ABC caught in Chinese diplomacy controversy

The 10 Conditions of LoveJohn Lewis, producer of the controversial documentary The 10 Conditions of Love, hopes that the ABC will air the documentary soon and laments that Chinese pressure is making his doco ‘unsellable’.

“I’ll be very clear about this. I can simply say I hope that [a diplomatic reason] is not the case,” Lewis told Encore.

At a time when the ABC views China and India as important markets for the Australia Network, the decision to postpone broadcast of the documentary indefinitely could be seen as giving in to diplomatic pressure from China, but ABC MD Mark Scott told Radio National that such suggestions were “ludicrous” and he was “looking into it” and expected the film to air sometime this year, “sooner rather than later”.  ABC corporate communications director Mark Millett denied that this was a diplomatic issue.

Encore contacted the ABC for comment, but we were referred to a transcript of Scott’s interview on Radio National, and the link to an audio recording.

The Arcimedia production, a documentary about Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer, caused diplomatic tension with China when the Australian Government decided to grant a visa for Kadeer – considered a terrorist by the Chinese government – to attend the premiere at the Melbourne Film Festival in August. The MIFF website was hacked but festival director Richard Moore refused to cancel the screening.

It will screen at the US Congress in Washington tomorrow, with the attendance of Kadeer herself. Lewis sent out a press release that reached Greens senator Bob Brown, a supporter of the Uyghur cause, who contacted the producer to congratulate him.

“He said ‘that’s great, but why haven’t we seen it on TV in Australia’ and I told him the story, how it’s not scheduled to air anytime soon and we couldn’t get the DVD out. Brown said Mr. Scott would appear before the Senate this week, so the timing was exquisite but accidental.

“In some ways, it’s a model of their own making,” Lewis said.

It was Brown who questioned Scott in front of the Senate yesterday and shed light on Lewis’s concerns.

The ABC bought The 10 Conditions of Love on September 7, and programmed it for December 17. Lewis said he found out about the cancellation ‘almost by accident’ when he rang the ABC about planning the film’s publicity.

“I was then told almost in passing that it was no longer in the broadcast schedule. An email confirmed it on November 4.”

Independent distributor Umbrella entertainment had planned a DVD release to coincide with the pre-Christmas screening, but plans changed when the December broadcast was cancelled.

“Umbrella is very anxious to get it out. Arcimedia agreed to suspension of 50 percent of the advance from the distributor on basis of cancellation of the broadcast.

“It’s taken too long. We’ve been unable to exploit the film, which was made with a very low budget. None of us took fees and we’re a very small production company.

Lewis’s last communication from the ABC was on January 22, when he was told: “No news about a tx date yet, I’m afraid. I’ll let you know as soon as there’s a date.

The documentary had a limited cinema release in Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Sydney, making $30,000 at the box office. According to Lewis, Sydney is the one place where coverage and, subsequently, interest, was very limited.

“It didn’t do very well there. We couldn’t even get it on At the Movies, which was a pity. It should have been there not so much for its merits as a film, but for what it represented.

“It got extraordinary coverage,  more global news coverage than any other Australian film.”

Lewis says the film’s distributor, London-based TVF International, has been unable to sell the film anywhere in the world, and despite the positive feedback and interest, broadcasters in Japan, South Korea and Canada have declined.

“They tell me straight up that broadcasters are afraid of China, because they want to do business and international co-productions and are afraid to offend them.

“Every time they put it to their broadcasting clients, the enquiries go directly to the head office, not where they’re normally handled, and that’s the last they hear of it.”

In addition, documentary download site Joining the Docs acquired the Video on Demand rights for The 10 Conditions of Love, but are yet to make it available to online audiences because of fears they might get hacked.

The 10 Conditions of Love has screened in Taiwan, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Austria and Italy, among others. Next month it will be shown at Amnesty International’s Movies that Matter, in The Hague, Netherlands, as well as Prague and Montreal. The producer is also awaiting confirmation for an additional United Nations screening in Geneva.

“All of that’s happening, but here, nothing,” he lamented.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.