EXCLUSIVE: This week the Australian Children’s Television Foundation turns 30. Across three decades the Melbourne-based enterprise has invested in script development and distribution for thousands of hours of kid’s telly.
For 29 of those years Janet Holmes à Court has been a Board Member -and 26 as Chairman.
Having lobbied more Arts ministers than she can count, she now has another message for Canberra, as a cloud hangs over the quotas for Children’s programming in Australia.
The Convergence Review Report, due later this month, has drafted interim recommendations that may see networks dump the sub-quota rule in favour of spending a proportion of their budget on original Australian productions. Since the introduction of the sub-quota under the Fraser Government, Children’s Television in Australia has thrived to a point where it is now highly-regarded around the world.
Holmes à Court urges the Federal Government to retain minimum quotas.
“Governments have to continue seeing the value in what we do. Not only for the child audience in watching television, but also in future getting their programmes on all sorts of other media that we haven’t even thought about yet.
“Convergence is an absolute fact,” she admits.
“But I really would like the government to continue to legislate for the quantity of Australian content. If we stop telling our stories and stop speaking in our voice we cease to exist as a people.
“If there’s no Australian television, no Australian music or literature because it all pours in on us from overseas, we cease to exist as a separate nation. We just become an appendage of one or two other nations.”
Holmes à Court singles out TEN, under Head of Children’s TV Cherrie Bottger, as being strong commercial supporters of Childrens content. But other broadcasters come in for a serve.
“I would like to see the quotas maintained or even increased. And I’d like to see people having to abide by the spirit as well as the actual letter of the law. This silly nonsense of 32 hours that they’re required to show on commercial stations….. If they’re up to 32 hours in November there’ll be nothing until we start again the next year. There’s not a generosity of spirit about it. They meet the minimum.”
The ACTF was established in 1982 on the back of a national inquiry into Broadcaster’s self-regulation. Kid’s TV, notably Kid’s Drama had languished in the 1970s with American sitcoms dominating afternoon TV. Back then, commercial broadcasting execs wanted ACTF to fail.
Established under the Fraser Government, ACTF has since partnered with numerous shows including Round the Twist, Hollie’s Heroes, Lockie Leonard, My Place, Spellbinder, Mortified, The Genie from Down Under, Lil’ Elvis Jones and the Truckstoppers, Kaboodle, Lift Off, Dance Academy, Crash Zone, Winners, Touch the Sun, The Girl from Tomorrow and more.
“I really believe that Australian children need and deserve television which tells our stories in our voices that is made specifically for children and about them. About the values and ethics of Australia but not in a preachy, Sunday school way but in an entertaining way,” she says.
“(Writer) Tony Morphett said ‘Australian children need to be able to dream Australian dreams.’ I think that’s a great motivating force for me. Australian children shouldn’t have to grow up on a diet of American or British programmes.”
ACTF remains a philanthropic passion for her. Although her Arts ties have included the National Academy of Music, Australian Chamber Orchestra, WA Symphony Orchestra, Black Swan Theatre and the University of Western Australia -none can match her enthusiasm for ACTF.
“The people who have been on the Board with me have been an outstanding group of people. Lots and lots of people over the 29 years. There are tremendous Board members and tremendous staff.
“The producers, the actors and directors who have been with us are all committed to the child audience.
“We all believe that children deserve quality television.
“The fact that we’ve made it of such a high quality means that we’re now watched in 110 countries. It’s a huge bonus for what we do.”
Despite her dedication to Children’s TV, Holmes à Court never became involved in producing or bank-rolling a production company. She is convinced she has been able to achieve more behind the scenes.
“I’m not a creative person. I’m more an encourager and possibly a facilitator. It would be a disaster if you made me a Television Producer! I see the role as being a spokesperson for the organisation with politics and bureaucrats, encouraging and supporting the incredible staff we have here.”
But she does have a message for Producers who are delivering content for broadcasters.
“My advice would be to constantly think about quality. There is no point in us making television product in Australia for children that isn’t of the highest quality, as far as I’m concerned. That’s why we sell to 110 countries. Programmes that are not of a sufficient quality will be sold in Australia and that’s the end of them,” she insists.
“But if they are high quality, they respect children, their production values are high, then they will be able to be taken by us and sold to the world.”