“Speaking Truth to Power – when the Mavericks Went Mainstream”
Screen Forever Opening Address
Screen Forever opening speech today was address by Matthew Deaner CEO.
The theme of our conference is “When The Mavericks Went Mainstream”.
I feel strongly about this because I think it captures so much about our industry. Mavericks are, by definition, the risk-takers. They are fiercely independent, outspoken and passionate people who are unafraid to challenge or poke fun at established beliefs. They stand up to authority. Their courage to express themselves and tell their stories is part of our collective imagination and the democratic freedoms we enjoy. Mavericks gives us all a voice – to tell the uncomfortable truths and to challenge the status quo – bringing us into a deeper awareness of ourselves and changing the way we identify as Australians and how we are seen by the world.
This year, we’ve continued to build momentum around our “Make it Australian” campaign, which was launched last year together with the Australian Writers Guild, Australian Directors Guild and Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance.
It’s been an important and unifying milestone for our industry. We’ve seen mavericks from all sectors – performers, producers, writers, directors and crew – join forces to campaign together for the future of our industry and ensure that Australian stories continue to appear on Australian screens.
As part of this campaign, while we’ve lobbied for more competitive tax offsets, and better funded public broadcasters and screen agencies at its core is the continuation and indeed extension of local content obligations to include new market entrants, such as SVODs who have a powerful role now in our community and industry.
This is a campaign of many forming a collective position to achieve outcomes that counter the interests of the powerful. In fact regulation of our industry is just that.
Power and its abuse has defined and shaped our nation – from day one of colonial arrival – when the powerless were sent on boats by the powerful to settle this land and in turn when the powerful took the land and inflicted horrors upon the powerless in our indigenous communities.
Speaking truth to power is important in allowing growth and positive change in all aspects of our country and some of our challenges as a nation are deeply embedded in our unwillingness to tackle the truth of our history.
It’s why our indigenous story tellers – it’s why our industry as a whole – has such an important role to play in our community. The beating heart of the nation.
In our industry we are seeing some changes and truth spoken to power with the #metoo movement which is changing for the good what is at times a toxic culture and leading a broader conversation in society about harassment and the power imbalance in male and female relationships on many levels.
But the dynamic between the powerful and the powerless in our industry operates on a deep structural level that stifles change and positive corrections of trajectory. There is much work to do if we are to speak truth and allow our industry to grow.
At its core is the unspoken truth that no one wants to bite the hand that feeds. And this is true for our mavericks as they come up against powerful business as much as it is for our regulators and agencies who face powerful business and their powerful funders in Governments. It’s true in environments such as these. No one wants to talk truth to power when it threatens your business or agency or career advancement in Government or the opportunities you have to work in this great industry. I see this every day in weak leadership, in brutalised small businesses, in poorer and poorer deals, siphoned equity, forced circumvention of the regulatory schemes, a general malaise and inertia. We have seen it most recently in some of the problems that have been playing out for the ABC.
On a business level, the shifts in power to global digital platforms have changed everything and are currently being scrutinised in the ACCC’s digital platforms inquiry. We expect to see consideration of not just the market power of Google and Facebook and increasingly international SVODs but also the trickle-down effect this has both structurally and behaviourally in the market on the media content creators in our sector. We look forward to the outcomes from this inquiry and note that the preliminary report is to be submitted to the Treasurer next month.
It all amounts to the need for strategic intervention from the ACCC, the ACMA and Screen Australia. The time has come to consider the efficacy of mandatory codes of conduct and legislated terms of trade to address the imbalances of power that have led to these problems for our industry on all levels. On this note, we welcome the Government’s review into unfair contract term legislation and the protections they afford for small businesses, which is due to commence this month.
It contrasts a current mindset driven at full speed particularly within the ACMA – where regulatory forbearance is given to stakeholders rather than actually regulating by using the various options at its disposal, such as enforceable undertakings, remedial directions or pursuing civil penalties.
This light-tough approach is no longer feasible to ensure our cultural objectives are met in the digital era. It no longer balances the needs of industry with our community. The Authority has oversight of these issues and more and we encourage them and encourage the organisation to take on a leadership role in addressing these imbalances of power to help create a level playing field and fulfil the ACMA’s regulatory mandate to actively contribute to the continuous improvement of regulatory frameworks.
We also encourage the ACMA to fulfil the recommendations of last year’s ACMA Review – to consider the impacts of competition as part of its day to day thinking and decision making and engage in greater cross-consultation with the ACCC. We also encourage the ACMA and its counterpart, the Bureau of Communications and Arts Research to take on a greater research function in the screen industry to assist with evidence-based policy outcomes.
