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Greens & Labor could be best deal for SBS

Although Labor faired poorly at the 21 August 2010 federal elections, it has now been given a second chance in the formation of a minority government.

All the Parties and Independent’s agreement to the way parliament is to conduct itself could result in SBS getting a better deal. Private bills must now be debated and voted on. Labor’s Agreement with the Greens gives the Greens direct access to the Prime Minister on a weekly or fortnightly basis. This could ensure an opportunity for both to act on their common ground of how SBS should be. Neither really like programs being interrupted for ads. But it is only the Greens who have a stated policy for a legislative prohibition of interrupting programs for advertisements coupled with more funding for SBS.

The real test for the Greens will be to draw on their common ground with Labor and gather support in the parliament for the next triennial funding for SBS to include the passing into law of the private bill of Greens Senator, Scott Ludlam, his Special Broadcasting Service Amendment (Prohibition of Disruptive Advertising) Bill – and – that SBS is funded for any loss resulting due to the provision that advertisements would then only be allowable between programs and not in them. Philosophically that’s not dissimilar to Senator Conroy view that, “Labor opposes and continues to oppose the decision by SBS to introduce in-program advertising” which became part of Labor’s SBS Policy when it took power in 2007. Here is the opportunity for Labor and the Greens to build on their joint dislike of in-program advertising and agree to amend the Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991 accordingly.

The battle to save SBS, to see it better funded by government so SBS could concentrate on its core reason for existence, without reliance on advertising began in 2007. Then 7,541 people signed a petition that SaveOurSBS.org conducted. Australians believed that SBS had been abandoned under the Howard Liberal-National Coalition government. But the recent evidence from the 15,427 emails that visitors to SaveOurSBS.org sent to politicians immediately before the recent federal election, is that people believed Labor had also abandoned SBS, in their first term. In government, Labor did not fund SBS as expected and failed to act on their own policy objections to SBS interrupting programs for advertisements. The recent campaign we ran shows the electorate want ads banned from programs by legislation.

Labor paid dearly for many reasons in the recent elections. Somewhere in the mix is their failure to fully carry out their own SBS policies and Labor’s misreading of what the electorate were seeking; a promise to fix the SBS issues in the future. That was seen as neglect of SBS, a failure to support multicultural broadcasting and an abandonment of multiculturalism. According to former NSW Labor Premier, Maurice Iemma, the abandonment of multiculturalism cost Labor seats, at least in parts of Sydney, NSW and beyond. Our analysis of the 15,427 emails sent to various politicians immediately before the election, reveals they were sent from all over Australia. The emails sought more funding for SBS and a banning of ads within programs. Senders saw this as Labor abandoning multiculturalism. Maurice Iemma may be correct.

During the campaign Labor stated that “in the current economic climate” they would not require SBS to change their approach to advertising. This could imply that in a different economic setting, Labor might ban ads on SBS. A portion of voters could have been retained by Labor if it had committed to increasing funds for SBS and promised that sometime during the next triennial funding period (2012-2014), when the country will no longer be in debt, a Labor government would legislate to prohibit in-program advertising on SBS-TV. Looking forward, the Greens policies for SBS became far more attractive for many voters. It’s now up to the Greens to pursue the banning of ads within programs and gather support for increasing SBS funding, with the Labor minority government, Opposition and Independents.

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