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End of ads may be in sight

Today Greens Communications spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam told the Senate that he was giving Notice for a Bill to amend the Special Broadcasting Service Act. He said that would occur in 2012.

It is believed this is for the long awaited Bill to address the issues around the commercialisation of the SBS that has occurred over the past five years. Senator Ludlam promised as much during the 2010 election campaign.

We await with bated breath for an opportunity to read the Bill referred to today, when it becomes available.

SBS has been permitted to broadcast advertisements since 1991. However in late 2006 SBS television broke a long standing understanding and began to disrupt television programs for advertisements. It changed to look like that of a commercial broadcaster. At the time Senator Conroy described this change by SBS saying, “the introduction of in program advertising to the SBS in effect makes the SBS a de facto fourth free-to-air commercial television station and serves to erode the fundamental tenets of public broadcasting”.

Although the contents of Senator Ludlam’s Bill are not known and won’t be released until it is tabled in 2012, it is no secret that, like the Minister, he is no fan of the commercial breaks disrupting SBS television programs. For that matter neither are most people who work at SBS. Audiences and the loyalists of supporters of SBS have voiced objection too, particularly as SBS is  a public broadcaster. It is perhaps the biggest open-secret ever, that management do not like the ad breaks either. But strapped for cash, SBS requires government assistance to resolve this.

In a statement issued last month, Senator Ludlam made the point that “It is vital that SBS remains a strong public institution. Without proper public funding, the independence of SBS will be undermined as will its capacity to cater to all manner of target audiences – regardless of whether they are lucrative enough to attract advertising dollars”.

In a comprehensive budget submission published on his website earlier today, Senator Ludlam concluded, “whatever additional funding the Government chooses to appropriate for SBS, we believe it is essential that a substantial fraction of the additional funding be used to retire as much in-program advertising as possible”. Viewers want the same. An end to ad breaks on SBS-TV. Senator Ludlam submitted that SBS should be given $90m p.a. for this purpose. SBS put the figure at a lower amount. Save Our SBS would support overall funding for SBS at not less than half that of the ABC.

Notice of the Bill today came on the back of a multi-paragraphed ‘motherhood’ motion that Senator Ludlam gave Notice of yesterday. It was a motion in support of SBS, that drew on its history and emphasised that the SBS is more relevant today, than any other time in history. The Managing Director of SBS, Michael Ebeid made the same point at the October Senate Estimates when he said, “SBS is truly more relevant today than it ever has been in its last 35 years of history, mainly because of our cultural complexity in Australian society”.

Senators Ludlam’s ‘motherhood’ motion in support of SBS concluded by asking government to consider whether the resources allocated to SBS are sufficient to allow it to fulfill its mandate. Essentially the motion was saying SBS needs more government funding. The motion is reproduced in full below.

That the Senate–

1. Notes that

a) In Australia there are twice as many people speaking languages other than English and that Australia is more culturally and racially diverse than 30 years ago, at the time of the formation of the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS)

b) research demonstrates that tensions and fault lines exist in Australia, with particular sensitivity around refugee intake.

2. Notes that Australia’s SBS

a) was the first multicultural broadcaster established anywhere in the world

b) transmits in a different language every hour, with 7 million viewers watching SBS TV in over 60 languages per week

c) exposes Australians to cultures and ideas beyond the Anglosphere

d) portrays multicultural Australia and tells the stories of Aboriginal people

e) has the purpose of inspiring all Australians to explore and appreciate our multicultural world and contribute to an inclusive society

3. Calls on the government

a) To consider whether the resources allocated to SBS are sufficient to allow it to fulfill its mandate and take full advantage of the education, employment and creative opportunities provided by digital multi-channeling and the NBN.

Save Our SBS has been campaigning for greater funding for SBS and a phasing out of advertising since 2007. In a submission by Save Our SBS to the Minister last month the organisation called for a significant increase in public funding for the SBS in the forthcoming triennium with sufficient funds granted to SBS to end all disruptive breaks in television programs.

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