Minister for Communications and the Arts Mitch Fifield cannot unilaterally decide to scrap the local content quotas unless the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) first holds a public consultation.
That safeguard emerged from responses the ACMA provided to the Senate to a series of questions from Tasmanian Labor Senator Anne Urquhart following the Australian and Children’s Screen Content Review.
The regulator said “any variation to or revocation of the Children’s Television Standard by the ACMA would require a public consultation process” separate to the review.
The agency added it could have regard to relevant submissions made to the review, which the minister received late last year, but it had not initiated any such consultation.
The Broadcasting Services Act requires the ACMA to seek public comment on any proposed variation or revocation of either the Children’s Television Standards 2009 or the Australian Content Standard 2016, a spokeswoman for ACMA confirmed.
Screen Producers Australia and the Australian Directors’ Guild welcomed this revelation. SPA CEO Matt Deaner told IF: “SPA’s first recommendation to the Content Review was that the government commit to further consultation on options arising from the initial round of consultation last year.
“The ACMA is well placed to conduct a consultation on any specific recommendation from the minister arising from the government’s response to the Content Review.”
ADG CEO Kingston Anderson said: “We were concerned there would be no recourse if the government decided to scrap the quotas. We are pleased to see the system allows for a public consultation.”
Despite pessimism in some quarters of the screen industry about the future of the kids’ quota, Deaner says: “I am optimistic that the government has heard industry and community concerns with regards to children’s content.
“One thing that I have been hearing over the past few months is the importance of Australian children’s television for Australian children – that they see themselves on screen. Another key point is that Australian children have access to a diversity Australian children’s content from a variety of sources.”
Australian Children’s Television Foundation CEO Jenny Buckland accepts that in this era of fragmented audiences the kids TV quota has become less and less relevant.
But she has urged the government not to ditch the quota before a new system of regulation and/or incentives is in place.
She believes the government is highly likely to refer the issue to the ACMA before devising a new regime.
In its submission to the Content Review the ACTF called for the introduction of clear obligations on the ABC to screen children’s drama and for the broadcaster to receive proper funding for that genre.
The ACTF also advocated incentives for the commercial free-to-air broadcasters to support children’s drama, either in the form of a contestable production fund or quotas which they could trade among themselves.
In yet another example of the value of exports for children’s drama, NBCUniversal this week announced that Matchbox Pictures’ Mustangs FC has been sold to Universal Kids in the US and the UK’s CBBC.
Created and produced by Amanda Higgs and Rachel Davis for the ABC, the 13 x 30’ series centred on an all-girls soccer team, featuring diverse characters who can dream big, stand tall and kick goals.
More than 60 per cent of the cast and crew were female, with women taking the lead in writing, directing, casting, cinematography, production design, costume and editing. Another season is in development.