Since 2014 the Federal Government has made numerous policy decisions that benefited sectional interests such as commercial free-to-air broadcasters, the US studios and local service businesses, while neglecting screen producers.

That’s according to the Screen Production Industry Policy Ledger released this week by Screen Producers Australia.

The document contrasts the licence fee relief to the commercial networks, which boosted their share prices, with the broadcasters reducing their spending on local drama and documentaries by 20 per cent over the past four years.

Successive cuts in government funding to the ABC, SBS and Screen Australia have robbed the industry of $400 million, it says, while regulatory oversight and auditing on local content obligation were withdrawn. 

“This ledger sets out in stark relief the series of policy decisions made over the last three years that have negatively, or asymmetrically, affected the industry and in particular, the small businesses that drive it,” said SPA CEO Matt Deaner.

Deaner welcomed the government funding of nearly $70 million for the Hollywood films Thor: Ragnarok, Alien: Covenant and the currently shooting Aquaman as a boost to the services sector and crew.

But he said this approach has not been “certain or consistent or taken into account the entire production ecosystem and its ongoing sustainability.”

In the document SPA renews its attack on the increasing substitution of New Zealand content for Australian content by the broadcasters, estimating that costs local producers $2.5 million a year.

Also criticised is the government’s inaction on raising the location and TV producer offsets; signing co-production treaties with Denmark, Brazil, India and China (for TV); removing the need to consult the MEAA on the hiring of foreign actors; and extending local content obligations on SVOD services such as Netflix.

It questions why the $8.8 million one-off payment to SBS in the May budget was given without any specific obligations to the Australian screen production industry.

The legislation enabling courts to order ISPs to take down piracy websites is identified as the only measure in the past three years which benefits content creators and media platforms. 

“What the ledger demonstrates is the government’s policy approach to the local production industry looks a lot like trickle-down economics. The government’s agenda to date has been regrettably incomplete and has left out the small businesses that drive the industry,” Deaner said.

Deaner called on the government to ‘rebalance’ the ledger in favour of screen producers through the Australian content review being conducted by the Department for Communications and the Arts, ACMA and Screen Australia.

“To ensure a diversity of Australian content, we need a diversity in supply that will ensure against a future dominated by vertically integrated content oligopolies in which Australian audiences will suffer from a lack of a diversity and choice in their programming options,” he concluded.

Check out the ledger here.

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