Aussies: Protect arts

Industry fears U.S. will push for standstill

SYDNEY — Australian actors and musicians are planning to rally this morning at the Sydney Opera House, calling on the government to stick to its commitment to exclude the media and cultural industries from the free trade pact being negotiated with the U.S.

Gathering is part of a concerted campaign by the film and TV industry, whose members fear the U.S. will push for a standstill that would prevent the Oz government from introducing regs for products distributed digitally.

An Australian Film Commission delegation argued strongly against a standstill in meetings last month in L.A. and Washington with reps of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, trade officials and the actors, writers and directors guilds (Daily Variety, Sept. 19), but came home convinced the Hollywood studios are opposed to the imposition of local content quotas in the looming digital era.

“To date we have had support from the federal government for the exclusion of Australian media and cultural industries from the free trade agreement,” said Simon Whipp, Equity director of the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance, the union that’s staging the Opera House rally.

“Negotiations with the U.S. are set to recommence in late October, and the U.S. government is pushing for a backdown, so we must ensure the Australian government holds firm.

“If politicians agree to a standstill, we are left with what we have now, and what works in the early 21st century may not stand up to the new world of the next five or 10 or 20 years. Australia’s culture is too important to gamble or trade away.”

The AFC reinforced its case last week by citing figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing that U.S. programs account for 69% of Australia’s TV imports, confirming Oz is the most open market in the world to Yank product.

Australian TV exports hit a 10-year low of $52 million in 2001-02 while imports continued to rise, leading to a deficit of $420 million, the highest since these stats were first compiled in 1987-88.

President George W. Bush has said he wants to see the trade pact concluded by the end of this year, but Aussie negotiators indicated last week that’s doubtful while the two sides remain far apart on agricultural subsidies.

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