Australian Media – Who Tells Our Stories?
Australia’s media is just as much at threat from the larger industrialised nations, such as America and England, of being homogenised, diluted and sold off as the more economic entities that AUSBUY strive to protect. The telling of our stories through film, television and other media is an essential part of any healthy community’s means of representing itself. We must ensure these narratives will continue to be available to Australian audiences. At the moment, Australia has a very small percentage of television programmes screened here that are made within the market. Mediametrie conducted a survey of this in late 2005 and discovered the following:
Percentage of Television Produced Locally:
The reason for this is that it is much cheaper for television stations to buy 20 hours of prepared television that has already been tried and tested on audiences than to produce this content themselves. The costs of these productions have been recouped in the country of origin so it can be sold on quite cheaply. This would suggest that other countries would also import television content to save on costs; however this is not the case. In 2004 Australia exported $29 million in television content to the Unites States yet we imported $282 million from the US. Clearly other countries see the value in producing their own product domestically.
The irony of this, however, is that the US is asking Australia to lower its local content legislation, effectively allowing more foreign content in to our market, as part of the Australia/US Free Trade Agreement whilst keeping their own market prohibitive to outsiders and domestically produced.
The US clearly sees media as a market like any other. They want to protect jobs for their own actors, technicians, writers and producers and have successful production companies making huge profits. The Australian government will also need to see the importance of our film and television as not only improving the cultural and intellectual health of the nation but also the economic health of the nation. Successful feature films add millions to the economy, create jobs and bring many visitors to our shores.
The US Free Trade Agreement diminishes the Australian Government’s ability to determine cultural policy within the audiovisual sector in the future and limits Australian content on commercial television, accepts lower levels of local content on subscription television and allows the US to intervene in the determination of Australian content in all new or emerging media services. This is disastrous for our already flailing television production industry.
The Free Trade Agreement with the US is also a disaster for Australian media because the laws passed cannot be readdressed. They are set for generations of Australians to come to deal with- the rise of an American global monoculture which threatens our distinctive cultural identity.
Australian local content laws currently set a minimum of 55% of Australian programming between 6am and midnight. However this can be made up of games shows, sports and current affairs and also of repeats. As drama is the most expensive style of television to produce, costing at least $500,000 per hour, it is drama that is suffering which is our most culturally significant format.
Without local content laws Australians would view minimal locally produced television. This means Australian children are listening to more and more foreign accents and we are hearing the stories of foreign nations more often than our own.
Another new development in media law was the decision on 30th March 2007 by Communications Minister Helen Coonan to scrap ownership restrictions and cross media ownership laws, allowing foreign companies to buy up our television, radio stations and print media and giving companies and individuals the ability to buy in two of the three media formats. This relaxing of laws could see a rise in the power of existing media moguls and as they own more and more media outlets the information the Australian public receives will be more homogeneous and standardised. It also means foreign companies could in the future control and influence the information the public receives should any of these moguls sell their empire to an overseas bidder.
AUSBUY believes the government should legislate to raise local content quotas, offer further tax concessions to those who invest in the cultural industries and limit the ability of foreign cultural workers to gain work permits in Australia (when there are locals who are experienced and qualified).
Organisations such and the Film Finance Corporation, Film Australia, NSW Film and Television Office, Film Victoria, The Pacific Film and Television Commission and the various other state and federal funding bodies need to further their support for the development of film and television in this country, through both production funding and development.
Continued and further support for our quality training institutions such as AFTRS WAAPA and NIDA is also very important to develop actors, technicians, writers and directors with the talent to take on these roles and ensure they can be produced domestically.
Obviously, for these organisations to invest further into production, the government will have to invest further into these organisations.
Television stations have a responsibility to their audiences to represent their interests. They should be producing good quality drama, children’s shows, documentaries, telemovies and mini series rather then resorting to penny pinching tactics to satisfy content legislation. The government agencies should have greater control over what is classed as local content. We believe we need a minimum quota of drama to be established as it is inequitable to allow sport and game shows to be considered to be contributing to our culture.
AUSBUY also sees the ABC as an important alternative to the private broadcasters and one which has developed many home grown productions which were well received. The ABC should be allowed to continue autonomously without being threatened with funding cuts or with government suggestions on programming.
The government should also be limiting the amount of foreign investors into our media market and continuing to restrict cross media ownership laws.
Our cultural identity defines us as a nation. It is not a commodity that can be replaced with that of another nation. Our culture is not to be traded.