AWG slams new Australian content quota bill
The Australian Writers’ Guild has branded the passing of a controversial broadcasting reform bill a disgrace – and believe it is an insult to TV audiences.
The legislation sets new Australian content transmission quotas which, the production industry argues, will do little to protect local content.
AWG executive director Jacqueline Elaine said: “After a farcical four days in Canberra since the media reform package was announced – this crucial piece of legislation determining the future of Australian stories on Australian screens was hurriedly passed without any meaningful discussion or debate.
“Overshadowed by debate on press regulation, media concentration and even Labor Party leadership challenges, this legislation was not given the airspace it rightly needed as the primary instrument protecting the future of Australian stories on free-to-air television.”
The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Convergence Review and Other Measures) Bill 2013 was passed by both Houses last week. The bill amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and provides a range of measures to ensure Australian content is broadcast on the combined digital channels run by channels 7, Nine and Ten.
It states that commercial broadcasters must broadcast at least 730 hours of Australian programs in the current calendar year on their digitial channels. This increases to 1095 hours for 2014 and 1460 hours from the start of 2015. The shows must also be broadcast during the targeted viewing hours from 6am to midnight. It also provides an incentive to broadcasters to show new drama by allowing one hour to count for two in the year’s tally.
The AWG also pointed out that the minimum hours of Australian content can now be spread out across digital channels and argued that the obligation for Australian content could be filled up with repeats.
“I think Australian drama is at an exciting place now but it won’t be in 12 months time. We are at a turning point. We have proven we have the capacity to produce children’s drama but we don’t have the broadcaster's support and now we don’t have the government support.
“It will reduce the amount of high quality drama, that is our fear…this could easily end up as a race to the bottom.”
The AWG believe that there needs to be government intervention to ensure that quality and culturally significant Australian shows continue to be made. They pointed out that these kind of shows are less profitable for TV broadcasters than other forms of programming.
The Television Licence Fees Amendment Bill 2013 was also passed but the federal government dumped four of the six media reform bills after failing to secure enough backing.
Elaine said: “If people were given the opportunity to understand this piece of reform they would understand that it’s just as contentious.
“You need to balance the commercial interests of the broadcasters against the cultural imperatives of Australian stories.”
Reaction on the issue was sought from the Department of Communications and the Shadow Communications Minister Malcom Turnbull.