Our coverage of the new clause 5A in the SBS contract with producers was wrong – “How SBS skirts around sedition ” (yesterday, item 20). The new clause does include sedition for the first time, but it reduces independent filmmakers’ liability for defamation, contempt and sedition, rather than increases it, and may well give producers more editorial control. In a dramatic reversal for an Australian broadcaster, SBS has decided to follow the European model, and offer indemnity to producers. The previous contract placed full responsibility for complying with the law on the producer.

According to Ned Lander, General Manager of SBS Independent, the broadcaster unilaterally decided that it was unreasonable for documentary filmmakers to carry the entire burden of defamation and contempt, as they did under the existing contract.

The result was a decision to offer filmmakers a limited indemnity based on the free flow of information. “The intention was not to put a burden on the filmmaker but to take a burden away from the filmmakers,” he said.

The existing clause simply required filmmakers to act within the law, and also made them fully responsible with regard to sedition. They were fully liable if they

However the premature release of the new contract – before SBS had an opportunity to discuss it with the industry – created the possibility of misunderstanding, as the new contract combined the inclusion of the sedition laws with an improvement of the indemnity offered to producers on defamation and contempt of court.

The new contract also took the Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA) by surprise.

Under the new contract producers will have a responsibility to discuss with SBSi anything that they believe might be interpreted as being defamatory, in contempt of court or seditious, but once they have done so, they will have some indemnity.

Rather than limit filmmakers’ ability to make robust arguments, the indemnity provisions might actually increase a filmmaker’s ability to take risks, while the clause also provides some limits on SBS’s ability to insist on edits, which was previously unlimited.

The original article and the full version of the new clause can be read here.