Monday, March 25, 2013

Australian artists fight to protect and increase Australian content on digital TV

Vanguard April 2013 p. 3
Max O.

Currently Australian artists are struggling to protect Australia's cultural independence and oppose increased foreign penetration of the nation's television programming. They are learning the bitter lesson that art and culture are not free from politics and the country's prevailing capitalist economic base. Australia's dependent capitalist economy is at the beck and call of imperialist interference, which shapes the nation's economy and culture to pursue capital accumulation and ideological hegemony.

 As Mao explained in his famous, 'Yenan Forum on Literature and Art' speech: "In the world today all culture, all literature and art belong to definite classes and are geared to definite political lines. There is in fact no such thing as art for art's sake, art that stands above classes, art that is detached from or independent of politics."

 The commercial TV networks are about to abandon and reduce the screening of Australian cultural content across the myriad of digital television channels that they run.

 The  Australian Directors Guild, Australian Writers’ Guild, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and the Screen Producers Association of Australia united to launch the “Australian Screens, Australian Stories” campaign in February. As the Federal government drafts new legislation which comprises sweeping and regressive changes to local content sub-quotas for Australian TV drama, children's and documentary programming, Australian artists aim to fight and protect local TV programming across free-to-air and digital channels.

 The proposed legislation, for multi-channels (eg the Seven network’s 7Mate and 7Two) to broadcast minimum hours of Australian content per year, in reality is a con by Senator Stephen Conroy. In actual fact it will not increase the amount of new Australian stories broadcast on our free-to-air television stations. The digital TV multi-channels will meet this requirement by airing endless news, sport, reality programs and repeats of old sitcoms.

Conroy, who is Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, in his media release late last year undertook to:

  • Introduce a multi-channel Australian content requirement for each commercial television broadcaster of 730 hours in 2013, increasing to 1095 hours in 2014 and to 1460 hours in 2015. This includes an incentive for first-release drama by allowing an hour of first release drama premiered on a digital multichannel to count for two hours under the transmission hours requirement for multi-channels.
  • Retain the current 55% transmission quota for the commercial television broadcasters’ primary channels, but introduce greater flexibility into the current arrangements for sub-quotas.

The above will be presented as legislation to the parliament in March and will require the commercial networks to screen at least 12% (2015 hours) Australian content between 6am and midnight across their digital channels by 2015. Conroy has also offered to the commercial networks a 50% licence rebate for 2012 that would be extended to the end of 2013 and be made permanent at 4.5% of revenue without conditions.

Australian Directors Guild argued that: “This is approximately half the amount of Australian content they currently show on their multi-channels. Critically, there is no requirement to screen any first-run content so the quota can be filled by repeats of programs from the main channel.”

Conroy has been accused of not giving the industry a preview of the draft legislation and being light on detail. Australian Writers’ Guild is concerned that, “The proposed changes will not result in any increase in the vulnerable program genres that tell original Australian stories — locally made drama, narrative comedy, children’s programs and documentaries”.

Actors Equity point out that, “These quotas were actually recommended by the government’s own convergence review, which revealed a huge increase in foreign TV programs since the introduction of the multi-channels. The cost should be borne by the commercial networks — which is not a lot to ask given the government is handing them a permanent cut in licence fees and a commitment not to allow a fourth free-to-air network.”

Consequently these arts industry organisations have launched the national campaign, “Australian Screens, Australian Stories” to ensure that Australian stories are told on TV and reflect and maintain the Australia's national identity, character and diversity.

 They are calling on Australians to sign an online petition in support of meaningful local content regulation, and urge people to sign and mail postcards to their local MP.

The postcard is at

It is important that this campaign reach as many Australians as possible, so that they become aware of what is happening in the TV sector. Politicians need to feel the heat from outraged Australians and Conroy's machinations especially need to be thoroughly exposed.

Australia's cultural forums: whether they be TV channels, theatres, books/e-books, film, music industry etc belong to and should serve the people!

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