The ABC is not using the “disappointed” word, but nevertheless it is clear that the Federal Budget did not contain what they had been hoping for – funding for a new digital channel dedicated to children.

Head of ABC TV Kim Dalton told Crikey yesterday that one of the factors in the recent restructure of television, had been plans for the new channel, which was to be established in a cooperative venture with the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, which outlined the idea in this submission last year.

The plan is for, in the words of the ACTF:

A distinctive, comprehensive, children’s public service channel which is predominantly Australian and available to every family in Australia that can receive free-to-air television. It should be a new and innovative service, which includes a diverse slate of programming including news, educational programming and material that is created by children, which accompanies entertaining children’s drama and non-drama programs.”

The ABC’s medium term strategy includes plans for a number of new digital channels on top of the present ABC2. All this has been made possible by the lifting this year of “genre restrictions” on the digital offerings of the public broadcasters. The lifting of these restrictions was one of the few positives in Senator Helen Coonan’s media reforms.

New digital channels would have the side benefit for Government of driving the until recently sluggish uptake of digital technology. Nevertheless, the funding is not yet forthcoming, although Dalton says discussions with Government continue.

Dalton says that pay television is increasingly providing attractive and quality children’s content, which is nevertheless almost entirely American. The idea of an ABC children’s channel had been discussed with the Government since the middle of last year, and had received a “positive hearing”.

So was he disappointed by the budget? Dalton is politic enough not to go that far. The ABC remains hopeful.

Peter Fray

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