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Channel 31 calls in the administrators

IT may have recently been hailed as a benchmark for community broadcasting, but WA’s nearly four year old Channel 31 is fighting for its life.

Last year the community broadcaster’s future looked assured when a Federal Government decision enabled community TV broadcasters to apply for five-year licences, just as commercial free-to-air broad-casters do.

Indeed, the station had been experiencing financial difficulties, spawned largely by the global advertising downturn, but a restructure had resulted in it recording modest surpluses for the past four months.

However, on January 14 the station was put into voluntary administration. Its directors were concerned that the station may not be able to continue trading solvently and had approached Melsom Robson partner George Lopez in the week before Christmas to discuss their options.

Channel 31 is also facing legal challenges that could cost it nearly $23 million.

Media Arts Group, a company contracted to produce the WA Trotting Association’s Friday night program, is seeking $22 million in the courts for breach of contract.

That action has been running for nearly four years.

Media Arts’ trotting program never went to air and the company’s managing director Gordon Inglis said his claim is for monies his company would have been owed had the contract run its full six-year term. The claim originally started at $17 million one month before the station first went to air and has swelled to $22 million due to interest.

CTV Perth, which provides programming to the station, is seeking payments of $592,255.

At a recent creditors’ meeting Melsom Robson partner George Lopez, who has been appointed Channel 31’s administrator by the station’s board, said he had been given legal advice that CTV Perth was not a creditor.

He said he was also unsure

of the status of the Media Arts claim.

Channel 31’s other creditors include Edith Cowan University (owed $133,685), the WA Trotting Association ($73,241), the Australian Tax Office ($35,481), Audio Visual Development ($18,639) and recruitment agency TMP Worldwide ($15,935).

At the creditors’ meeting CTV Perth’s lawyer James Swann disputed the station’s right to appoint an administrator, claiming that its board had not been appointed validly.

He argued that CTV was supposed to have four members on Channel 31’s board as part of the station’s broadcast agreement.

Mr Swann attempted to have Ferrier Hodgson appointed as the station’s administrator but that motion was rejected by a majority of the creditors present.

Mr Lopez said that if CTV persisted with its action to have Ferrier Hodgson appointed administrator, he would be forced to go to the courts to have his appointment validated, something that would cause delays to the administration.

There have also been allegations made that CTV owned Channel 31’s licence

Channel 31 managing director Andrew Brine denied that CTV had ever held Channel 31’s licence or that it should have four directors on the station’s board.

He said CTV had, in the past, one or two members on the station’s board but that there had never been a requirement for it to have four.

“They keep saying that they had the original licence but that’s rubbish,” Mr Brine said.

He said the Channel 31 board had decided to opt for voluntary administration because of the two legal actions facing the station.

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