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Ten chief slams Oz quotas call

Australian commercial free-to-air channel Network Ten has attacked plans to force free-to-air broadcasters to invest more in locally produced programming as “unjustified.”

James Warburton

James Warburton

The government-commissioned Convergence Review published yesterday recommended FTA commercial broadcasters obligations in local drama, documentary and children’s programming to increase by half.

Network Ten Holdings CEO James Warburton reacted angrily, claiming A$1.2bn (US$1.3bn) was already invested in local productions each year.

“There is no justification for the proposed increase, especially at a time when the free-to-air television industry is already under pressure,” he said.

“It is simply unfair to continue to squeeze FTA broadcasters while some of our competitors are allowed to operate without contributing to local production and without excessive regulation.”

Yesterday, the independent Convergence Review Committee published a 174-page report recommending new frameworks for Australia’s rapidly changing media landscape, which encompasses advanced digital terrestrial TV, on-demand, online and pay-TV markets.

It proposed the establishment of a new communications industry regulatory body to replace the existing Australia Communication and Media Authority.

The new regulator would mainly concern itself with TV channels, press outlets and radio companies – or “content service enterprises” that invest more than A$50m a year in local content with monthly audiences of more than 500,000.

Significantly, this excludes online firms such as Google, Apple and Facebook and leading pay-TV operator Foxtel’s majority owner Telstra.

The report also recommended dropping broadcast licence fees for TV and radio in favour of spectrum fees related to the local market. The idea of a fourth commercial FTA licence was also rejected.

Warburton claimed the report had “ignored” previous stated aims and targeted FTA broadcasters.

“Instead, the final report recommends the introduction of more regulations. The higher content quotas for documentaries and children’s programmes, for example, are yet another regulation that only applies to the free-to-air television industry,” he said.

The new regulator would also include a tighter “public interest test” into major mergers and acquisitions – something that could have potentially derailed Foxtel’s takeover of smaller pay-TV rival Austar.

Foxtel CEO Richard Freudenstein criticised the report, saying the proposed new regulator was “needless” and would “stifle competition.” He added: “In particular, a new public interest test would be broad and subjective, and by the review’s own admission, it may increase the regulatory burden.”

The review was drawn from 340 written submissions and more than 28,000 comments over the past year.

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