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Expats furious at 7's Asia-Pacific broadcast deal

SYDNEY (Pacific Media Watch): Kerry Stokes's Seven network is poised to win $A50 million to run a new Howard Government-sponsored Asia Pacific television service, prompting a storm of protest from Australian expatriates in the region, the Australian reports.

Five rival bidders for the $10 million-a-year, five-year contract have been contacted by the Department of Foreign Affairs saying the Government has a preferred candidate, with Seven understood to be the last bidder standing.

Seven already runs Australia TV, acquired from the ABC in 1997, but has been criticised by the expatriate community for running cheap programming and constant repeats, such as children's show Here's Humphrey four times a day and often in prime time. The network is understood to be losing Seven about $6 million to $7 million a year, with little advertising support.

Reports in The Australian this week that Seven is about to win the right to broadcast ATV set off a flood of emails to this newspaper from expatriates critical of the decision.

"ATV's recent format has made it a target for sarcasm and ridicule within the region," wrote Rob Spurr, an Australian in Jakarta.

Another expatriate in Jakarta, Andrew Mitchell, emailed: "I live in Jakarta and 'our' television station is an absolute joke. A Country Practice that must be at least 15 years old played three to four times a day is certainly not good entertainment or a good portrayal of Australia."

Seven has been broadcasting to Indonesia and elsewhere in the region via the Palapa satellite just 10 programs every 24 hours, repeated four times a day.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has declined to comment on the progress of the bid, as has Seven. The department opened the tender last August to subsidise a better television service in Asia.

It is understood that in November the department had narrowed the selection to two bidders: Seven and Australian Vision International, a venture backed by former Liberal member of the NSW Upper House Lloyd Lange, advised by former ABC managing director David Hill.

But it is understood AVI was eliminated just before Christmas, leaving Seven in final negotiations.

+++niuswire

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