Australian guilds and industry bodies put up a united front on media reforms

All Australian screen industry guilds, Screen Producers Australia (SPA) and bodies including Women in Film and Television (WIFT) Australia have made a joint submission to the government’s ‘Supporting Australian Stories on Our Screens’ options review.

Broadly the submission endorses the media reforms outlined in SPA’s paper, which would require all delivery platforms to invest a minimum percentage of their Australian revenues into local scripted content, with annual sub-quotas for drama, documentary and children’s programs.

The Producer Offset would be harmonised at 40 per cent, the noncompetitive 16.5 per cent Location Offset raised to 30 per cent and there would be additional funding for national broadcasters and screen agencies and government support for the ACMA to administer the scheme.

By speaking with one voice and representing the #makeitaustralian campaign, the screen sector – with the notable exceptions of the SVOD services, commercial free-to-air networks and the public broadcasters – is responding to Communications Minister Paul Fletcher’s stated desire to see the industry reach a consensus on the optimum regulatory model.

The signatories include the Australian Directors’ Guild (ADG), the Australian Writers’ Guild (AWG), the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA), Australian Guild of Screen Composers (AGSC), Australian Cinematographers Society (ACS) and Screenworks.

Possibly anticipating the commercial networks’ submission, the group opposes any proposal to extend the current suspension of sub-quotas into 2021.

Lack of regulation has resulted in less than 10 per cent of the total content on streaming platforms being Australian, with just 2 per cent on one platform, it argues.

The group also backs SPA’s call for additional funding for the public broadcasters specifically for Indigenous and children’s content in order to compensate for the loss of this content on the FTA networks.

ADG president Samantha Lang said: “Producing Australian stories for our cinemas, and our home-screens gives all Australians the opportunity to see themselves reflected in screen narratives that are heroic, inspiring and joyful. Think of the immense success of a films like Lion and Sherpa or TV series such as Mustangs FC or Total Control. These stories make us understand what it is to be Australian and give us a powerful sense of who we are as a nation.

“Producing Australia screen stories feeds into a much bigger ecosystem than the film and television industry itself – enhancing innovation, tourism and cultural diplomacy – whilst employing many thousands of people and generating several billions of dollars of investment each year.”

SPA CEO Matt Deaner stated: “Not only do our screen stories promote a sense of identity, pride and social cohesion for everyday Australians, they also play an important role in our nation’s soft diplomacy and support hundreds of local small and medium businesses and thousands of creative workers.

“It is vital that we capitalise on this opportunity to get the policy settings right so that our industry can maximise its cultural and financial contribution to Australia’s economy – including its untapped export potential – as the country recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.”

MEAA CEO Paul Murphy said: “Changes to audience viewing patterns, new technology and a hyper-competitive global market for screen production all mean that content obligations and production incentives need to be updated to secure the future of Australian storytelling on screen.

“The government must establish a forward-looking system which builds on the legacy of quality scripted content such as The Heights, Bluey and Mystery Road to support new and innovative Australian stories from a diverse range of storytellers available on each of the platforms that audiences tune into on a daily basis.

“Such a system would also be a powerful show of support for the thousands of skilled writers, directors, cinematographers, hair and makeup artists, actors and other workers who have dedicated their lives to telling these stories on screen.”

AWG president Shane Brennan declared: “The Federal Government’s decision on how to fund and regulate the industry going forward is critical, not just to our future, but to our very survival. A decision that does not regulate new digital platforms, that does not maintain a fair and equitable quota system for scripted drama, documentaries and children’s programming will result in the long- term failure of our industry with no hope of recovery.

“With this decision, the Federal Government has the opportunity to secure jobs, grow an industry and make a powerful statement of commitment to our Australian culture.”

Submissions to the review close tonight. Fletcher has said the government “will move forward as quickly as we can once we have responses from the consultation process, we weigh up those and then get our design work done on what the scheme looks like.”

Signatories: APRA AMCOS, Australian Screen Editors, Association of Drama Agents NSW, Australian Screen Sound Guild, Australian Casting Guild, Australian Writers’ Guild, Australian Cinematographers Society, Australian Writers’ Guild Authorship Collecting Society, Australian Directors’ Guild, Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Australian Drama Agents’ Association, Screen Producers Australia, Australian Guild of Screen Composers, Screenworks, Australian Screen Directors Authorship Collecting Society, Visual Effects Society, Australian Production Design Guild, Women in Film and Television Australia.