TELEVISION - AMERICA has the Emmys and Britain has the BAFTAs, peer-
judged awards for television excellence. For the same prestige and international
recognition, what does Australia have? The Logies and the People's Choice
Awards have their place but they are commercially sponsored popularity awards.
Television is increasingly represented in the peer-judged Australian Film
Institute Awards, but there is still the perception that TV is the poor cousin
to film. And despite the superior recognition factor of Australian television
over Australian film in most years, it is not yet known as the Australian Film
and Television Institute, or the AFTI Awards.
Australia used to have the Penguin Awards, introduced in the late 1950s by
the Television Society of Australia set up to promote excellence within the
industry while providing a forum for discussion.
But over the years the Penguins have waxed and waned in popularity until a
couple of years ago they vanished first from our screens and then from our
collective memories. Almost. For the past 18 months, a dedicated group of
society members has been trying to revive network interest in the awards and
elevate them to the prestige position of the Australian television industry
The group is headed by the society's president, Nigel Dick, a media
consultant, analyst and television historian who in his previous incarnations
was a chief executive of the Nine Network, chairman of HSV 7, and a director of
Crawford Productions and Film Victoria. He was also one of four people behind
the original Logies.
``But I still believe that an industry requires awards that are not
commercially sponsored, not because there is anything wrong with them, just
because it is good having peers judging peers. Every other English-speaking
country has such awards. Those who started the Penguins had a lot of vision.
Regrettably, the networks, for economic reasons only, aren't able to have that
When Mr Dick accepted the presidency last year, the society was in debt. The
commercial networks, perceiving a bias toward Victoria and the public
broadcasters, had lost interest. But after consultation, each of the five
networks stumped up enough to cover the debts and provide some capital. The
outlook was hopeful. A business plan was drawn up to include network
participation on the board, a full-time secretariat, judging coordinator,
possible sponsorship and mounting of the awards for television.
But one by one the commercial networks lost interest. Nigel Dick does not
blame the society or the networks, although without their support the awards are
unworkable. Rather, he blames government for the bad planning and
short-sightedness that created a debt-ridden industry unable to put the audience
first by providing new and quality Australian programs.
Earlier this week, the society's members agreed that if no new candidates
declare themselves for office, the society would be wound up in February. If
that happens, a piece of Australian television history and the immediate hope of
an important television awards system will be wound up with it. Such a pity.