‘An unfortunate backward step’: The screen industry slams the federal government’s changes to content requirements for broadcasters

Tidelands. Image: Netflix
  • The Australian screen industry is fighting back against the federal government’s changes to content requirements.
  • On Wednesday communications minister Paul Fletcher announced that streaming services will have to report to the Australian Communications and Media Authority while subscription television channels have their Australian content spend reduced from 10% to 5%.
  • However, a Make It Australian campaign has been launched calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to create new rules to support the screen industry.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Workers across Australia’s screen industry have slammed the federal government’s recent changes to local content requirements.

On Wednesday, federal communications minister Paul Fletcher announced $53 million in funding to develop local film and television shows – including $30 million to funding body Screen Australia.

Also announced were changes to “simplify” the documentaries, dramas and children’s content ‘sub quota’ rules around Australian content for broadcasters.

On top of that, the federal government reduced the amount subscription television services have to spend on Australian content from 10% to 5%. It will also ask streaming services to report their level of investment in Australian content to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Commercial broadcasters, however, will still be required to have 55% Australian content on their main channels between 6am and midnight and 1460 hours of Aussie content a year on their multi-channels.

The screen industry slammed the government for not enforcing stricter regulations on subscription services.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) said the new rules will speed up job losses across the sector, which has already been affected by the pandemic.

The alliance argued that the “only winners” from the changes will be commercial television owners and subscription services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. The losers? Audiences searching for Australian content and the 30,000 workers in the local industry.

“How the Government has missed the boat on regulating streaming services and requiring set levels of Australian content each year defies belief,” MEAA Chief Executive Paul Murphy said in a statement.

“This government seems intent on deregulation rather than creating a playing field that is level for all.

“Streaming services – yielding billions in income each year – will be celebrating that they have again avoided any content rules.”

Murphy believes the flexibility given to commercial television networks will “lead to fewer productions across the board”.

“Moving Foxtel and other subscription broadcast television broadcasters to 5% from 10% of program expenditure for each drama channel just reflects a government that is not serious about the provision of quality Australian content for our growing nation,” he said.

In terms of the sub quotas, Murphy said it is “likely to mean the demise of children’s content on commercial TV, leaving a cash-strapped ABC to pick up the slack.”

Screen Producers Australia CEO Matthew Deaner described the federal government’s announcement as “an unfortunate backward step”.

“The effective abolition of children’s content quotas, the watering down of drama and documentary requirements and the halving of requirements for subscription TV doesn’t meet the Government’s articulated desire for forward-thinking policy-making,” he said in a statement. “Instead, it presents as the adoption of the deregulation wish-list of legacy broadcasters and their owners and the international streaming companies.”

The screen industry fights back

Make It Australia, a joint campaign made up of the MEAA, Screen Producers Australia, the Australian Directors Guild, the Australian Writers Guild and the Casting Guild of Australia, has called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to support the screen industry.

Part of the campaign is an email that will be sent to PM Morrison, which outlines what the industry is calling for. This includes content regulations for commercial and subscription television, new rules to ensure there are Australian stories on streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and well funded public broadcasters and screen agencies.

“The recent government announcement about content rules will cost jobs and drive businesses to the wall,” the pre-written email for the campaign says.

“I urge you to urgently reconsider and take action by putting in place policy settings to put the screen industry – and the economy – on the path to a post-COVID recovery.”

The campaign launched on Wednesday and, at the time of writing, more than 900 emails have been sent.