Oz-U.S. culture clash

Aussie org cries foul in run-up to trade talks

This article was updated at 4:23 p.m.

SYDNEY– The Australian Film Commission has strongly criticized the American Film Marketing Assn.’s leadership for siding with Hollywood in the dispute over U.S. access to Oz’s audiovisual markets.

Oz fears were heightened after Prime Minister John Howard reportedly offered concessions on new media when he met President Bush in Canberra on Thursday.

Howard told Bush he was prepared to be “flexible” on the level of local content in new platforms such as video on demand, according to numerous media reports. Both agreed to aim to conclude negotiations by the end of this year.

The issue will be a sticking point when U.S. and Aussie trade reps meet next week in Canberra to continue negotiating a free-trade agreement.

The AFC and industry guilds are pressing to have cultural support measures excluded from the pact. The U.S. negotiators are demanding a standstill, which would ban the Oz government from introducing new regs for digitally distributed products or altering existing local content rules and subsidies.

The AFC asked AFMA for its support, citing the latter org’s commitment to global independent production, believing its interests are not the same as those of the Motion Picture Assn. of America.

AFMA prez-CEO Jean Prewitt rebuffed the AFC this week. In a fax to AFC chief exec Kim Dalton, she said AFMA believes the “AFC’s concerns on these topics and the still unknown terrain of new technologies can be accommodated” within the trade agreement.

Dalton was clearly taken aback, telling Daily Variety Thursday, “By falling in behind the MPAA, AFMA has turned its back on independent Australian film and TV producers.

“Markets that preserve cultural diversity and regulate to ensure they are not swamped and dominated by the U.S. studios provide more access to independent producers.”

Dalton fears the MPAA wants the pact with Australia to create precedents for future trade deals that would give the U.S. greater access to European and Asian markets.

“Australia is one small step in the U.S. game plan to get this sort of regime in Europe,” he said. If the U.S. succeeds, he warns, “AFMA members will wake up one day to discover the cultural diversity that exists in European markets, which welcome world cinema, has gone.”

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