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COVID-19 Relief Package For Australian Media

COVID-19 Relief Package For Australian Media

Australia’s Federal Government has announced a relief package to help sustain Australian media businesses during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.

This package will include a 12-month waiver of spectrum tax for commercial television and radio broadcasters, a $50 million Public Interest News Gathering program for regional journalism, emergency suspension of content quotas in 2020 and the release of an Options Paper developed by Screen Australia and the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Minister for communications, cyber safety and the arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, said the government will provide $41 million in spectrum tax rebates, offering immediate financial relief to commercial television and radio broadcasters across Australia.

“Many Australians are doing it tough right now and the media sector is sharing that pain, especially in regional areas,” Fletcher said.

“Broadcasters and newspapers face significant financial pressure and COVID-19 has led to a sharp downturn in advertising revenue across the whole sector.

“We are acting to offer urgent short-term support to the media sector.

“At the same time we are progressing our December 2019 commitment to consult on the future framework to support Australian stories on our screens.

“The government recognises that public interest journalism is essential in informing and strengthening local communities.

“As an emergency red tap reduction measure, I have suspended Australian drama, children’s and documentary content obligations on free-to-air and subscription television for 2020.

“A decision will be take before the end of this year as to whether this suspension should continue in 2021,” he said.

The government, on the back of this package, is accelerating its work to determine the future extent of Australian content obligations on free-to-air television broadcasters, and whether these should apply to streaming services.

“I want to thank the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and Screen Australia for their detailed, evidence-based study of the state of the Australian film and television sector, which carefully considers the cultural and economic importance of screen stories, the regulatory framework, and the support the government provides to the screen sector through a range of mechanisms and policy settings,” Fletcher said.

“Regulated free-to-air broadcasters are competing with unregulated digital platforms and video streaming services.

“It has been evident for some time, and the COVID-19 crisis has made it even more obvious, that this is not sustainable,” he said.

Industry body, Free TV CEO, Bridget Fair, said the package is welcome but more work needs to be done to ensure the longevity of Australian media.

“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 experience by the industry,” Fair said.

“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 production.

“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,” she said.

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