Aussie firewalls

Guilds oppose U.S. access to new media

SYDNEY — Australia’s major film industry guilds have urged the government not to cave into U.S. pressure for unrestricted access to new-media platforms in the free-trade agreement in negotiation.

The guilds, repping producers, directors, actors and writers, expressed alarm Friday at reports that Prime Minister John Howard told President Bush on Thursday he was prepared to be flexible on local-content levels in new media (Daily Variety Oct. 24).

They said that any limits on regulating new media would contradict the commitments the government has consistently given the industry over the past 12 months.

The guilds wrote to trade minister Mark Vaile on Friday, seeking urgent clarification of the government’s position as U.S. and Aussie trade negotiators resume negotiations in Canberra today.

“Australia’s capacity to regulate on new-media services is a matter of national sovereignty,” said Australian Screen Directors Assn. exec director Richard Harris. “To agree to U.S. studio demands in the area of new media is to outsource our culture to Hollywood and to sacrifice Australia’s ability to deliver minimum levels of Australian content to Australian audiences in the future.”

A joint statement from the guilds quoted Motion Picture Assn. of America topper Jack Valenti as saying, “The movie industry is eager to use the Internet to deploy our movies, thousands of title of every genre, to homes in this country and around the world.”

Australian Writers Guild’s Megan Elliott said, “In the face of these statements, the Australian government cannot agree to limit its ability to deliver Australian stories to future generations of Australians.”

“Giving up the flexibility to regulate in Australia’s best interest in the future will be a disaster for our children and our children’s children,” said Screen Producers Assn. of Australia’s Geoff Brown.

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