Colombia’s entertainment industry is up in arms over a government decree which has reduced the 70% national production quota for primetime TV to 20% due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Its beleaguered producers, actors, screenwriters, crew members and ancillary services will face even greater challenges if demand for homegrown productions begin to fall. Independent producers org Asocinde, led by CMO producer-VP Ana Piñeres, sent an appeal to the government while actors guild ACA has sued against the decree.

Some suspect that the TV sector pressured the government to pass this ruling so that they could fill their programming with less expensive canned imports.

However, the two major free-to-air channels, RCN and Caracol, which held a duopoly for decades until the establishment of a third channel, Canal 1, in 2017, have stuck to the original quotas. Both are prolific producers of national content and have produced enough hours in their 22 years of existence to fill 18 channels with primetime programming for 1.3 years, alleges Alexandra Cardona, president of writers’ rights management group, Redes. Both networks are said to have stopped production on 38 shows employing more than 4,000 people as a result of the health crisis. But they are expected to resume once the restrictions are lifted.

Cardona was participating in a Zoom forum May 1 on Colombian Senator Angelica Lozano’s Facebook account, which included Piñeres, Mario Mitrotti, head of the Latin American Audiovisual Directors Alliance; Santiago Cabrera, executive director of the Actors Union; Preciosa Media CEO Claudia Rodriguez and Maria Fernanda Cespedes, executive director of Colombia’s Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences.

The forum participants concluded that Decree 516 was unnecessary and mainly enacted to help regional channels and former state-owned Canal 1, now a public-private entity since the entry of private investors led by Miami-based Hemisphere Media Group, RTI of Patricio Wills who runs Televisa Studios, and former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria.

In response to these allegations, Canal 1 president Ramiro Avendaño told Variety: “The temporary decree and restrictions apply to all channels and are not meant to benefit one channel more than another.”

“In the particular case of Canal 1, we continue to produce local content as intensely as ever,” he asserted, adding that the channel has put biosecurity measures in place and has increased its news programming hours as well as launched new popular content.

While officials insist that the decree is only a temporary measure to adjust to the current suspension of all productions, the entertainment sector fears that the new quota could stay in place even after the stay-at-home restrictions and other measures are lifted. Actors stand to lose out on royalties, which they fought for decades to acquire.

“It’s absurd that none of us were consulted,” declared Mitrotti, who pointed out that Colombia is the third largest producer and distributor of telenovelas in the world. “Colombia’s film and TV industries are powerful forces to reckon with,” he added.

The country’s unemployment rate has risen from 10.8 in March 2019 to 12.6 a year later, Cardona contends, with the bulk of the unemployed coming from the entertainment sector and its ancillary services.

Sylvia Constain, the Minister of Information and Communication Technologies, responded to Piñeres’ appeal on April 30, reassuring her that the decree did not ban networks from broadcasting more national content than the 20% quota stipulated nor “prevent each channel from choosing and designing the content it broadcasts.”

“The decree simply recognizes that it is impossible to generate content during the pandemic where social isolation is vital to protect life,” she wrote.

It is unclear why Constain abruptly resigned last week.

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