Magazine article Metro Magazine

Office of the United States Trade Representative, 8 February 2004

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Office of the United States Trade Representative, 8 February 2004

Article excerpt

The Australian film and television industry organizations worked very hard to limit what the Australian government gave away in the FTA, but they now believe that the levels of Australian content in emerging media systems will be much lower than the current levels on broadcast television, which bodes ill for future local production in new media. While the Government has maintained current quotas and has allowed some future flexibility, there is concern that pressure will be exerted to reduce regulation to negligible levels in several ways.

Local Content: In the area of Australian Content on Commercial Television the FTA has not only adopted the US standstill position but with the inclusion of 'ratchet provisions' has provided a basis through which Australia can be pressured into lowering overall levels. The main concern is that the free-to-air television networks will argue that it is unfair for them to compete with the relatively unregulated pay television sector, and the yet to be regulated or clearly defined new media sectors. Free-to-air broadcasters will argue that they should not have to bear the costs of ensuring Australians have access to Australian stories while their competitors can fill their schedules with much cheaper imported programs. If they're successful in these arguments, the current low levels of regulation for Pay TV could actually become the benchmark for 'appropriate' and 'reasonable' content regulation levels in Australian media in the future.

The FTA says Australia can keep the Australian fifty-five per cent transmission quota on free-to-air commercial television and its eighty per cent quota for commercials; under the FTA, however, these quotas are subject to ratchet provisions, which means that they can only ever be reduced. And if they are reduced, say by ten per cent, they can never be increased to their previous levels. As other forms of media gain currency and use, the pressure will be on to drop the levels for current media.

Although it now has twenty-six per cent market share, Pay television is considered by government to be still in its infancy, which is why there is currently only a ten per cent of expenditure quota on drama channels for Australian content, translating to less than four per cent Australian programming in total on drama channels. Under the FTA, this drama expenditure quota can only ever be increased to twenty per cent, and that's after consultation with the US. The ability for the Australian government to further regulate Pay TV is now significantly limited. A slight increase is the most that Australia can hope for in the life of the FTA. The maximum allowable regulation levels for Australian Pay TV within the FTA are however extremely low compared to the international environment, including key equivalent territories such as Canada and The Netherlands. Australia can introduce ten per cent expenditure quotas for a few select channels, such as children's, documentary, educational and arts channels, which, given the drama experience, would only translate to four per cent Australian content.

If and when additional channels are allowed with digital free-to-air television, no more than two channels out of ten per network can ever be regulated. If a network broadcasts more than ten channels, only one additional channel can be regulated. …

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