Oz budget cuts TV, preserves film coin

SYDNEY — After delivering across-the-board cuts to Aussie film, TV and arts bodies last year, the conservative government defied expectations Tuesday night by not touching film funding but hacking into coin for TV orgs in its second federal budget.

Premier film funding agency the Film Finance Corp. (FFC) maintained its A$48 million ($37.4 million) annual coin base guaranteed to 2001, the Australian Film Commission got $11.5 million, while docu producer Film Australia’s funding remained at $5 million until 1999 with one catch: After that, the government wants to privatize it along with new media investment agency the Australian Multimedia Enterprise.

“The government’s announcement to commit funding to the FFC for four years will provide the industry with the longest period of stability since 1969, when assistance to the film and TV industry started,” said outgoing FFC chief exec John Morris.

But TV didn’t fare so well, with the Australian Commercial TV Production Fund weathering a dip of $4 million to $11.7 million. Morris said the saving would “have little impact on the budget bottom line, but it will have a major effect on the production of quality Australian TV drama.”

Bad news also for TV producers at pubcaster ABC, which, as expected, absorbed a 12% cut to $390 million for its TV web and six radio nets. But while the ABC’s pleas for the government to meet it halfway on $43 million in cuts fell on deaf ears, the good news is the reduced level of funding is guaranteed until 2000.

The scaling back of the ABC’s Asian shortwave Radio Australia service (which had been earmarked for abolition) means $8.7 million is available for other ABC services. Together with $21.8 million in savings (including asset sales and 300 pinkslips last year), that still leaves an ABC shortfall of $11.7 million. At least 600 more jobs will vanish, cuts to local programming are certain and the shuttering of one of its radio nets is possible.

Further layoffs are likely at multicultural pubcaster SBS, whose coin was cut $4 million to $64.7 million, and will fall a further $2.3 million next year.

After taking a 6% cut last year, Oz’s premier mixed-media arts funding body, the Australia Council, retained its funding levels at $54 million.

“The most that can be said about this budget is that it’s not as bad as last year’s. Australia’s arts industry deserves better,” said opposition arts spokesman Bob McMullan.

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