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Election promises for SBS

The Greens have promised the most for SBS. Labor more of the same – perhaps, and the Liberals and Nationals are not saying.

SaveOurSBS.org approached the four major parties for their SBS policies. The Greens and Labor parties responded whereas the Liberals and Nationals did not. An overview is provided in the table below – for the SBS policies of the Greens and Labor parties only.

Our analysis and opinion is below the summary table followed by the full text of each party’s SBS policies.

Summary of party policies at a glance

Support SBS as a strong and respected multicultural public broadcaster?
Greens: Yes. Strong, independent public media are an essential part of Australia’s media sector for leaders in independent news, investigative journalism, analysis, entertainment, innovative programming and should be free of advertising. Labor: SBS provides a unique multicultural broadcasting service; one of Australia’s important cultural institutions that reflects and promotes multicultural Australia.
Accommodate SBS financially if it desired not to interrupt programs for advertisements?
Greens: Yes. In favour of substituting lost revenue due to stopping in-program advertising with public revenue. Labor: This is a matter for the SBS Board and management. They changed the advertising policy on SBS Television in 2006 to acquire and commission new content.
Amend the SBS Act 1991 to prohibit SBS from disrupting programs for advertisements?
Greens: Yes. The Greens have a bill in the Senate, the Special Broadcasting Service Amendment (Prohibition of Disruptive Advertising) Bill to do that. Labor: Labor has no current plans to impose new restrictions on in program advertising.
Merge the SBS and ABC?
Greens: Would not support the dilution of the SBS through a merger with the ABC. Labor: Would not support any proposal that would erode the integrity and independence of either. If each identified opportunities to achieve efficiencies without eroding independence these would be considered.
Other major policies for SBS?
SBS to be governed by an independent board that includes staff representation.
Funding to the SBS (and ABC) comparable to current per capita funding models for public broadcasting in the United Kingdom.
Require the online services of the SBS (and ABC) to be major portal sites for the promotion of Australian content in all genres.
(In government) instituted a merit-based process for appointments to the SBS (and ABC) Boards.  Legislation to enshrine the new appointments process is currently before the Parliament.
Labor says SBS, was chronically underfunded by the Howard government.
In 2008 the Labor government released a discussion paper ABC & SBS: Towards a Digital Future – which invited submissions from the public.  More than 2,400 submissions were received.  The outcomes of the discussion paper process informed the Government’s approach to the triennial funding for the SBS in the 2009-2010 budget.
The total Budget appropriation for SBS for the current triennium is $211.8 million in 2009-10, $217 million in 2010-11 and $222.2 million in 2011-12 with $20 million over the three years to SBS to enable it to provide up to 50 hours of new Australian content annually.

Analysis and opinion

If Labor is elected on 21 August SBS might be left behind – for a time. The Liberals and Nationals are offering less than nothing. They don’t even pretend to have a policy for SBS and their past record when in government was devastating for SBS. It probably would be again. SaveOurSBS.org understands that privately some in the Liberal party would prefer to fully commercialise and sell SBS.

The Greens are the only party who have come up with a carefully considered, well thought out broadcast policy that is truly supportive for SBS that will provide our multicultural broadcaster with the resources it needs and deserves, with opportunities to expand and free of advertising.

There is no doubt that Labor lifted funding to SBS in their May 2009 Budget and that it had declined markedly under the Howard Liberal-National Coalition government. The current triennial funding increase of Labor was not enough though. SaveOurSBS.org had recommended SBS be funded at half that of the ABC which would have been more than double that received by SBS.

While Senator Conroy was happy to highlight Labor’s SBS policy ‘achievements’ to SaveOurSBS.org not much was mentioned of the future. Nothing was said about the failure to implement Labor’s 2007 SBS election policy into action, Labor has opposed and continues to oppose the decision by SBS to introduce in-program advertising.

The Greens said they support funding to SBS similar to that for public broadcasting in the UK without disruptions into programs backed with legislation and “free of advertising”.

Unlike the 2007 election, there is nothing that SaveOurSBS.org can find in the 2010 Labor policy that speaks to the need for expansion of SBS let alone without reliance on advertising. No forward plans for the much needed SBS Internet funding that we proposed, nor expansion of SBS-TWO or ONE, nothing for SBS-Radio nor community development. Labor might not be against these things and may even fund them. They are just not raising them now. Not publicly.

