Under the 11 year Howard Liberal-National Coalition government, funding for SBS did not keep pace with that required. As a result, in late 2006 SBS began interrupting all programs for advertisements. No one was happy. The Coalition government had abdicated its responsibility for multicultural broadcasting. The Labor party then in Opposition vehemently objected in the parliament and publicly stated in its SBS [election] Policy that “Labor opposes and continues to oppose the decision by SBS to introduce in-program advertising”.
There was some excitement in the air when the Rudd Labor government was elected in its landslide victory in 2007 that the days of disrupting programs on SBS-TV were over. Everyone thought SBS would be better funded and all would be rosy.
But in those three years, Australians had not forgotten Labor’s broken policy promise and its failure to act as expected. So in the month before the 21 August 2010 federal election, visitors to the SaveOurSBS.org website sent 15,427 emails to selected politicians asking for a promise to increase public funding for SBS to free it from advertising. Replies were received by some campaign participants from the Labor, Liberal, and, Greens parties.
Tony Abbott’s Office responded early but he did not address any of the points that the campaign participant had raised, nor even mention SBS. His generic reply stated “it is vital that the Coalition knows what people are thinking so that we can represent the interests of all Australians”. A link was provided to the Liberal party website but also no mention of the SBS issues were addressed there. Many campaign supporters have told us that they regarded Tony Abbott’s email as either “laughable” – “out of touch” or “hopelessly inappropriate”.
Five days before the election, the Labor party sent a reply to the later campaign participants only. Their bulk email was virtually identical to their answers (20/7/10) that they gave to SaveOurSBS.org that we had published almost a month before and summarised in our article Election promises for SBS (10/8/10). Upon receiving the ALP bulk email, campaign participants were sparked into letting us know. They were furious. “Labor has provided too little too late”. The ALP bulk mail was viewed as “contemptuous and antagonistic” - “it endeavoured to confuse people with volumes of irrelevant data” – “it quoted a heap of facts and figures and blamed SBS management” – “the simple, unrefutable point is if government had continued full funding, SBS would not need to advertise” – “Labor has seriously abandoned multicultural broadcasting” and so on. However the biggest single point repeatedly expressed to us was along these lines: “I have not forgotten nor forgiven Labor for doing nothing to stop those ads in the programs”.
Amongst the feedback we received there was not a single phone call or email of support for the ALP. None for the Liberal or National parties either. Support expressed to us for the Greens SBS Policies became apparent. This was the first time that we got a real sense that campaign participants had felt so betrayed by Labor’s broken SBS policies, while fearing SBS funding would be slashed under a Coalition government, that voters were now going to vote Green; specifically so the SBS issues could be fixed.
Over the course of the campaign period, the Greens had replied to campaign participants on three separate occasions. Their final email was sent a few days before the election. It re-stated their published answers (30/7/10) of a few weeks prior. They were also summarised in our article Election promises for SBS (10/8/10).
In particular, the attraction for supporters of SBS to vote Greens was their Special Broadcasting Service Amendment (Prohibition of Disruptive Advertising) Bill that would legislate to prohibit SBS from interrupting programs for commercials and promos. Overwhelmingly viewers of SBS want this to become law. Public funding from lost advertising revenue for SBS is part of that equation too.