Kim Williams today made a clarion call for a wholesale review of the regulatory, financial and industrial regimes in the screen industry.
The former CEO of News Limited and Foxtel advocated reforms to the Broadcasting Act and copyright laws, a rethink of government subsidies and for local content quotas to be imposed on the public broadcasters.
Delivering the Hector Crawford memorial lecture at the SPA Screen Forever conference in Melbourne, Williams described the screen industry’s regulatory, financial and industrial frameworks as trapped in a time capsule.
“Hopefully you can seize the day and drive a program for lasting reform which actually addresses the issues holistically and doesn’t repeat a cycle of twentieth century policy recitals and gradualist, compromise-driven change,” said Williams, who was CEO of the Australian Film Commission in the 1980s and the inaugural chairman of the Australian Film Finance Corp.
“Our Broadcasting Act is essentially 20 years old. Other than for modifications on ownership provisions and licence fees and some minor changes in content provisions, it is essentially consistent with the priorities when first enacted in the early nineties.
“The recent so- called Convergence Review was a lamentably poor piece of work. It avoided almost all the relevant issues and produced a piece of work originated firmly from twentieth century roots in blind disregard to the obligation to be technology neutral and consumer focused if it was to have any attempt at a coherent response.
“Our copyright laws are woefully inadequate and out of date. They are unequal to the task in confronting piracy and defending the absolute rights of producers to defend and exploit their work in a country where over 50% of all video material consumed is stolen.
“Content regulation approaches are also essentially unchanged in their core fabric. They remain disappointingly true to the original views which drove policy with governments and the precursors to the ACMA.”
Turning to government financial assistance, Williams called for a better nexus between risk, costs, and targeted outcomes and a tilt towards rewarding the more successful performances.
In a message to Screen Australia’s board and new CEO Graeme Mason, he accused the agency of being “poor at actually scoping the problems to be addressed coherently and working forward anticipating the digital personality which governs everything in our domain.”
He urged the industry to adapt its business practices to the digital age, quoting a Morgan Stanley report that estimates there will be 75 billion devices connected to the Internet worldwide by 2020.
Williams observed that little had had changed in the way deals are structured in the 12 years since he was last directly involved in screen production. “Too much of the commerce – trading and dealing – in our production community is driven by formulaic approaches with cookie cutter deal terms and rules that better belong in a cupboard with a strong titanium lock,” he said.
“If this industry is to continue to blossom and prosper as it deserves to, then it simply has to develop better and more flexible ways to manage its affairs. We must find ways to drive better more resourceful outcomes rather than having an endless dependence on fixed, often intransigent approaches to regulation and subsidy inherited from decades ago.
“Let’s shake things up and revisit core objectives. Let’s start by putting consumer front and centre.”