Extract from ABC News
Photo: Regional TV stations have an obligation to broadcast 1,400 hours of local content every year. (AAP)
Twelve regional television stations have been put on notice after a new report found they had failed to meet local content obligations in 2017.
- Networks have obligation to broadcast local content in return for access to broadcast spectrum
- Metro TV stations meet obligation but increasingly rely on New Zealand content
- Screen Producers Association says failure to deliver Australian stories is a disgrace
Figures compiled by broadcast regulator the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) reveal for the second consecutive year, TV channels outside of the capital cities screened insufficient Australian programming.
All regional TV operators must air 1,400 hours of Australian programs each year on their multi-channels, in addition to content requirements on their main channel, but, in the worst case, WIN TV Griffith fell short by 300 hours.
Two of Eastern Australia Satellite's channels aired 200 hours less than the requirement. Even Alice Springs' Indigenous TV Imparja failed to make the grade.
Screen Producers Association chief executive Matt Deaner described the failure as a disgrace.
"This is really significant, the broadcasters have an obligation to the Australian public in exchange for receiving spectrum that is about delivering Australian stories and various types of Australian content from sport, to drama, to news, to kids' programs," he said.
"I cannot understand why it's been so difficult, because there's a lot of great Australian content that goes for many hours, it's not a difficult task."
Photo: WIN TV's Griffith channel was the worst offender, falling 300 hours short of the 1,400-hour target. (Nick McLaren)
Broadcasters traditionally pay annual licence fees to the federal government in exchange for access to the spectrum, which is publicly owned.
They did not pay additional licence fees when they commenced multi-channel broadcasting, but they were asked to air local content. That content did not have to be new content.
They were also given time to adjust to the regulatory framework, but now that they are being assessed they have been found to have fallen short.
"It's not a difficult thing for them to run repeats; this is not about the obligation to deliver new content, it's just about any Australian content. It's what audiences want to see," Mr Deaner said.
ACMA chooses to waive requirementsACMA decided to exercise "forbearance" in regard to three regional channels that failed to meet their requirements in 2016. The latest transgressors have been given a waiver too.
In a statement, ACMA said all the affected regional channels were recipients of Nine Network programming which was altered without warning.
"The detriment to affected audiences was relatively low, as all the Australian programs provided on 9Life had already been broadcast on licensees' primary channel [and] the amount of Australian content broadcast on the primary channel far exceeded the multichannel transmission shortfall for all 12 regional licensees," the statement read.
"The ACMA considered [that] forbearance was preferable in the circumstances to regulatory options such as enforceable undertakings, remedial directions or the pursuit of civil penalties."
Opposition communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said last year Labor supported the Government's decision to give broadcasters relief from paying their licence fees — worth $127 million — while they adjusted to the advent of unregulated streaming services such as Netflix.
"It's disappointing to see these breaches, but there's actually no information in the ACMA compliance report as to why the breaches occurred, so we will follow this up in the Parliament to find out what's going on," she said.
New Zealand content props up obligation in metro areasConcern about regulation failures does not end there.
All of Australia's 15 metro TV networks met their obligations, but the figures reveal they have increasingly relied on New Zealand programming to do so.
The Nine Network used 57 hours of New Zealand drama to meet its local program target. Seven used 290 hours of New Zealand programming.
You won't see Thorney's Cooking Central TV show on Channel Seven, but tucked away on 7TWO you will find the culinary adventures of former All Black turned cook Grahame Thorne.
New Zealand shows have qualified as Australian ever since a High Court decision 20 years ago deemed them equal under the Australia and New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement.
Audience tastes prevented the networks from scheduling New Zealand shows, which are cheaper to acquire than Australian programs, on their main channels at prime time.
After the advent of multi-channelling, the networks began to exploit the loophole in earnest.
"It goes without saying over-reliance on NZ content has an impact on our ability as a nation to tell our own stories and it's certainly not a sustainable position to have this sort of reliance," Ms Rowland said.
Photo: Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has not released a major TV review delivered to him in December. (ABC News: Marco Catalano)
There are bright spots. The Nine Network on Sunday launched its new Australian reality series Love Island on multi-channel 9Go!
Mr Deaner said, "You see Love Island premiering on [NineGo], so they're starting to use those services more interestingly".
ACMA's regulation report is compiled from figures supplied by the networks.
The annual review was published two months late, on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend in Canberra, at the end of a week when the Communications Minister and ACMA had been quizzed before Senate Estimates.
It is also a year after the Federal Government lanced a major TV review, wherein the networks asked for relief from their Australian content commitments.
That review was delivered to Communications Minister Mitch Fifield in December, but has not been released.
So, it is no surprise none of the TV stations contacted by the ABC, nor industry body Free TV, wanted to talk about this particular report card.