Debra Oswald: ‘For years after COVID-19, our screens will be flooded with overseas content’
Do we want to see Australian drama, comedy and kids shows on screens in the coming years? With Minister Paul Fletcher and the Federal Government’s choices, Australian screen storytelling will pretty much disappear or be reduced to a shriveled novelty.
Right now in the UK and the US people are using the COVID-19 production shutdown to power ahead with script development, ready to film as soon as it’s possible again. That can’t happen here if content quotas are dismantled and creative people are left reeling from months without financial support.
Our screen industry was already being squeezed by reduced funding and by the distorted economic shape that the streaming giants create for a country like ours. Things were already precarious. And now this.
The result of current policies will mean that for years and years after COVID, our screens will be flooded with overseas content – most of it American, some of it terrific, much of it woeful.
Is it crazy to hope that this government will do a proper restructuring of content regulation, obliging the streamers to make Australian stuff? And then funding us to make good stuff that can travel to other countries? I‘ll do whatever crazy hoping would help.
The options paper recently released by the Department of Communications offers four models as a starting point for discussion. Only Model 3 (‘Significant’) offers substantial hope for our industry and at this early stage of planning, there is limited detail about what the model would involve.
Whichever regulatory system is adopted, it must ensure there are no potential loopholes that networks and streamers can use to limit their commitment to high quality drama/comedy/kids’ material.
We don’t want to end up with a lot of cheap stuff spewed out to satisfy loose obligations and shows that find work-arounds for what constitutes ‘Australian.’ And we need boosted funding so we can make the high-quality dramas that will hold up at home and overseas.
Sadly, this government has never displayed one tiny hint of valuing Australian arts and screen drama. I don’t believe there’s outright malice or a concerted campaign to destroy our industry, but it’s clear this government just doesn’t think Australian culture much matters.
In the process of getting through the COVID crisis and protecting corporate interests, local content may well be a casualty of their carelessness and contempt.
In recent weeks, I’ve found their contempt for us quite staggering. By ‘us,’ I don’t just mean creative workers. I mean all of us – all Australian viewers who deserve to see their own stories on screen and want Australian content for our kids to watch.
Of course this country is facing much bigger and more urgent problems right now, so much suffering being met with moral and physical courage from health workers and many others.
But in the time after this, if we want to have a surviving screen industry, if we want to see our own stories bobbing up amid the deluge of American content, we need to let Paul Fletcher know.
Debra Oswald is creator/head writer of the first five seasons of Network 10’s ‘Offspring’. Her stage plays have been performed around the world and are published by Currency Press. Her TV credits include ‘Police Rescue’, ‘Palace of Dreams’, ‘The Secret Life of Us’, ‘Sweet and Sour’ and ‘Bananas in Pyjamas’. The above is an extended version of her Twitter feed.