And of course, we look forward to the direction that Screen Australia’s board and leadership team will chart for our industry. Their direction, engagement, thoughtfulness and proactivity is critical to our success and our sector’s output and employment.
We encourage all of these agencies and our government department to give active engagement to our industry and in particular at this – the event that brings our industry together.
Our government agencies and regulators can also fall prey to operating in a prism of fear. But they too need to speak truth to power. These bodies play a crucial part of our ecosystem. They are our custodians and sometimes gatekeepers. We rely upon them help protect and promote our Australian identity, character and cultural and media diversity
If we ignore this or sweep the problems under the carpet, it has a tendency of leading to decisions that put punctures in what would otherwise be strong and valuable policy settings and certainly what we are seeing now – policy inertia. Over time, this undermines our businesses ability to be innovative and creative and invest. And while the effect of small gives and shifts might seem innocuous, over a long period, we often can’t remember what caused the leak and once enough air is let out we will lose the direction of where we’re going and ultimately collapse.
When there is all risk, and little reward, creativity and innovation is stifled, leading to hackneyed ideas that damage the industry’s brand and in turn given our role, the brand of ‘Australia’. When opportunities are scarce and so much is reliant upon gatekeepers in Government, it creates a culture of fear which breeds discontent and eventually, silence. It forces those in our industry to cannibalise opportunities, rather than work together.
It takes away the very freedom of expression that is so essential to seeing our industry thrive. And there is nothing sadder than seeing such fiercely independent and passionate people as those we have in our industry rendered silent and broken by uncertainty and the misuse of power.
It’s no secret that bureaucrats and creatives make strange bedfellows. In many respects, bureaucracies are the opposite of mavericks. They have a tendency to get bogged down in red tape, can be inherently risk averse, and are often afraid of change. But we need mavericks in our government bureaucracies to keep fighting for our industry and speaking truth to power – just as much as we need them in our businesses and amongst our creatives.
Our industry waits with baited breadth for the cumulative outcome of the three most recent government reviews in content regulation. To ensure our cultural objectives are being met in the digital era, we need greater transparency and support from our regulators – and Government – to consider the strategic interventions needed to address the systemic and emerging competition and trade issues in our sector.
SPA will keep returning to these themes over the course of the year as we develop strategies to advance the trade of our industry.
To that end and on a more positive note, I am pleased to see the recent report published by the Bureau of Communications and Arts Research on “the economic value of cultural and creative activity”, which shows that our creative industries contributed more than 111 billion in value to the Australian economy, with more than $25 billion in output coming from the broadcasting, electronic or digital media and film industries.
On a similar vein, in June we released the landmark results of a new industry census into the independent production sector undertaken with Deloitte titled “Screen Production in Australia”.
Across the last decade our industry has grown substantially, to the point where in 2017 the independent production sector generated $1.2 billion in production revenue and supported 20,000 jobs. 43% of production business compared to 7% of the broader economy are already exporting, highlighting the export and its growth potential of our sector. But consistent with the challenges, imbalance in bargaining power was cited as the number one challenge in our industry. We have a panel session tomorrow afternoon that I’m moderating that will take a more detailed look at the findings.
The findings of the Deloitte report tie in to a close analysis of Screen Australia’s annual drama survey, while toplined by a ‘record’ $718 million investment in local content shows some glaring disparities once one takes a little look under the hood and while we recognise the investment in light entertainment, news an sport, significant falls this year in investments from commercial and subscription television in drama and children’s content show a worrying development that needs much greater attention than it has so far received.
In fact for Commercial TV alone – the investment in drama has declined by 22% over the 5 year average – a huge fall.
The steading hand of the ABC has kept the broader industry afloat.
Speaking of the ABC and returning to our theme of the Mavericks who tell the uncomfortable truths, I am pleased to introduce this afternoon our own iteration of two iconic ABC programs – Q&A and You Can’t Ask That. Q&A was created to provide a platform in which ordinary Australians could question their leaders and has established a key place in the nation’s public discourse while You Can’t Ask That speaks boldly and truthfully about areas that both those in power and the general public feel unable to address.
We thank the ABC for partnering with us to deliver these sessions.
Today they both shine a light shine on our own issues and kicks off what I hope will be a dynamic, informative and engaging Screen Forever 2018.
May the maverick in you keep challenging, upending, changing and reforming – and we will continue to agitate to keep the creative tensions between our industry and government and fiercely lobby for greater certainty and sustainability in our sector in the years ahead.