Screen Producers Australia has accused the primary commercial free-to-air channels of screening “significantly less” first-run Australian drama, documentaries and children’s programs.

SPA executive director Matt Deaner described as “disappointing and alarming” the annual compliance results for metropolitan commercial FTA licensees for 2013 released by the Australian Media and Communications Authority.

It’s the first survey since the Gillard Government’s media reforms which allow broadcasters to fulfil the local content quotas by airing dramas, documentaries and children's programming across their multi-channels.

ACMA’s results showed the Seven Network provided the vast majority of its children's programming on 7Two and 7Mate, along with some documentaries and a miniseries, Deaner said.

The Nine Network screened two thirds of its Australian drama on multi-channels as well as all children's programs on Go! Network Ten claimed  Neighbours for the first time since 2010, making up one third of its drama score, and shifted its children's programming to Eleven.

ACMA reported that for first-release Australian drama, the Nine Network met 51% of its obligation with New Zealand programming, compared to just 7% for Seven Network and 4% for Ten.

“This is clearly a disturbing trend,” Deaner said. “Our fears have been realised. The industry was reassured by the Gillard Government that the licence fee reductions to the commercial free-to-air television licensees would better protect Australia content and we can now see that this isn't true. This is particularly so for our most vulnerable content protected by the drama, documentary and children's sub-quotas.

“The effect of the reforms is to shift first release Australian content away from the high visibility primary channel to channels with much lower audiences. With cheap imported New Zealand drama shelved on multi-channels accounting for 51% of the Nine Network's drama points and 60% of their drama broadcast hours, it is clear that the increased flexibility has become a cynical exercise that is short-changing Australian viewers.

“This is not in the spirit of the Australian content standard and, when considered alongside more attractive production incentives that were recently introduced in New Zealand, there needs government review and reform.”

Deaner said SPA will continue to debate deregulation in the communications sector and will seek further talks with the Abbott Government: "We want the Government to work with the industry to explore safeguards under which the viewing public do not continue to see more screen stories about their cousins from the land of the long white cloud than their own stories from our great southern land.”

In a media release earlier today Free TV Australia said commercial broadcasters surpassed their primary channel content quotas in 2013, averaging 64.3% across the networks. Broadcasters also screened more than double the amount of content required on their multi-channels, it said.