How ironical that Labor has committed $43 billion for broadband rollout, yet can’t commit a single cent to help SBS develop its Internet service.  A tiny fraction of the $43 billion would more than cover all the things SBS so desperately needs to expand and be free of advertising.

Supportive statements were expressed to SaveOurSBS.org by both Labor and Greens (1) for SBS to be a strong public broadcaster. Labor did not elaborate further other than that stated in the table above but the Greens said that their communications spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam, has maintained a keen interest in the welfare of SBS throughout the current Parliament. “For example, he has moved to legislate to remove advertising from SBS, investigated rumours of pending cuts to news and current affairs staffing levels (2), and moved a motion (in cooperation with Senator Bob Brown) in the Senate calling for the Government to adequately fund SBS (3).

The Greens said they would be accommodating of SBS in the event that SBS desired to not interrupt programs for advertisements and added “Senator Ludlam has asked a series of Senate Estimates questions to quantify the additional funding required to offset lost revenue due to stopping in-program advertising, and the Greens favour substituting this funding with public revenue (4)“. However Labor would not be drawn on if they might commit to any increase in funds for SBS, to cover any loss of advertising revenue should SBS want to cease interrupting programs for ads. Labor’s official response: “in 2008–09, SBS earned gross revenue of $52.5 million from television advertising sales”. That factual statement is somewhat meaningless in the context of the question, as it avoids answering the issue at the centre of the question – one of supportive funding. But the current non-position of Labor leaves the funding issue open so that Labor could fund SBS in such circumstances if it wanted to in the future.

Meanwhile, a departmental communication not addressed to the Minister but written by a senior person in the Department and given to SaveOurSBS.org just before this publication referred to matters of SBS advertising and funding and the document stated these would be raised with the Minister “following the election”. This appears to have been prompted by the more than 12,000 emails that the SaveOurSBS.org campaign (A,B,C) participants had sent (copied to us) in a very short period, to the Minister and other government and opposition politicians about funding and advertising disruptions on SBS. To be fair, Senator Conroy’s Office responded to our questions when those campaigns were in their infancy so he may not then have known the extent of the continuing passion that the community still has towards funding SBS for expansion and without reliance on advertising. Labor’s official line is that ads help provide SBS with “high quality and diverse programming”.

However Labor also maintains that “the SBS Board and management, were responsible for the change in advertising policy on SBS Television in 2006”. That’s true.

In 2007 Senator Conroy described the described the in-program advertising policy of SBS as serving “to erode the fundamental tenets of public broadcasting- that is, that it should be free from commercial…influence” (D). He has again reaffirmed that stance for these 2010 elections by telling SaveOurSBS.org of Labor’s SBS policies and referring to the Howard appointed SBS Board “[it] showed little interest in or knowledge of the tenets of public broadcasting…and [that] forced SBS to increase its reliance on commercial income”– in-program advertising. Now with the same advertising policy it would seem that Labor continues to politely ‘blame’ SBS itself as well as the previous government but ‘compensation’ for SBS, is not a word that rolls off Labor party tongues easily. SaveOurSBS.org believes that there has been some suggestion within government circles that Labor wants the SBS Australian made television programs to be substantially produced in languages other than English (LOTE) and for SBS to cease interrupting programs for ad breaks before meaningful discussions about increasing SBS base funding might occur. Then Senator Conroy will have the ammunition he needs to push for increased funding if Labor is re-elected.

As for future policy, it remains unclear as to when or if, Labor might boost base funding for SBS and to what extent. The Greens have a clear supportive financial policy for SBS.

For now it seems Labor won’t amend the SBS Act 1991 to prohibit SBS from disrupting programs for advertisements. The Greens will, and will also replace lost revenue resulting from that for SBS with public funding. In discussing this SaveOurSBS.org notes that the Rudd-Labor government ignored a prominent point of the submissions that were solely about SBS, that submitted government ought to prohibit advertising disruptions on SBS and fund it adequately. The submissions were for the 2008 government initiative, the ABC & SBS Review.

