Underbelly: articles

$3m bill for banned TV show

TAXPAYERS forked out more than $3 million to help produce gangland drama Underbelly, which has been banned from airing in Victoria because it will unfairly prejudice an upcoming murder trial.

As the rest of the country tuned into the second episode of the $13million series last night and many Victorians downloaded it from the internet, The Australian has confirmed the taxpayer-funded Film Finance Corporation Australia gave the producers of the show $2.938 million in 2006-07. Victorian taxpayers, who have yet to see any episodes of the drama on the Nine Network, also gave Underbelly $214,500 from the coffers of state agency Film Victoria.

Supreme Court judge Betty King last week banned Nine - and any other Victorian - from showing the gangland drama in the state until a scheduledmurder trial finished.

Nine has appealed against the suppression order and will fight the ban on February 29 in the Victorian Court of Appeal after winning a hearing to fast-track its case last Friday.

Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions Jeremy Rapke QC used the appeal hearing to launch an attack on Nine and its inability to foresee legal problems with the controversial series.

Questions have also been raised about the responsibility of the two taxpayer-funded bodies to examine the potential for legal problems before handing over the $3.1million to Underbelly's producers Screentime. Film Finance Corporation Australia chief executive officer Brian Rosen said the show was examined by its lawyers for "any liable material" when it was commissioned but the issue of finding out whether the airing of the show coincided with trials was solely up to the broadcaster.

"Channel Nine would have made that judgment call," Mr Rosen told The Australian.

"If you wait for trials to happen, you would never make anything."

Mr Rosen said he did not consider the taxpayer investment in the show a waste of money because 1.4 million Australians tuned into Underbelly last week.

"And they (Victorians) will get to see it eventually, so it isn't a waste of money," he said.

By Milanda Rout
February 21, 2008
The Australian