Paul Fletcher warns laws must change to save local film and TV from ‘sharp declines’

“We won’t capture that opportunity while we have a set of regulatory and funding arrangements premised on an industry structure which is long gone,” Mr Fletcher told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

“Traditional broadcast television is facing sharp declines in viewer numbers and revenues – yet existing regulations require industry participants to spend millions on shows which fewer and fewer people are watching.”

Consideration of changes to regulation follows the competition and consumer watchdog’s landmark digital platforms inquiry, which probed the vast market power of the tech giants.

Free-to-air broadcasters have lobbied government for changes to Australian content guidelines for years, specifically demanding changes to requirements they must meet on children’s content and drama. Independent producers have argued against easing the obligations, saying they protect Australian stories and should be extended to global streaming services.

The existing framework requires commercial broadcasters to show 260 hours of children’s programs and 130 hours of preschool programs, but online services like Netflix and Stan do not fall under the same guidelines. Australian content guidelines also require at least 250 points of first-release Australian drama, and 24 hours worth of children’s drama.

Mr Fletcher said the focus should be on the opportunity for local content producers to “sharply accelerate” their exports during the internet-driven transformation.

“Rather than the same tired old conversation about defending existing patches where audiences are shrinking, we should be talking about how we can go for growth – so that there are more Australian stories seen not just on Australian screens but around the world,” he said.


Two weeks ago, Seven West Media chief executive James Warburton sent a letter to Mr Fletcher, outlining intentions to halt production of children’s content and scrapping plans for new Australian drama series.

“We’ve been clear for a long time that the children’s content quota was not a sustainable one for us and the wider commercial television industry in Australia,” Mr Warburton told the Herald and Age last week. Seven’s children’s programs include Get Clever, Get Arty, Kitty is not a Cat and Larry the Wonderpup.

Nine chief executive Hugh Marks lent his support to Mr Warburton, calling for immediate action. “I’ll have to consider the same thing,” Mr Marks said. Nine, which is the owner of this masthead, runs children’s shows such as Clarence, Berry Bees and Brain Buzz.

Ten’s CEO Paul Anderson added: “Children’s content quotas should be removed because the world has completely changed and it’s time regulation changed with it.”

The obligations are being examined by Screen Australia and the Australian Communications and Media Authority, who are jointly preparing an options paper for the government as part of broader efforts to “harmonise” the rules facing old and new media companies.

Mr Fletcher said the government expected tech giants to be subject to Australian laws and that was a “unifying theme” across efforts to regulate in a number of areas, including media and content competition, online safety of users and multinational tax.

“We will make the laws that as a democratically elected government of Australia are appropriate for us to make. Of course, we will work with them, have all the proper processes as we develop the laws … but, ultimately, that’s our job as a democratically elected government,” he said.

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