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Scrap kids TV content quotas: Patricia Edgar

The Australian

July 17, 2017

STEPHEN BROOK

Children's television content quotas should be scrapped and the ABC should junk one of its two children's channels because the system for guaranteeing quality children's television no longer works, the architect of the original children's C classification says.

Instead, a new independent online service, funded by an annual levy on networks should replace the current system, says Patricia Edgar, the founding director of the Australian Children's Television Foundation.

"Get rid of all the children's quotas. The networks have never played the game fair and never really worked to ensure that the programs that they are doing are the programs that were really were intended by the standards," says Edgar, who as chair of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board's advisory committee on program standards was the architect of the C classification.

Edgar's comments carry significant weight. She was also chair of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal's children's program committee, where she oversaw the implementation of the Children's Television Standards.

"Forget the commercials. Systematically they have undermined the objectives of children's programming. But levy them so they each pay $10 million that each goes to a fund that supports a new multiplatform online service for ages nine to 14."

Such a platform would operate like the ABC's iView player, allowing children to select content they wanted to watch, much as they do on YouTube, but without the need to produce volumes of episodes to sustain television timeslots or channels.

"I am making an argument about quality and an argument about the audience (that) is diminishing worldwide if you look at the research," Edgar said. "What it shows quite clearly is the kids in the age group (9 to 15) are moving away from television because they are on their tablets and mobile phones and social media."

Edgar's views, made in a submission to the government's Australian and Children's Screen Content Review that is examining the future of children's TV quotas, will cause angst in the independent production section, which has attacked ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie's insistence that the ABC should not be subject to such quotas, and fears the government will scrap such quotas, which the commercial free-to-air networks say they can no longer afford.

Commercial free-to-air broadcasters must screen at least 96 hours of first-release Australian C drama over a three-year period and a combined total of at least 260 hours of C programs and at least 130 hours of P programs (for preschool children) per year from any source.

But Edgar thinks traditional television dramas are not the "be all and end all of what kids need".

"So much of the thinking behind this review is about an assumption that we should sustain this industry. It's not about the industry, it's about the kids," she said. "Kids, they come and they go very quickly. You are not going to get them in by offering them more of the same. They want something new and innovative. There are two-year-olds picking up tablets and playing games and learning words and numbers."

Edgar has called for the ABC to close its ABCME digital channel aimed at children aged nine to 15 years and focus on programs for children in their early years aged two to nine.

Edgar says the ABC should scrap one of its digital channels and focus on two to nine-year-olds. "It's ridiculous they have the two channels, if you look at the hours they have got to fill."

Former ABC director of television Kim Dalton recently attacked the ABC for empire building at the expense of content funding. "He is claiming that ABC3 was a nirvana for children's programs," Edgar said. "I am saying that they were putting in low- cost studio-based cheap programs with multiple repeats to fill the timeslots. You are looking at massive number of hours that are required," Edgar said.

Both the ABC and Kim Dalton declined to comment.