On April 15, the Federal Government suspended the quota for Australian content on free-to-air television channels and Foxtel.
Very much like his orange counterpart, our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison has made disruption his hallmark. As if it wasn’t bad enough that so many Australian creatives are not supported in his COVID-19 relief package, now it seems that the only real lifeline that the Australian screen industry had, has been dismantled as well.
The Broadcasting Services Act of 1992 required that 55% of primetime viewing on the primary channel of free-to-air television was to be Australian made. More recently, Foxtel was required to spend 10% of their revenue on local content. These allowed the local television production industry to develop and flourish.
Now with the swipe of an infected pen, those quotas are out the window “for 2020”. This sets a terrible precedent.
According to Screen Australia, The object of the standard is to promote the role of commercial television services in developing and reflecting a sense of Australian identity, character and cultural diversity by supporting the community’s continued access to television programs produced under Australian creative control.
Basically, the idea was to make sure that not only did we have a production industry, but that internationally produced television shows which are inherently cheaper to buy, would not nudge out the more expensive (to produce) local content. Obviously, the government is not overly concerned about seeing ourselves reflected on television. We have Dancing with the Stars, which is the Australian franchise of the American show. Australians love seeing their home-grown stars on television. How about Married at First Sight with an American accent? Australians love these shows, not because they have an international format, but because they feature Australians.
“How Good is Australia!”
In the meantime, there is a bailout for regional media, television, radio and print. These are basically dying because there is no advertising revenue. To be fair, they’ve been on life support for years, with Facebook and Google taking the oxygen out of the air. A recent reform will test the waters in a push to make the online giants pay for news content.
Of course, these reforms make sense to a marketing guy, and have nothing to do with the fact that his mate Rupert shut down the regional papers a couple of weeks ago. While I applaud marketing guys bailing out other marketing guys, there is one glaring omission here: the understanding that Australians want to see themselves on screen. Look at the success of many Australian television series, some lasting longer than three decades. Let’s forget about the decimated industry for a second (but only a second), what do the consumers want?
Ask Australians what we want to see.
You work for us, remember?
Here’s an idea, not an original idea I grant you; say, from the beginning of the next financial year (July 2020), a $20 “Television Tax” is placed on the sale of new TVs. That money could go into a fund that would specifically go to bail out producers and productions that have now been shut down due to the abolition of the quotas. How many productions are in jeopardy? After all, it’s only till the end of the year, when the quotas are reinstated, right?
Granted, not a perfect solution, but somebody has to toss the industry a lifeline. If anyone has a solution, we’d love to hear it.
Better still, there is a government Options Paper online asking for people’s thoughts on four options for the future of quotas and Australian content. Head over to https://www.communications.gov.au/have-your-say/supporting-australian-stories-our-screens-options-paper and have your say about a way forward. We reckon option 3 is the only way to go, which will at last enforce a quota on the new normal, the streaming platforms.
Also, check out this letter to Arts Minister Paul Fletcher from September last year. And here he is with some star from Home & Away and ex Minister for the Public Service and Employee Relations, Aboriginal Affairs and the Arts, Don Harwin.
Main photo caption: Australian actors, including cast members of Homicide and Division 4 march through the centre of Melbourne in 1970 to demand local content quotas.