MICHELLE ROWLAND MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS
MEMBER FOR GREENWAY
MINISTER MISLEADS ON COVID-19 CONTENT QUOTA SUSPENSION
It has been revealed that the Minister for Communications and the Arts did not suspend the Australian content quotas, as he claims to have done – a statement that has created yet more uncertainty for the screen sector and potentially cost jobs.
In his media release dated 15 April 2020, Paul Fletcher states:
“As an emergency red tape reduction measure, I have suspended Australian drama, children’s and documentary content obligations on free-to-air and subscription television for 2020.”
Answers to questions on notice (No. 62), released Friday afternoon, make it clear that as a matter of fact Paul Fletcher did not “suspend” the content obligations. He did not, by legislative instrument, give directions to the independent regulator, nor did he suspend the obligations by legislative amendment.
At best, the Minister wrote to the ACMA on 14 April 2020 conveying the Government’s view that commercial and subscription television broadcasters should have relief from the content obligations, while the decision to exercise forbearance was made independently by the ACMA that same day.
In its update of 15 April 2020, the ACMA states that it will exercise forbearance by not taking enforcement action for non-compliance with the content obligations in 2020, but otherwise encourages broadcasters to continue to broadcast Australian and children’s content that has already been produced.
This begs a number of questions:
- Why does the Minister want people to think he suspended the content quotas?
- Does the Minister realise he didn’t suspend the content quotas?
- Has the Minister’s claimed “suspension” prompted licensees not to broadcast content that has already been produced?
- Has the Minister’s claimed “suspension” prompted licensees not to commission content under the content obligations?
- What evidence did the Government rely on in deciding that non-enforcement for non-compliance with content obligations for all of 2020 is proportionate?
- Bonus question: In what classic Australian film does the character Deirdre Chambers feature?
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has temporarily disrupted parts of the screen production industry, which may impact the ability of broadcasters to acquit their content obligations.
It is entirely reasonable that the ACMA exercise a degree of forbearance around content obligation compliance, given the extraordinary circumstances of COVID-19.
But the Minister’s own failings and insecurity around the ongoing delay and uncertainty with the Government’s bungled Content Review, now in its fourth year, is no good reason to suspend the content obligations.
Nor is it acceptable for the Minister to falsely claim he did something that was a matter for the independent statutory authority, where the matters on which the Minister may direct the ACMA are prescribed by law.
It remains to be seen the extent to which disruption to the production pipeline affects the ability of broadcasters to acquit their content obligations in 2020 or 2021.
The fact is that a mere five days after the Minister’s suspension claim, it was reported that productions shut down by COVID-19 were about to go back into production.
In his 12 months as Minister for Communications and the Arts, Paul Fletcher has overseen the removal of the Arts from the title of his Department; falsely claimed to have suspended the content obligations; falsely claimed that ABC funding is increasing; attempted to interfere with ABC staff remuneration; is set to abolish Community Television and installed himself as decision-maker on grants for the fourth-estate under a $50 million newsgathering fund.
It’s time this Minister went to governance school and understood that his Portfolio needs an advocate, not an adversary.
MONDAY, 1 JUNE 2020