Australian gov't backs kids channel


SYDNEY -- Australian TV appears in line for a new commercial-free children's channel, with the current government promising AUS$82 million ($75 million) in extra funding to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. if it is re-elected in the upcoming general election.

Communications Minister Helen Coonan said Saturday that the new channel would be managed by the ABC and run as part of its suite of digital multichannels.

Part of the funding requirement is that 50% of the channel's content will be "Australian in origin."

"This ensures that our children see programming that is reflective of our cultural sensitivities," Coonan said. It also is expected to help drive the adoption of digital TV here, she said.

The funding will trigger AUS$36 million ($32.7 million) of new educational and entertainment programming over four years. In addition, the ABC will be able to devote about AUS$40 million ($36.4 million) to the acquisition of existing Australian and international content.

The channel will carry programming for preschoolers, primary school-age children, tweens, teenagers and young adults.

Independent production and distribution company the Australian Children's Television Foundation described the policy announcement as "a wonderful initiative for families."

"Until now, there has been no regular, consistent broadcast platform that gives children ready access to Australian stories. The trend around the world has been for children to turn to dedicated children's channels and, until now, this has meant that Australian children have largely been watching television programs and films created by large international entertainment companies," ACTF chief executive Jenny Buckland said.

While the opposition Labor Party has yet to announce if it will match the government's proposal for the new service, its Communications spokesman Stephen Conroy said last month that that a dedicated kids TV channel is a "worthwhile proposition."