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Guest editorial by Matthew Deaner, Screen Producers Australia chief executive officer
The impact of the coronavirus and the global effort to stop or slow its spread has reached into almost every aspect of our lives. This is true for everyone, including for children, who are staying home from school, are missing out on seeing friends and family, and are locked out of their favourite parks and playgrounds.
But now, thanks to a controversial Government decision, the virus’ impact will also reach into kids’ entertainment choices, with fewer opportunities for Australian kids to access locally produced content that is made specifically for them.
This is because the Government has decided, as a coronavirus response, to temporarily ‘suspend’ the rules that require Australia’s commercial broadcasters (Seven, Nine and Ten) to make and show locally made kids’ content.
It is true that production of much Australian television content has been interrupted, but there is also a lot of kids’ content (mostly animation) that can continue. The problem with the Government’s decision is that the broadcasters can now walk away from those productions with no repercussions, and some of them have pulled the rug out from under projects that were all but ready to go.
Staying home and needing entertainment and education, there’s no doubt that at this particular point in history, kids will be consuming screen content more than ever. So it is now more important than ever that they have access to content that is made specifically for them, that reflects their experiences and captures their imagination. After all, children experience the world differently from adults, and there is a lot to experience at the moment. Parents, as always, will also have a need for content choices they can trust, given the many competing demands of parenting and working through a pandemic.
In this context, the reasons why quotas were first introduced are more relevant today than ever before. However, it is appropriate that the system evolve to reflect children’s modern viewing habits. There can be no denying the role that content streaming plays in the modern Australian child’s screen diet. It is timely therefore that the Government is consulting on what the rules for children’s content, and Australian content more broadly, should look like in the longer term.
We don’t know what the Government will decide, but any future framework must include children and their unique needs, and must allow kids to find specialist content across the full range of services they use.
It’s extremely unfortunate that ahead of this wider review, the temporary suspension of existing rules will rob children of some first-class stories, told to them in their own voice and through their own perspectives. However, we now have a unique opportunity to shape a sustainable and diverse future for the world-class Australian kids’ content that has enduring value in the lives of Australian children and their parents.
More information at the SPA website