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Private Members Bill Bans Ads Interrupting SBS-TV

Today the leader of the Australian Democrats, Senator Lyn Allison, will introduce her private members bill into the Senate that would prohibit SBS from interrupting television programs for advertisements. The bill, the “Special Broadcasting Service (Prohibition of Disruptive Advertising) Amendment Bill 2008“, allows SBS to carry limited advertising between programs only. SBS began interrupting programs for advertisements in late 2006. Prior to that, advertisements were screened between programs only.

The Object of the bill states:

The object of this Act is to prohibit the interruption of programming on SBS television by restricting advertising to the period between the completion of one program and the commencement of another program“.

The bill achieves the above by removing from section 45(2)(a) of the current Act the controversial phrase: “or during natural program breaks” which, SBS has argued, allows them to interrupt programs or force breaks, according to a set of criteria created by the SBS Board in their (SBS) GUIDELINES FOR THE PLACEMENT OF BREAKS IN TELEVISION PROGRAMS September 2006 http://www20.sbs.com.au/sbscorporate/media/documents/3913advertising_guidelines_2006.pdf.

The bill adds a new section, section 45A Non-Program-Content(NPC) which bans SBS from interrupting television programs. It reads:

“The SBS must not interrupt a televised program for non- program-content (NPC) and for the purposes of this section NPC shall be taken to mean any material that is separate from the program being broadcast such as but not limited to advertisements, sponsorship announcements, community service announcements, station promotional material, promos and program promotional material and the like.”

SBS indicated in Senate Estimates in February 2008 that the revenue that could be attributed directly to interrupting programs for advertisements was about $10 to $20 million gross in the first year of the practice. The Managing Director of SBS, Shaun Brown refused to give a precise figure on the amount of revenue raised as a result of interrupting programs for ads, however it is believed the real figure might be closer to $10 million.

Senator Allison said, “It is argued by critics that SBS Management’s recent decision to use most of this $10 million to produce a local version of the cult British motoring program ‘Top Gear’ would not appear to be consistent with SBS’s charter obligations of providing multilingual and multicultural services.”

The Australian Democrats yesterday called on the Government to immediately fund SBS for the extra $10 to $20 million that comes from in-program ads and properly resource the broadcaster to deliver on its charter.

It is not clear if the government would increase the SBS annual budget, currently around $188 million, by an extra $10 million to make up for any shortfall.

Prior to the November 2007 federal elections, the ALP stated that, consistent with their SBS policy of April that year, it was Labor party policy that: “Labor has opposed and continues to oppose the decision by SBS to introduce advertising into its programming” https://saveoursbs.org/archives/127.

More than 7000 people have signed a petition at www.SaveOurSBS.org calling for an end to ads on SBS.

Senator Allison said that “Minister Conroy criticised these ads while in opposition. Now he has the chance to rectify the problem.”

Normally nothing happens when a private members bill is introduced into the Senate. Typically private members bills sit idle, in a long cue of months or even years, awaiting further action, if ever. If the government had the will to adhere to its election promise of no ads interrupting programs on SBS-TV, the Minister could, conceivably use Senator Allison’s bill now so that it soon became law soon. Now is the time for Senator Conroy to act.

The private bill will not become law unless approved by both houses of parliament.

Background information on SBS carrying advertisements can be read in “A chronology of advertising on SBS” by Darce Cassidy at: https://saveoursbs.org/archives/194.

The Australian Democrats Press Release: http://www.democrats.org.au/news/index.htm?press_id=6509&display=1

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