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New law deregulates ads

Although the government withdrew its controversial media reform bills package, the legislation that related to SBS passed both Houses.  

The new law guarantees an Indigenous Director to the SBS Board which Save Our SBS welcomes and incorporates most of the SBS Charter to digital services (online).

In applying the Charter to online, the package did not require SBS online services be "diverse" nor use "innovative forms of expression". These unique Charter obligations will remain on SBS free-to-air but need not apply to SBS online programs and internet only streamed radio or TV services. SBS has four digital only radio stations but plans for more online only radio and television services in the future. Under the new Charter, they will not need to be "diverse" or "innovative".

This bungled legislation has taken SBS one step away from ‘special’ and one step closer to ‘main-stream’.

All SBS digital services will now be permitted to carry more advertising with more frequent disruptions than SBS free-to-air or even commercial media.

Under the new law, SBS may legally have an unlimited amount of advertising on their internet service. That has always been the case but is now formally enshrined in law. Previously there were no laws covering this.

Unlike SBS free-to-air services that limits advertising to five minutes per hour between programs or in natural program breaks, SBS’s digital services may carry unlimited advertising and place ads wherever and whenever SBS wish. In addressing this, SBS’s Managing Director, Michael Ebeid told the media reform Senate Committee "In terms of our own policies we tend to mirror the same levels of advertising on television broadcasts as with our online". But Mr Ebeid gave no guarantees for the future. Under the new law nothing requires that.

Before voting on the Bill, Senator Simon Birmingham representing Shadow Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the Senate, accused Minister Stephen Conroy of hypocrisy. Senator Birmingham quoted Senator Conroy from 2006 at the time SBS announced it would introduce in-program advertising:

Do you seriously believe that the SBS’s interpretation is consistent with the intent of parliament? It just seems to me that with the way the act was written—and I have spoken to some of the people who were involved in drafting it—it was not open slather. Clearly, it does not say: ‘Just have ads wherever you want;’ it says: ‘You can have ads in only a couple of places,’ and yet, as you have testified, there is now open slather in every single program. That just seems to me to be inconsistent with the intent of the limits that the legislation attempted to set. You have now defined those limits as being unlimited.

Senator Birmingham then said the new law "actually opens up the SBS Act and makes amendments not to do what [Senator Conroy] claimed he would do or restrict advertising on SBS that he claimed he was concerned about but to enshrine further in the legislation the capacity of SBS to have advertising on its digital content".

Despite accusing the Minister of not resolving SBS’s advertising issue, the Coalition voted in favour of the new law but said their policy was consistent with that of 2006 when SBS introduced in-program advertising, then under the Howard Coalition government.

However, Coalition support for a law that ensures the deregulation of advertising on SBS is at odds with that said by the Shadow Minister, Malcolm Turnbull in a statement to and published by Save Our SBS on 10 June, last year. "The Coalition currently has no plans to deregulate advertising on the SBS" Mr Turnbull said.

Greens communications spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam echoed Senator Birmingham’s words of Ministerial hypocrisy.

Faced with the dilemma of voting for the legislation would mean acting against the Green’s stance on the commercialisation of SBS but the Greens chose to vote in favour of the Bill, as it was the only means available for the worthwhile and overdue guarantee of an Indigenous Director on the SBS Board. The SBS Bill was also part of a package of other Bills including a change to the ABC.

All efforts to decommercialise SBS were to no avail.

Informed sources told Save Our SBS that Minister Conroy was vehemently opposed to any proposals to wind back in-program advertising through an amendment to the SBS Act.  

The new law now requires the SBS Board develop digital online advertising guidelines but with no requirement that the guidelines be included in SBS’s Codes of Practice.

In a submission to the Senate Committee, Save Our SBS argued that the reforms should have removed in-program breaks and required all SBS advertising guidelines be included in the Codes of Practice as that was the only path legally available to the regulator, ACMA, to investigate possible breaches by SBS. That request was ignored and the Bill passed without amendment. 

The ABC’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Michael Millet who was also present, told the Committee that the role of ACMA was to make sure broadcasters were "honest in terms of upholding [their] own codes".

SBS viewers will now have no means to have an advertising complaint against SBS dealt with by ACMA.

The SBS Act has never required SBS include its advertising guidelines in their Codes but prior to 2006 and full in-program advertising, SBS voluntarily included its advertising guidelines in their Codes. It no longer does.

This legislation has good and bad aspects. Clearly the appointment of an Indigenous Director to the SBS Board is a good thing. But the Minister’s insistence to guillotine the Bill through Parliament was an abuse of expected parliamentary processes. As a result, an essentially good piece of law was bungled in parts. In his desperation to see the law passed – without proper debate or amendment – the Minister was exceptionally disrespectful to the SBS, community and ordinary people who were not able to adequately respond in time.

In not using this opportunity to free SBS of in-program advertising, the Minister has brought into question his own credibility, because in 2007, in opposition to in-program advertising Senator Conroy said, "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- that is, that it should be free from commercial and political influence". Although the essence of his then statement remains true today, Minister Conroy failed to address the issue. The problem remains. By not abiding by Labor’s SBS Policy that "Labor has opposed and continues to oppose the decision by SBS to introduce in-program advertising", Minister Conroy has done himself, SBS and viewers of SBS a gross disservice.

Under this bittersweet change in law, the government has taken SBS further down the commercial path.

