Screen Producers: quota suspension will delay recovery

Screen Producers Australia has issued a copy of its opening statement to the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19.

Matthew Deaner, CEO, Screen Producers Australia:

Impact of the coronavirus

The impact of the coronavirus on our industry has been devastating.

Following the introduction of social distancing requirements and restrictions on large gatherings in March, much of Australian film and television activity, particularly drama and other large productions, ceased.

This affected around 120 productions, impacted about half a billion dollars in budgets and left thousands of hard-working creative Australians out of work.

We worked constructively with the Government to maximise the availability of JobKeeper to our industry, but due to the way our businesses are structured, and the way people are employed, its availability has been patchy and inconsistent.

The net result is an industry in crisis, and we are therefore relieved by the Government’s announcement on 25 June of a $50 million package to help screen producers secure finance and get the cameras rolling.

We are awaiting details of the Temporary Interruption Fund, but understand it will be aimed at helping negate the impact of the insurance crisis that has developed in the industry.

This has the potential to allow us to properly restart the production of quality Australian content, re-employ thousands and contribute to economic recovery.

Impact of Government decision-making

However, we remain extremely concerned regarding a recent Government decision which has compounded the impact of the coronavirus and will delay recovery.

Namely, the decision of the media regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), to temporarily suspend the Australian content quotas that apply to commercial television and subscription television.

This decision was enacted to reflect interruptions in the supply of Australian content, which is understandable, to a point. Unfortunately, the complete suspension of the quotas fails to recognise that some productions (children’s animation, documentaries) have been able to continue.

The other distressing impact has been that this decision has also removed from the market all demand for new commissions, as broadcasters use the decision as cover to pull out of deals and turn down new commissions. If there is to be further supply problems, these will be due to the behaviour of broadcasters in pulling out of commissions, and not because of a lack of capacity in the production industry.

This is having a devastating effect on our members at exactly the time when new demand is critical to keeping production businesses sustainable and people in jobs.

We are asking the ACMA to issue a statement that regulatory forbearance will only be available in regards to contracted productions which suffer interruptions directly due to COVID related restrictions.

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