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Cuts to local content threaten Australian TV and culture

By William Olson  

As if the recent budget cuts to the ABC weren’t bad enough – and cuts which the Morrison government denies are actually cuts at all – now comes word that a permanent abolishment of requirements for local content across Australian television and streaming services is in the works.

And the decision by Paul Fletcher, the federal communications minister, has come under attack from several opposition politicians holding arts and communications portfolios, and the salvos being fired against Fletcher are as potent as when the cuts to the ABC were announced a fortnight earlier.

Sarah Hanson-Young, the Greens’ senator from South Australia who holds both portfolios for her party, has led the attacks, imploring Fletcher to stand up for Australian content appearing not only on local television screens, via free-to-air and Foxtel alike, but also on major streaming services such as Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus as well.

“Letting broadcasters out of local content requirements and failing to immediately regulate streaming services put the jobs of every person who works on Australian drama, documentaries and children’s TV shows from actors, to writers, to crews at risk,” Hanson-Young said on Monday.

According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), broadcasters are currently required to account for 55 percent of domestic content on primary channels and a minimum of 1460 hours of domestic programming on non-primary channels, all between the hours of 6:00am and 12:00midnight each day.

However, now that submissions for a Fletcher-sponsored discussion paper on the matter have closed, Fletcher is said to be giving a thumbs-up to ditching those quotas – something which Hanson-Young insists is unacceptable.

“The big wigs of streaming and broadcasting can’t be allowed to call the shots when it comes to Australian stories on our screens,” she said.

“Regulating streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Stan should be part of the government’s arts and entertainment industry COVID-19 recovery package, which is woefully inadequate, and therefore treated as a matter of urgency,” she added.

Previously, shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland had called out the Morrison government for their latest round of cuts to the ABC, where the expected shedding of up to 250 jobs comes on top of a previous 800 jobs lost at the national broadcaster since the initial cuts in 2014.

While stating that all forms of Australian media and news are struggling as well as those in creative industries as well, Rowland has warned that specific to the ABC, their creative efforts in programming that has produced such acclaimed shows of great variety in recent years as “Hard Quiz”, “Gardening Australia”, “Bluey”, “At Home Alone Together”, and “Mystery Road”, to name but a few, may be seen to dwindle without minimum quotas required for Australian-made and -produced content.

And that’s in spite of the Morrison government announcing a $250 million stimulus package for the arts – oddly enough, announced the day after revealing its cuts to the ABC.

“Our creative industries are struggling. Even as the Government considers a belated relief package, the ABC has been forced to reduce its commissioning budget by $5 million per year and show even fewer Australian stories,” said Rowland.

“The ABC warned these cuts would ‘make it difficult for the ABC to meet its Charter requirements and audience expectations’.  These warnings are now materialising and will mean less Australian stories, less news and less sport,” added Rowland.

As for streaming services, the likes of Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus, among others, currently have no obligatory quotas unlike their free-to-air and pay-TV counterparts to produce content for the Australian market, and that is seen as a hindrance for Australian content as a whole.

“Australian stories are vital for our culture and social fabric and the sustainability of our arts and entertainment industry,” said Hanson-Young.

And with regard to the global phenomenon that the Brisbane-made and -produced children’s program “Bluey” has become, rivalling even “The Wiggles” as an Australian export, Hanson-Young added:  “Good quality children’s content is good for the community and it creates jobs.”

Tony Burke, in his role as the shadow minister for the arts for the ALP, suspects that Fletcher may have a bigger agenda with regard to content numbers on Australian screens and devices.

“Minister Fletcher has previously described quotas as “red tape”, displaying an appalling lack of understanding from the man who is meant to be the voice of the creative industries in Cabinet,” Burke said last month, after the Morrison government announced the stimulus package for the arts sector.

“Now just three days after finally delivering some assistance they’re seeking to take away a critical support for our creators. It’s yet another example of the Government using this crisis as cover to push through extreme and permanent changes,” Burke added.

Whereas local content requirements were suspended in light of the pandemic, here’s hoping that Fletcher listens to his critics to return to them and extend them.