Essentially neither the Greens nor Labor parties support the merger of the SBS and ABC however with a qualification of the Labor party as explained in the table above.

When we asked each party about their other major policies for SBS, we were quite surprised that Labor did not use this opportunity to outline any future Labor policies (do they have any?) other than rightfully wanting to legislate for SBS Board appointments to occur in a more transparent manner than was the case under the previous Howard government.

Labor wants their Bill about the appointments process to the SBS Board in favour of a merit based system, to become law. The Greens appear broadly supportive of that but the Liberals and Nationals are not. The merit based system Labor wants is not currently law but has been practised by Labor for the three appointments made since Labor was elected in 2007, namely, the “new Chair of SBS, Mr Joseph Skrzynski, and board members Elleni Bereded-Samuel and Hass Dellal. All appointments made by the Government through this process have been from the short list recommended by a Nomination Panel which is not subject to direction by or on behalf of the Government“.

Labor and Greens agree the SBS Board should be independent but there is a notable difference between the two on the make-up of the Board. The Greens say the SBS Board is to include “staff representation”. Labor did not include staff representation on its Board policy for SBS (as was the case for the ABC Board).

Each party was invited to provide references for their answers. No URL links were provided by Labor while the Greens gave the references below
(1) http://greens.org.au/policies/media-arts-science/media-and-communications
(2) http://scott-ludlam.greensmps.org.au/content/media-release/please-explain-does-sbs-plan-slash-newsroom-staff
(3) http://scott-ludlam.greensmps.org.au/content/motion-support-sbs
(4) http://scott-ludlam.greensmps.org.au/content/question/advertising-during-sbs-programs

As at 10 August 2010 here is the full text of the questions asked and answers given about the policies of the Greens and Labor parties for the 21 August 2010 Australian federal election. The Liberal and National Parties did not provide anything.

Save Our SBS Inc is not a member of or aligned with any political party.

This post and the party policy links on the SaveOurSBS.org server may be reproduced in full or part by any person, organisation or other media without payment to Save Our SBS Inc provided a credit is given to SaveOurSBS.org

3 comments to Election promises for SBS

  • Michelios D.

    I’m voting Greens. Never have before but will now. I don’t trust the Libs or Nats but Conroy let me down badly. When he said Labor opposed SBS introducing in-program ads but then did nothing, that was as good as a broken promise. Who does Labor think is being fooled? You could have fixed SBS but have done nothing. I’m switching to Greens 1, Labor 2 and Libs last.

  • TVwatcher

    I am in Cairns in the electorate of Leichhardt, Queensland. I am also going to vote 1 GREENS this time too because the government has just tossed us aside on this SBS issue and others. When Gillard came here recently she did not mention SBS or how annoying the commercials are for us. Not only are they are disruption but often they are for some product or store in Brisbane that you can’t even get here. They are irrelevant and annoying.

    Labor could have got my vote if they had said they would end the commercial breaks on SBS. They could have easily changed some law and made it better. That is what governments do. That is what we expect. With all the money Labor is spending on everything else, they could have announced they would spend 100 or 200 million more to make SBS better. It is not much. On this, the ALP has put the last nail in their own coffin. After reading their policy on SBS I am not voting for them. I did last time because I believed that they would stop those ad breaks. I remember because I still have the emails sent to me from Mr Rudd, Conroy and the ALP office, sent just before the 07 election that said their policy was to object to the advertisements in the programs. That was just a con. They do not care about us viewers or even about SBS. I suppose no one in the ALP watches SBS. They probably thought no one here watches SBS or that it did not matter to us. Wrong. Very wrong.

    GREENS you now have my no 1 vote on this. My friends are doing the same.

  • monarols

    I stopped watching SBS the minute (literally) the first ad appeared mid program. I used to always watch the news, whith thier visually fantastic news set. Mary Kostakidis was right in what she did, and yet another reason for me to abandon SBS on that fateful day.

    I am happy with commercials that top and tail a program and will happily return to SBS when this occurs. I dont expect SBS to run commercial free. Hopefully Mary will return when the true SBS returns!

    My only TV option atm is our great ABC. Thankfully the internet is with us, so any programs on the SBS I want to watch, I usually download off the interweb, minus the ads.