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The Age

Is this the last squawk for the endangered Penguins?

Date: 18/12/1992
Words: 568
          Publication: The Age
Page: 12
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 awards.

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 vision." 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.

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