The ABC should be mandated to commission minimum levels of new Australian children’s content each year, according to Australian Children’s Television Foundation CEO Jenny Buckland.
Buckland also advocated the public broadcaster should receive adequate funding which is quarantined to children’s content.
Appearing before House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts inquiry into the sustainability of Australia’s film and TV industry, she suggested the ABC should face the same obligations as the BBC.
The UK regulator Ofcom has brought in new rules which require the BBC to screen at least 100 hours of locally-commissioned pre-school programming and at least 400 hours for older children per year.
“The ABC argues that it does not need a quota or any protections around children’s content because we can all just trust that it is in the ABC DNA to make the children’s audience a priority,” she said.
“Unfortunately, and although I have the greatest respect for the staff who work in the children’s department at the ABC, history tells us that the service that the ABC provides is only as good as the budget that the children’s department is given, and that support from management for children’s content has been inconsistent.”
The ABC recently told Senate Estimates that its spending on children’s content had declined by 20 per cent over four years from 2012-13. But that ignored the three prior years when the pubcaster received additional funding from the Rudd government to launch its children’s channel.
So spending has fallen from around $35 million in 2009 to $20 million in 2012-13 and just under $17 million last year
Buckland criticised the ABC’s counter-argument that it commissions more kids shows than the commercial broadcasters, asking, “Is it enough that the ABC benchmarks itself against the commercial broadcasters and how will we assess their performance if the commercial broadcasters no longer have any obligations?”
She again rejected the commercial broadcasters’ push to abolish the kids quotas but recommended they be reviewed to reflect that kids increasingly are watching shows online.
She said the networks may need incentives to continue to screen that programming and suggested the broadcasters could be allowed to trade parts of the quota amongst themselves.
According to the ACMA, the commercial networks last year collectively spent $30 million on kids content, which averages $25,000 an hour. Ten years ago each spent $30 million on that genre annually.
“Children’s television drama is a really special part of the film and television industry, with an extraordinary legacy,” she said.
“But the hardest sale that anyone makes is the one here at home, to the Australian broadcaster. Children’s drama cannot demand prime-time licence fees or prime-time attention and broadcasters don’t really want to place priority on the youngest viewers.”
Australian children’s dramas are seen in more than 120 countries and this month alone in Germany there are four such shows screening on public broadcasting kids channel KIKA.
Lastly, she proposed that the committee ask the parallel Australian and children’s content review to develop a new framework to ensure that Australian children’s programming is supported on commercial platforms.