• Australia suspends local content obligations amid coronavirus pandemic 
  • Spectrum payments to be waived for TV and radio broadcasters 
  • Comms minister announces $50 million investment in local journalism 

ABC australia

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

Australia has agreed to suspend local content obligations for radio and TV stations hit by the coronavirus, with the government announcing a $54 million relief package for the sector.

Recognising the challenges Covid-19 is causing for the Australian broadcast sector, the federal government has said it will provide a 12-month waiver on spectrum payments for commercial TV and radio broadcasters, saving the industry around $41 million. 

Communications minister Paul Fletcher announced the measures which will see drama, children’s and documentary content quotas on free-to-air and subscription channels suspended for 2020. 

The quotas determine how much of a certain type of show must be made in Australia, although Fletcher said an overall requirement for 55% of content to be Australian will remain in place. 

Fletcher also promised to invest in regional journalism, announcing a $50 million fund, of which $13.4 million is new money. 

Fletcher said the measures would provide the media sector with “urgent short-term support” after dramatic falls in advertising spend forced media companies to temporarily suspend print publication of news titles, cut salaries and renegotiate with lenders. 

“Many Australians are doing it tough right now and the media sector is sharing that pain, especially in regional areas,” Fletcher said, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald

“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 also said it would publish a report, put together by the Australian Communications and Media Authority and Screen Australia, into whether or not streamers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video should be subject to similar content obligations in the future. 

Fletcher said the government will hold a consultation into a potential new regulatory framework over the next eight weeks, seeking feedback from the industry. 

“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,” Fletcher added. 

It comes as broadcasters across the globe face challenges to both production and monetisation due to the coronavirus and the economic recession expected to come in its wake. 

In the UK both Channel 4 and ITV have announced plans to strip back their content budgets, with advertising revenues expected to be hit hard by the pandemic.