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Federal government floats Pacific scheme for commercial TV networks

The Prime Minister has proposed a new Pacific broadcasting initiative to provide commercial Australian TV content to the region, an idea that may hit a legislative snag.

On Thursday, the government detailed plans to beef up relations with the region which included working “with our commercial media operators to ensure the Pacific can connect to quality Australian media content.”

The ABC currently broadcasts to the Pacific region through ABC Australia

The government’s proposal seems at odds with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation act, which states the “corporation or prescribed companies to be the only providers of Commonwealth‑funded international broadcasting services”

Currently the national broadcaster provides services through partners via its ABC Australia network. The feed includes some commercial TV content including live AFL games provided by Seven.

Following the 2017-18 budget, the Federal government came under fire for giving $30m to Foxtel for broadcasting women’s and niche sports.

Mumbrella understands the proposal at present would see Australian commercial programs licensed to Pacific region broadcasters, however the details such as the distribution channels are still under discussion.

Morrison elaborated on the initiative in a speech later on Thursday, saying: “I’ve been speaking to Free-TV Australia and the commercial TV networks about how we get more of our Australian content into the region.

“Our Pacific family switching on to the same stories, news, drama and sports we are watching at home. What better way of staying connected than through the people, the lifestyle and the every-day experiences we are lucky enough to enjoy.

“That’s why I am pleased to announce that the Government will be working with our commercial media operators to ensure our friends in the Pacific have access to more quality Australian content on television and other platforms.

“This will include things like lifestyle programs, news, current affairs, children’s content, drama and sports potentially.”

Mumbrella understands all the networks have had discussion with the government about the proposal. A Seven spokesperson said: “We are very happy to work with the Government and Free TV on this valuable initiative, and share some of Seven’s most loved and popular programs across the region.”

Free TV Australia chairman Harold Mitchell, said: “We recognise the Prime Minister’s strategic intent to prioritise the Pacific region and are pleased to be working towards this important policy direction.

“This initiative will showcase the best and most popular Australian content. It’s a powerful way to strengthen Australia’s Pacific partnerships and connection to the region.”

Free TV CEO Bridget Fair added: “Australia’s commercial television networks invest over $1.6 billion annually in great Australian content and deliver the most popular and well-loved programs on television. More importantly our drama, children’s entertainment, news and sports programs reflect our Australian community and our values. We are excited to be able to share the best of Australian programming with our Pacific neighbours.

“We look forward to working with the Government to finalise this important initiative.”

It is unclear how much of a windfall this would be for the broadcaster with the Prime Minister being  coy about the amounts involved:  “You might ask how we’re going to pay for all of this. The answer is simple. We are doing it from within budget,” he said in his speech.

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