FREE TV AUSTRALIA
Free TV Australia is an industry body that represents commercial free-to-air television licensees in Australia. Free TV was known as the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations (FACTS) from 1960–2002 and as Commercial Television Australia (CTA) from 2002–04.
Its origins can be traced back to 1956. The original free-to-air commercial television licensees—Sydney’s ATN7 and TCN9, and Melbourne’s HSV7 and GTV9—found it necessary to establish a forum for the discussion of industry issues and a body that would represent the interests of the commercial television industry to stakeholders.
One of the most important concerns of the government, industry and the public in the 1950s was the formulation of general standards for television advertising, although this was an area that had not yet been canvassed for community attitudes. The stations established the Television Advertising Board, governed by the sales managers of existing commercial television stations. The board was established with the purpose of producing industry codes that, together with the Australian Broadcasting Control Board’s television standards, would regulate television advertising.
However, by 1960 it was clear that the industry’s concerns were far broader than simply advertising. For this reason, FACTS was formed on 1 September 1960, based in Sydney. The Television Advertising Board was incorporated into FACTS, and every commercial station in operation became a member. Arthur S. Cowan was appointed the first general manager of FACTS after relinquishing his role as head of the Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations (now Commercial Radio Australia).
According to its charter, FACTS aimed to ‘stimulate general interest in and organise and develop television broadcasting’. It sought to ‘help extend the television broadcasting industry; protect and defend the rights and interests of licensed television stations, individually and collectively; to form a code of practice to simplify and facilitate all business relating to television broadcasting; to promote or oppose legislative or other measures affecting television broadcasting, and oppose any proposed restriction or interference’.
FACTS met annually to determine policies and deal with general issues. During these meetings, an executive committee of six was elected and given power to oversee the operation of FACTS between these general meetings. By the 1970s, FACTS included a full-time secretariat of 18 executives and staff. Consultants supplied additional support on a range of issues when necessary. Over time, demands on and within the industry forced FACTS to expand beyond its secretariat and provide additional services to members. FACTS prepared position papers and regulatory submissions on a range of matters, including the broadcasting reforms of the Fraser Coalition government, children’s television, and violence on television.
One of the key issues championed by FACTS throughout its tenure (with details of its lobbying exposed by the Australian Financial Review in 1980) was the self-regulation of the commercial television industry. It was not until the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 that the commercial television industry was able to formulate its own programming guidelines. A Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice was established in accordance with community standards and expectations, and negotiated in consultation with the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) and the public. However, the areas of children’s television, Australian content and advertising remain under the jurisdiction of the ABA’s Programming Standards. The Code of Practice has been updated periodically, most recently in 2010. The incumbent regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), is responsible for monitoring the implementation and effectiveness of the code.
A board representing all the major commercial networks—Nine, Seven, Ten, Prime Television, Southern Cross Austereo, NBN, WIN and Imparja—oversees Free TV. Several committees support the board, providing expertise in areas including policy and regulation, engineering and technical concerns, and marketing. In its dealings with government and in public statements, Free TV continues to maintain that Australia’s commercial television broadcasters are the most heavily regulated in the market, compared with pay television and mobile and online services. Julie Flynn has been CEO since 2001.
REFs: FACTS annual reports, 1975–79; http://www.freetv.com.au.