Representatives of Australia's production, writing, directing and acting professions have attacked the free-to-air commercial broadcasters claim that they invested a record $1.35 billion in local content last financial year.
The Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA), the Australian Directors Guild (ADG), the Australian Writers Guild (AWG) and Actors Equity said that only $65 million – or less than 5 per cent – of the $1.35 billion was spent on Australian adult and children’s drama and documentary programs.
“Free TV’s figures are misleading,” SPAA chief executive Geoff Brown said in a statement. “They include significant expenditure on news, current affairs and in particular, sport. When it comes to telling Australian stories in adult drama, kids drama, and documentaries, the commercial channel’s commitment is relatively small. The average expenditure of $64.5 million per year by Seven, Nine, and Ten is cheap by comparison with the $465 million Channel Nine just paid for the NRL rights.”
The Australian production industry is lobbying the government to implement the Australian content regulations proposed by the Convergence Review, which would apply content quotas to multi-channels Seven Mate, Seven Two, Go!, Gem, Eleven and One.
“Only 5 per cent of all content across the six channels was Australian drama,” Actors Equity director Sue McCreadie said in a statement, “and that was mostly Neighbours which had been moved over from Ten’s primary channel.”
AWG executive director Jacqueline Elaine said Australians love Australian stories, such as Underbelly and Howzat! “It's just that the cost for an Australian network to buy from Hollywood the rights to show an hour of one of the highest rating programs in the world can be one twentieth of the cost to produce that show and one tenth of the cost to produce Australian content. Given the choice, broadcasters will always choose the cheaper option, which is why we need, and have always needed, regulation.”
ADG chief executive Kingston Anderson lamented the fact that he watched Bewitched as a kid and now his kids are still watching re-runs of the same show.
Earlier this month, Free TV chief executive Julie Flynn said more than 14 million viewers watch commercial free-to-air television each day, and the sector employs 15,000 people directly and indirectly.
“We also remain the major underwriters of the independent production sector, contracting with more than 70 independent producers," she said. "Commercial broadcasters continue to invest in local content, even as programming costs rise and revenues and budgets come under intense pressure from structural change. Those changes have permanently altered the media environment and reforms are urgently needed to ensure that broadcasters can continue to deliver a strong and vibrant Australian voice.”