The Budget has provided $138.7 million over three years to assist regions in South Australia, Victoria and Queensland to undertake switchover. 

Funding of $119.7 million over three years has been provided to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy to deliver a digital television information and communications campaign. The Department will also be funded to work with industry to increase digital take up.

In addition, this funding will initiate a technical assistance program for eligible households in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland. There is no indication in the budget papers as to what the eligibility criteria for this program will be. However, the Government has previously announced that an assistance program for the Sunraysia area would be available to certain households. These would be where at least one resident is a recipient of the full aged or disability support pension, a carer’s payment or equivalent payment from the Department of Veterans' Affairs.[1] Assistance is likely to involve similar measures as have been introduced overseas, that is, giving pensioners set top boxes to convert their analogue television reception to digital and providing upgrades to cables or antennas.[2]  

This type of program has proven to have its pitfalls overseas, not least of which has been the cost. A similar program in the United Kingdom for example has been allocated funding of £603 million.[3] An allocation of $15.1 million has been provided over three years for Centrelink to work with the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy in delivering assistance under this measure. 

One consistent loser in recent budgets, especially in relation to the digital switchover saga has been the community broadcasting sector. This Budget provides a mixture of good and bad news for the sector.

Community broadcasters will welcome the funding of $2.5 million over four years that has been provided to continue the community broadcasting National Training Program. This program involves the delivery of accredited management and broadcasting skills training to community broadcasters, particularly those in rural and remote areas. It also delivers special training in radio for the print handicapped and assistance for Indigenous and ethnic broadcasters.

The Government’s commitment to infrastructure funding over four years of $5.3 million, which will assist in the sector’s transition to digital radio broadcasting, has also been seen as a positive development. The Community Broadcasting Association of Australia welcomed the assistance noting that community radio stations will now be able to confidently ‘extend their unique and diverse services to their various communities’.[4]          

The bad news for community broadcasters is that community television has received no assistance for it to convert to digital transmission. In 2001 the commercial free-to-air broadcasters were given access to spectrum at no cost to assist them with simulcasting arrangements during the switchover to digital, but community television was not included in the deal. One community broadcaster argues also that there has been significant funding already provided to the public broadcasters and that what is required for the community broadcasters to convert will be ‘peanuts’ in comparison.[5] All the sector is asking for is ‘a level playing field’.[6]

In March 2009, in conjunction with an announcement that community television stations would be included in the Freeview digital electronic program guide, the Government gave assurances that the sector would not be left behind in the migration to digital.[7] Prior to the Budget, the Opposition argued that there was ‘no valid excuse’ not to address the issues of support for community television and expectations in the sector that funding would eventuate were high.[8] 

Following the budget disappointment for the sector, one community broadcaster argued:

This government is willing to pour money into schemes to try to convince the viewing public to convert to digital television, whilst overlooking the main driver of digital conversion: content. C31 Melbourne [Melbourne’s community television station] believes that making its wide array of unique locally-produced content available on digital would be an excellent stimulus to digital take-up.[9]

The sector has called for urgent meetings with the Government to discuss the long term future of community broadcasting.

[1].    S Conroy (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy), Package to drive digital television transmission, media release, 29 January 2009, viewed 15 May 2009,

[2].    P Hudson, ‘ABC the big winner as SBS gets the flick’,, 13 May 2009, viewed 15 May 2009,

[3].    (United Kingdom) Department for Culture, Media and Sport, The Digital Switchover Scheme, April 2008, viewed 18 May 2009,

[4].    Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA), Community radio set to go digital!, media release, CBAA, 13 May 2009.

[5].    G Dee, ‘C31: Community television shafted by the government in the digital era’, Crikey newsletter, 13 May 2009. 

[6].    G Dee.

[7].    S Jackson, ‘Community stations to get digital guide’, The Australian, 13 April 2009, viewed 18 May 2008,,28124,25324582-7582,00.html

[8].    N Minchin, Budget must end uncertainty for community television, Liberal Party of Australia website, 10th May 2009, viewed 18 May 2009,

[9].    G. Dee.