QUT study points to screen sector policy failures behind local TV drama demise

Redfern Now - 'Joyride' Photograph by David Dare Parker

The government’s screen sector support is failing to reflect Australia’s culture and instead propping up economic activity, according to a QUT research study.

This combination of poor policy, as well as a lack of an over-arching review since the establishment of Screen Australia in 2008, has led to a precipitous decline in quality Australian TV drama.

Australian TV drama hours have dropped 55 per cent since their early 2000s peak, according to the report. Meanwhile, local TV drama that is made rarely reflects Australian society and culture, such as Redfern Now, and is dominated by low-budget soaps such as Neighbours and Home & Away.

“There is also growing federal support for productions commissioned by multi-territory streamers like Netflix for global audiences,” report co-author Professor Amanda Lotz said.

“These dramas may be set here but rarely engage with Australian social and cultural themes in any meaningful way. Such services are focused on maintaining international subscriptions and are not concerned with returning value to Australians in exchange for the funds and tax offsets they receive.”

Professor Potter said policy based on impartial sector expertise was needed to reflect the new landscape dominated by digital technology.

“The sector’s major policy tools – the Producer Offset tax rebate and funds administered by Screen Australia – have operated with low levels of transparency and not been subject to independent review. Both have prioritised sector economic activity over the achievement of the social and cultural objectives that historically underpinned Australian content regulations and supports.”

The report recommended four major interventions:

  • Australians should have access to a minimum 50–75 hours of new, varied, culturally specific drama per year.
  • Greater clarity regarding the cultural objectives behind Producer Offset and Screen Australia funding. Ideally social and cultural aims should be separated from economic development.
  • The ABC and SBS are key cultural institutions that should be central to delivering screen drama cultural objectives.
  • Enforce prosocial obligations and/or fees on entities using broadcast spectrum.

Read the full report here.