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ABC chair Kim Williams calls for investment in Aussie IP, docs and kids’ content

Developing more documentaries and expanding support for children’s content are top of the agenda for Australian broadcaster the ABC’s new chairman Kim Williams.

Kim Williams

Williams made his first significant public address about ABC’s strategy since starting the role in March when he delivered the Redmond Barry Lecture in Melbourne yesterday.

He indicated the public broadcaster would not shy away from further investment in key cultural content that matches the ABC’s programming priorities.

Documentaries will attract heightened investment because they are crucial for fulfilling ABC’s intellectual credibility and central elements of its charter, Williams claimed.

The focus will be on factual content about national and international subjects that “challenge Australians to think widely and respond with delight and wonder,” he added.

Williams called for more “ambition to refresh a sense and understanding of Australia’s great national institutions, our parliaments, our courts, our regulators and public policy processes. And of course, the independence and security offered by the world’s best electoral system.”

Drama and comedy production will be bolstered and partnering with more independent production companies will be crucial, he said.

The arts, which are a core tenant of Williams’ ambitions, will also be boosted, he revealed. “More coverage and coherent programming for the arts. Books, theatre, dance, music – Australians crave more and are voting with their podcasts. We must rank higher and deliver superbly in this league,” he said.

On the vexed issue of investment in children’s content – an arena in which the ABC remains the primary development and network production partner – Williams said the broadcaster’s commitment to this “exceptional programming, which provides unique Australian ‘ballast’ against a tidal wave of non-Australian content,” will be defended.

“No other media organisation of substance stands up for Australian accents, values, plurality and aspirations which are planted firmly in, and dedicated to, this nation. Make no mistake, without that precious education and children’s material, the outlook for Australian knowledge and values is really quite grim. We need to defend and expand those categories of programming in response to the dramatic incursions we have seen from numerous mighty offshore providers,” he said.

Screen Producers Australia (SPA) said its members were poised to work with the ABC to assist Williams in delivering those programming priorities and supported his call for greater government investment in the broadcaster.

SPA chief Matthew Deaner noted the ABC had faced a tough time in recent years in delivering its programming ideals within severe budget constraints.

“These pressures have unfortunately flowed directly on to the independent screen sector, SPA members, who the ABC relies on for much of its programming. If it weren’t for the ABC and its ongoing investment in children’s programmes, the deregulation of Australian content requirements for commercial broadcasters in 2021 by the [Scott] Morrison government would have been the finish of an entire sub-sector of our industry. As it was, many were forced out of business,” Deaner said.

“In practice, this means paying appropriately for rights sought and recognising that independent producers must also sustain their businesses to successfully develop and deliver the next Bluey. If we want to maintain a strong, independent and viable Australian screen industry, able to share Australian stories with Australian audiences, we need the [Anthony] Albanese government to recognise the critical role the ABC plays in our lives and our industry and to fund it accordingly.”

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