12 comments to New law deregulates ads

  • sam

    Is this the same Minster that in Opposition was going to stop SBS from placing ads in programs? Double standard hey, not just the Minister but the Greens too. Didn’t they propose to reduce advertising on SBS? Now they vote to legislate for unlimited advertising and dilute the Charter. That’s not very green. Seems everyone is getting in on the double standard act even Malcolm Turnbull. The post said last year he would not deregulate advertising but now he has. I guess everyone wanted to join the double standard act. What is the Opposition’s policy now and the Greens? Are they all in favour of the status quo?

  • Alex Wood

    While it is reasonable to change one’s mind, to me it feels as if all political will to ensure SBS is like ABC a different, in my opinion better creature than commercial television, with loss to SBS and personal enjoyment.

    Alas much of life has become commercially oriented, but thinking time and new thought are better served by lack of commercial breaks in programmes, which idea seems lost to politicians?

  • Phil

    Oh well I guess we will just have to record programmes and fast forward through the ads – It is annoying but many of us have either had to do this with commercial television – where ads are in plague proportions – or give up watching the stations altogether (probably the best idea)

    The internet based catchup services are a little more problematic, since they are often coded to prevent recording, and you cannot fast forward, not even on the SBS one that often repeats the same advert ad nauseum. But fortunately those in the know can find programs that get round these recording blocks, thereby creating recordings that can be fast forwarded. These have to be updated from time to time in a Quixotic tilt against the advertising mills

    Legal or illegal, our behaviour is often driven by unreasonable commercial practice. Surely there could be a three month experimental period where adverts are only allowed between programmes, or in the case of long programmes every one and a half hours, provided more than half an hour remains to the programme.

    At least SBS has avoided sponsorship. The way that is going elsewhere, next time there is a Coronation the Monarch may be crowned using “the Emirates King Edwards Crown” and be presented with the “Mc Donalds Orb” and the “Hyundai Sceptre” whilst seated above “the Uncle Bens porridge Stone of Scone” which is held within the “Guinness Coronation Chair”

    No more “Zadok The Priest” – the choir will be singing “it’s the Real Thing”

    Very few animals defecate in the same area that they sit. We humans could learn a lot from watching other species

  • Alan Dow

    I address my comment to advertisers on SBS.

    If you think building resentment in the community towards your company and its products is a great business plan, in-program advertising on SBS is the way to go.

  • Anne Kotzman

    There is no way I would buy anything I see advertised on SBS. Most of the time I don’t even look at the ads because I am so annoyed at the disruption of the program. I turn on the mute button or switch off the TV and go and read a book instead. Advertising on SBS is a menace.

  • Silvio

    In the current climate of dumming down audiences, the last bastions of hope were the ABC and SBS. These channels are the only ones people with discerning taste can watch. The commercials channels became torture devices who now are only supported by the converted to mediocrity masses who are completely converted and possibly beyond salvation. The SBS board don’t realise we live in a entertainment world with incredible choice which is off course provided by the Internet. If they turn the SBS into a commercial channel, they will only turn away the ONLY people who kept it AND their jobs alive. All of us who currently support SBS will go online and their tv station will most likely go into the history books because the people who watch the commercial channels will never turn to SBS no matter how commercial you become, as most say, they don’t watch SBS because they don’t know how to read.

  • Maurice Wilkinson

    Advertising will increase and program quality will decline until the viewers are allowed to elect the Board. Some hope!

  • Colin Jones

    It is mind numbing even to watch SBS on Demand as not only are the commercials badly placed – right in the middle of dialogue in some instances – but they are usually the same. I go into a hypnotic trance, turn down the sound and wait patiently. As for home television I just tape shows and fast forward the commercials. Never ever watch commercial television unless on the very, very rare occasion they come up with some intelligently put together product.

    I remember when I spent some time in the U.K. between 1969-84 commercials were always preceded by an asterisk with the break ending the same way.

    Australian commercial television is the absolute pits and it is a pity SBS is going in that direction too.

  • John

    I agree with Phil – record the programs and watch later fast forwarding through the ads. There seems to be more ads in each ad break now, or is that just my sensitivity rising? Thanks.

  • Jano

    SBS is not as diverse as it used to be. When I came here 15 years ago I loved SBS but it has now changed for the worse. Since they put ads in program it has become less relevant to me. They give lip service to their charter but I still listen to radio. I do not have a recorder for TV and that is not the answer anyway. I have watched programs that were recorded though at friends houses and it is still a disruption to fast forward past the advertisements. The point is SBS should not be allowed to interrupt programs. I always hear in the news that SBS is lowly funded but it has become a selfish corporate body, like it has a chip on its shoulder and with nothing to show. Dumbed down programs, mostly in English and often monocultural, hell bent on trying to attract advertisers but still poor. It seems the powers that be within SBS just do not get it. Bring back the people of 20 years ago who at least understood the purpose of SBS.

  • Hans Westermann

    I stoped watching SBS when they introduced in-program advertising. Why not have the ads in one block or as alone standing programs? Some people like the ads.

  • Serge

    Goodbye, SBS.

    As for the advertisers, I’ve never as much as given them even a hello.

    Ask me who advertises on SBS and I wouldn’t have a clue. They are purely disruptive irritants to what once was diverse, interesting, alternative quality viewing. Alas, no more.