Ox axes TV prod’n fund

As expected, gov't slashes $9.6 million subsidy

SYDNEY — The Australian film and TV production industry had braced itself for bad news in the federal government’s budget presented to parliament Tuesday night — and it was duly delivered.

The sting was the anticipated axing of the Commercial Television Production Fund, an initiative of the previous Labor administration, which was widely seen as a subsidy to the rich terrestrial webs Seven, Nine and Ten.

The termination of the fund, administered by the Australian Film Commission, deprives producers of $A14.2 million ($9.6 million) that would have been invested in miniseries, docus and telepics.

“Producers will now find it much harder to finance production of high-quality Australian drama,” Screen Production Assn. of Australia exec director Nick Herd said.

Herd predicts a downturn in TV production and increased pressure on existing government funding — primarily the Austra-lian Film Finance Corp., whose annual subsidy has been set at $32.6 million annually for the next three years.

For Australia’s increasingly fractious production community, the 1998-99 budget marks yet another slap in the face from an administration that is seen as unsympathetic to its industry.

Herd calculates the government has cut direct support for film and TV production by 25% since it came to power in 1996.

Signaling that producers are ready to take a vocal role in the election that’s expected to be held this year, SPAA president Tom Jeffrey accuses the government of breaking its 1996 pledge to maintain the level of support for film and TV production.

The budget delivers a surplus of $1.8 billion for the first time in eight years and avoided big spending commitments as the government prepares to unveil sweeping tax reforms — including income tax cuts and a goods and services tax — before the election.

The budget did contain good news for the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Special Broadcasting Service, allocating a total of $26.1 million over the next five years to assist the pubcaster to switch from analog to digital broadcasting.