THE federal government has given its strongest indication yet that it would be willing to cut commercial television licence fees permanently in exchange for a guarantee of more Australian content.
Speaking at the Screen Producers Association of Australia conference on Thursday, Arts Minister Simon Crean suggested that the 50 per cent reduction in licence fees granted by the government in 2011 could be made permanent.
But in return, the networks would be expected to increase their first-run Australian-made drama, documentary and children's programs across all their channels.
''I believe the TV networks should be stepping up more to the plate, particularly in circumstances where we've cut the licence fees and given them multi-channelling,'' Mr Crean said. The free-to-air commercial networks are required to screen an average of 55 per cent Australian content between 6am and midnight on their main channel, including sport, news and current affairs.
They are also required to meet sub-quotas governing drama, documentary and children's programs. Their digital channels are not governed by the same requirements. The association has argued for an increase of 40 hours a year in first-run Australian drama across each network's digital channels.
The government's convergence review, handed down in March, recommended an increase of 50 per cent in the sub-quotas across the digital channels and the retention of the existing requirements for the main channel.
The commercial broadcasters are believed to prefer the retention of the 55 per cent requirement on the main channel and the introduction of a 30 per cent Australian content requirement on the digital channels. That content could include news, sport, current affairs and repeats.
Mr Crean appeared to have little time for that position. ''We require local content on their main channel, we require it on subscription TV, why not the multi-channels?'' he said.
Cabinet is expected to consider its response to the convergence review next week.