Janet Holmes à Court: “Govt must maintain Kids’ quotas”

Exclusive: As the Australian Children's Television Foundation marks 30 years, its enduring Chairman has a message for government to keep Aussie stories alive.

EXCLUSIVE: This week the Australian Children’s Television Foundation turns 30. Across three decades the Melbourne-based enterprise has invested in script development and distribution for thousands of hours of kid’s telly.

For 29 of those years Janet Holmes à Court has been a Board Member -and 26 as Chairman.

Having lobbied more Arts ministers than she can count, she now has another message for Canberra, as a cloud hangs over the quotas for Children’s programming in Australia.

The Convergence Review Report, due later this month, has drafted interim recommendations that may see networks dump the sub-quota rule in favour of spending a proportion of their budget on original Australian productions. Since the introduction of the sub-quota under the Fraser Government, Children’s Television in Australia has thrived to a point where it is now highly-regarded around the world.

Holmes à Court urges the Federal Government to retain minimum quotas.

“Governments have to continue seeing the value in what we do. Not only for the child audience in watching television, but also in future getting their programmes on all sorts of other media that we haven’t even thought about yet.

“Convergence is an absolute fact,” she admits.

“But I really would like the government to continue to legislate for the quantity of Australian content. If we stop telling our stories and stop speaking in our voice we cease to exist as a people.

“If there’s no Australian television, no Australian music or literature because it all pours in on us from overseas, we cease to exist as a separate nation. We just become an appendage of one or two other nations.”

Holmes à Court singles out TEN, under Head of Children’s TV Cherrie Bottger,  as being strong commercial supporters of Childrens content. But other broadcasters come in for a serve.

“I would like to see the quotas maintained or even increased. And I’d like to see people having to abide by the spirit as well as the actual letter of the law. This silly nonsense of 32 hours that they’re required to show on commercial stations….. If they’re up to 32 hours in November there’ll be nothing until we start again the next year. There’s not a generosity of spirit about it. They meet the minimum.”

The ACTF was established in 1982 on the back of a national inquiry into Broadcaster’s self-regulation. Kid’s TV, notably Kid’s Drama had languished in the 1970s with American sitcoms dominating afternoon TV. Back then, commercial broadcasting execs wanted ACTF to fail.

Established under the Fraser Government, ACTF has since partnered with numerous shows including  Round the Twist, Hollie’s Heroes, Lockie Leonard,  My Place, Spellbinder, Mortified, The Genie from Down Under, Lil’ Elvis Jones and the Truckstoppers, Kaboodle, Lift Off, Dance Academy, Crash Zone, Winners, Touch the Sun, The Girl from Tomorrow and more.

“I really believe that Australian children need and deserve television which tells our stories in our voices that is made specifically for children and about them. About the values and ethics of Australia but not in a preachy, Sunday school way but in an entertaining way,” she says.

“(Writer) Tony Morphett said ‘Australian children need to be able to dream Australian dreams.’ I think that’s a great motivating force for me. Australian children shouldn’t have to grow up on a diet of American or British programmes.”

ACTF remains a philanthropic passion for her. Although her Arts ties have included the National Academy of Music, Australian Chamber Orchestra, WA Symphony Orchestra, Black Swan Theatre and the University of Western Australia -none can match her enthusiasm for ACTF.

“The people who have been on the Board with me have been an outstanding group of people. Lots and lots of people over the 29 years. There are tremendous Board members and tremendous staff.

“The producers, the actors and directors who have been with us are all committed to the child audience.

“We all believe that children deserve quality television.

“The fact that we’ve made it of such a high quality means that we’re now watched in 110 countries. It’s a huge bonus for what we do.”

Despite her dedication to Children’s TV, Holmes à Court never became involved in producing or bank-rolling a production company. She is convinced she has been able to achieve more behind the scenes.

“I’m not a creative person. I’m more an encourager and possibly a facilitator. It would be a disaster if you made me a Television Producer! I see the role as being a spokesperson for the organisation with politics and bureaucrats, encouraging and supporting the incredible staff we have here.”

But she does have a message for Producers who are delivering content for broadcasters.

“My advice would be to constantly think about quality. There is no point in us making television product in Australia for children that isn’t of the highest quality, as far as I’m concerned. That’s why we sell to 110 countries. Programmes that are not of a sufficient quality will be sold in Australia and that’s the end of them,” she insists.

“But if they are high quality, they respect children, their production values are high, then they will be able to be taken by us and sold to the world.”

8 Responses

  1. “Holmes à Court singles out TEN, under Head of Children’s TV Cherrie Bottger, as being strong commercial supporters of Childrens content. ” It may not be at 4:30 but TEN has been playing content in other C classification zones.

  2. Totally Agree.I do remember most of these shows listed and sometimes on nights off from work would somehow try and watch them.
    Kids TV with some exceptions belongs to Disney and Nickelodeon in Australia and some ABC 3 shows as well.Off the topic a little those three stations mentioned aside whatever happened to the compulsory after school children’s shows.As A Kid I am old enough to remember the days of Wonder World sometimes watching it at my aunties house in the 1980’s What does Ten show Now?Bold and the Beautiful as a 4:30pm offering I wonder what Simon Townsend would have to say about that assuming he is still alive today.

  3. She is basically asking for continued protection of the local industry, which will only lead to more poor quality series. Most of their series aren’t very good compared to series from overseas, with cartoon series been the worst. Even Round the Twist was ruined, by series 3/4 not been based off Paul Jennings stories.

    I’m tired of seeing poor quality Australian TV series for children on TV, and constantly repeated on TV. While much better quality series from overseas, never even gets the chance to be shown.

    The only way I can see many recent cartoon series (Geronimo Stilton, My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, Pound Puppies, Transformers Prime), is to import the DVD releases. And most cartoon series are lucky to even get released on DVD.

    @Jason D: The majority of the childrens series on (free to air) TV is repeats though. There is a real lack of new content, especially in terms of quality and variety.

  4. Shows like My Place did display the values & ethics of Australia in a preachy, Sunday school way, hence why it failed. If Australian children’s productions are to be successful, they need to make productions which reflect what children naturally like. Which is why productions like Round The Twist were successful. Authors like Roald Dahl, for example wrote for children, rather than imbuing politics onto them. There has never been as much children’s content on TV as ever before, however, the foreign content is currently of higher quality.

  5. @KFed, she’s one of the few very wealthy people in this country I’d sit and listen to anyday. As a longtime supporter of the arts, she not only talks the talk but walks the walk.

  6. A WA millionaire saying things I could not agree more with? The wonders never cease.

    I grew up on many of those shows listed, and the quality of children’s drama in this country is often far better than prime time fare – it also sells, as mentioned, successfully around the globe.

    Honestly, the networks need to be pushed in this regard. It’s sad that they need to be when the production of such shows offers so many wins to everyone involved.

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