The response from the media industry to COVID-19 relief measures outlined by the Government was mixed yesterday. Here are highlights of the various statements from CEOs and industry bodies yesterday.
Radio welcomes Government measures but says more action needed
Commercial Radio Australia has welcomed the Federal Government’s relief package for Australian media, but said much more action was needed to address the severity of the impact of COVID-19 on radio broadcasters.
CRA chief executive officer Joan Warner welcomed the Minister’s announcement of a waiver of spectrum taxes for 12 months and the announcement of the new $50 million Public Interest News Gathering program.
“We welcome the move to waive spectrum fees but the measures announced today do not go far enough in addressing the pressures facing the radio industry.
“We are grateful for the one-year waiver of spectrum taxes which amounts to about $1.2 million for radio, spread across the large number of networks and stations.
“However, we are disappointed that commercial radio, as the most hyper local of the mediums, has been largely overlooked in spite of its continued delivery of service to the Australian community during the pandemic, and before that, during the bushfires and the drought.
“Radio is an essential service and it’s vital that we are able to continue to meet local content and emergency broadcasting obligations.
“We have now opened discussions directly with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to discuss urgent action to reduce red tape and create a fairer playing field for Australian radio broadcasters so we can keep meeting our obligations to listeners and the communities we serve.
“We would also like to see not just video content harmonised across local services and global giants but the delivery of Australian music requirements also harmonised across radio and global music streaming services such as Spotify.”
Blunt tool of quota suspensions threatens struggling screen industry
Screen Producers Australia (SPA) expressed deep concern at the Government’s announcement that Australian content quotas would be suspended for 2020, with the option to extend into 2021.
SPA CEO Matthew Deaner said:
“These hard cuts have the potential to at worst cripple Australia’s production industry and at best snuff the opportunities for a rebound for much of our sector at a time when it is facing a very real battle for survival.
“Coronavirus assistance for Australia’s broadcasters should not have to come at the expense of our production sector, which has been amongst the hardest hit by widespread shutdowns and which is in need of a comprehensive support package itself. This announcement will just load up the pain on Australia’s struggling arts and creative sector, most of whom are now out of work and falling through the cracks of assistance measures.
“We understand better than most that there will be disruptions to the supply of Australian content, particularly drama, documentary and children’s content. Our members are standing down production teams, cast and crew and halting production activity on over 100 productions, with devastating economic and employment impacts. However, rather than a hard suspension of quotas, we suggested temporary averaging flexibility, to allow broadcasters relief in the coming year, contingent on the overall obligations being acquitted across the coming years when production activity can return. This would ensure demand returns to the system at levels sufficient to get the sector back on its feet and able to pump out productions and employ large numbers of people.”
Suspension of screen content obligations unnecessary hit on sector
APRA AMCOS is deeply concerned at the move by the Australian Government to remove drama, children’s and documentary content obligations for free-to-air and subscription television for the remainder of the year.
“There are scores of screen productions ready for release and in the final stages of post-production that can be scheduled over the remainder of the year,” said Dean Ormston, CEO APRA AMCOS.
“The move to water down content obligations will incentivise television broadcasters and subscription services to reduce the programming of new productions to the detriment of the local industry, including our screen composer members,” Ormston said.
APRA AMCOS supports the position of Screen Producers Australia and the Australian Guild of Screen Composers for a temporary arrangement of deferring content obligations which would provide broadcasters relief in the coming year. This would allow broadcasters flexibility to average out obligations without reducing the quantity of content commissioned and would ensure demand returns to the sector at levels sufficient to get the sector back on its feet and able to create productions and revive employment across the sector.
As well as backing calls for a $650 million industry package to help the music industry and live performance sector bounce-back from the COVID-19 crisis, APRA AMCOS also supports screen industry calls for Government to implement a $1 billion screen content fund to boost local tax offset arrangements and provide direct support through Screen Australia.
Network 10: A great first step
ViacomCBS Australia and New Zealand chief content officer and EVP, Beverley McGarvey, said:
“The measures announced by the Communications Minister are a great first step in helping us keep our focus on delivering important news and entertainment to our growing community of Network 10 viewers during these uncertain times.
“It’s important to remember that we are only at the beginning of this global crisis and the impacts to our industry, in both the revenue and production capacity, are likely to be felt well into the future. We need to look at further measures in the short-term that will help us plan ahead so we can continue to deliver free, high-quality content to our audiences.
“The Minister was right to release the local content options paper without delay because it gives us the chance to shape the long-term future of our important industry before the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis make the decisions for us.
“We hope that all stakeholders can work together on outcomes that not only build a flourishing local production sector but allow the commercial free-to-air broadcasters to thrive amongst the growing global competition for Australian audiences.”
Free TV Welcomes Immediate COVID-19 Relief Package
Free TV has welcomed the urgent relief package announced today by Minister Fletcher which will greatly assist the commercial television broadcast industry to deal with the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.
Free TV CEO Bridget Fair said “While we are still working through the details of the package, the suspension of content quotas for 2020, waiver of spectrum fees and support for regional journalism are very positive for the immediate pressures being experienced by the industry. However the ongoing requirement to meet the overall 55% Australian content quota remains a concern for the industry in an environment where there is less sport, drama and entertainment programming available due to the suspension or cancellation of many productions.
“The COVID-19 crisis is having significant financial and operational impacts on our sector and these will take years to play out. It is therefore pleasing to note that the Minister has flagged that further consideration of content quotas for 2021 will occur later this year as we expect that further relief will be required in future years.”
MEAA: Regional media offered lifeline but still needs help
The announcement of almost $100 million in federal funding and support for regional newspapers and broadcasting during the coronavirus crisis is welcome but a long-term plan is needed to ensure the sector’s future, said the union for Australia’s media workers.
The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance welcomes the belated support for regional media in the form of a $50 million Public Interest News Gathering program and tax relief for commercial TV and radio. This comes after the closure of more than a dozen publications around the country due to reduced advertising revenue due to the pandemic.
In the wake of this announcement, MEAA calls for regional proprietors to press pause on newspaper closures and staff cuts– including changes announced by Australian Community Media yesterday. ACM said it would close an unspecified number of 125 regional non-daily newspapers around Australia with journalists directed to the JobSeeker queues.
Nine Entertainment: Need for urgent long-term solutions
Hugh Marks, CEO of Nine, regarding the announcement of a government relief package for media:
“We thank the Minister for his efforts and the measures announced today which provide some short term relief to Australia’s media businesses. However, the current COVID-19 crisis only serves to further highlight the need for urgent long term solutions to the regulatory imbalance between highly regulated domestic media players and unregulated international technology companies.”
Seven: Media playing a critical role during this crisis
Seven West Media managing director and CEO James Warburton said:
“We welcome today’s announcement from the Government outlining a range of short term measures to assist our industry deal with the immediate impacts of COVID-19.
“The media is playing a critical role during this crisis in keeping the public informed with Australians turning to our trusted and reliable news and public affairs services for accurate information, as shown by the substantial lift in viewership for 7NEWS, Sunrise and The Latest. We’re also seeing strong readership growth for The West Australian, Sunday Times and our regional papers. We are not businesses that can hibernate during these events but our revenue is significantly impacted.
“The impacts of COVID-19 on our industry further highlights the urgent need for regulatory reform to ensure media businesses in Australia are sustainable in the long term. This includes ensuring that foreign digital platforms are paying fairly for our content as well as reform of Australian content obligations, so we welcome the Government announcing its fast-tracked consultation process to deliver content reform.”