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10 comments

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  1. Phil Pryor

    Expect nothing intelligent from my local member, P Fletcher, a bumboy for corporate profiteering and control, and, usually foreign, He is a cast off U K citizen, a piece of rejected humanity who went down grade to become a local, having scuttled off on the morning of his preselection for a rigged safe seat here to renounce his dual citizenship, thus his U K holding. He has pranced in failing flutters to solve the problems of igorant Turnbull’s dudding of the NBN, and is used as a fumbling smokescreen for nothing much, certainly not progress or improvement. Foreign corporate control and poxing of Australia culture, to prevent any slight risk of pride, independence, demand, is aimed solely at profiteering. Commercial T V here abuses decency and sanity by buying cheap shit, applying endless repeats, gouging and scraping and hoarding, foreign attitudes of brainless submission to outside influences, all for profits, bonuses, inflated earnings. SHIT.

  2. Terence Mills

    On Insiders on 28 June 2020 Fletcher advised David Speers that this was a ‘pause’ in local content requirements largely because, with the advent of COVID there was no local content available – Speers disputed this assertion. When asked whether local content would be reinstated for calendar year 2021 Fletcher said that this would be part of a review which he intimated would take into account availability.

    Fletcher also announced that the $50million PING grants – Public Interest News Gathering – would start to flow in early July but he wasn’t able to reveal the recipients at that time but would do so soon.

    He also noted that there would be grants to ninety regional newspapers (in addition to regional TV and Radio) and he noted that those newspapers that had ceased publication – referring to Newscorp’s closure of over one hundred regional mastheads – must, and I quote :

    “regional newspapers must recommence publication before funding flows”

    So that implies that Murdoch, to get any of this money. will have to reinstate regional print newspapers [not paywalled digital publications].

    we’ll see how that goes !

    By the way has anybody seen where these PING grants are going ? I’ve looked but I cant find anything.

  3. Joseph Carli

    Australian culture!!??…don’t make me laugh…it’s as dead as a dead dingo’s donga!..it..for what it was worth..about ended with Ted Bullpit in the 70’s…if adding a bit of strine and gormless male stuttering when confronted with a woman to dialogue is called “kulcher”..then yeah…commercial tele’s got it….but till we see a casual/at ease combination of indigenous folk with a spread of multi-cultural ethnicities, we ain’t!

  4. Michael Taylor

    Joe, it seems that the whole world is turning American, or if not, it is catered for an American audience.

    I was watching that fabulous 2019 movie “Yesterday” (a must for all Beatle fans) and the lead stars were in the cafe at the Liverpool railway station. One of them ordered “fries”. I almost choked. In Liverpool they are called “chips”. But the Yanks wouldn’t like that. 😡

  5. Joseph Carli

    Agree, Michael…we are being dudded..and dudded badly…useless turds in the LNP wouldn’t know culture from crud (to use an “Americanism!) ..

    ” There once was an education structure named WEA. : Workers Education Australia. That followed on from the varied philanthropy inspired “Mechanics Institutes” and such, on the principle that an educated worker would be a more inspired worker..and the world would be a better place for it..I presume. I would like to see a structure, much like the Australian Sports Institute, where the Arts and artists are encouraged to work at and hone their skills and talents with a kind of open scholarship system..open to submission of their works and then assessed on those original works to gain funding on the proviso of sincere improvement to their works….why not? ..it seems to work for sport and the arts are just as vital to a society’s health as sport. At least it could give an opening to many from a lower socio-economic group an opportunity to grow their natural skills…to deliver story or work from an undisciplined training but insightful nous of their subject matter.”….from : “A Teller of Tales”… https://freefall852.wordpress.com/2020/07/02/a-teller-of-tales/

  6. Lambchop Simnel

    Fletcher is an automaton.

    He is like Eichmann, “only following orders”.

  7. Lambchop Simnel

    Joseph Carli, it is true that WEA and the like have been a beautiful part of Australian culture slowly declining as people become less rational and more hedonistic.

    “Library culture”, you could call it.

  8. Andrew Smith

    Two issues are the easy availability of English language content globally and more competition from other nations’ film and TV production industries which are often better value.

    Probably backgrounded by the IPA (in comment above) indirectly doing the bidding of US players under the guide of freedom if choice…. other nations actually enforce the need for local production and/or content in their language by the US streamers…..

  9. calculus witherspoon.

    And it is IPA code for “dumbing down”, Andrew Smith.

    “Oh, brave new world”.

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