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Skrzynski forgets SBS community

Despite a written assurance from SBS Chairman, Joe Skrzynski, that the most comprehensive study ever undertaken of SBS viewers would be raised at the August SBS Board meeting, it was not. Save Our SBS understands “it slipped his mind”.

The 102-page report, A study of 2044 viewers of SBS television on advertising, Charter, relevance and other matters had been sent to the Chairman for consideration by all members of the Board.

Parts of the study were critical of the Board’s in-program advertising policy with large-scale evidence of a failure of SBS to comply with the Charter and a direct link between their ad policy and Charter non-adherence. The study also found lack of accountability in an unfair SBS complaints system due to the Board having intentionally removed key sections from the Codes of Practice that dealt with the definition of natural breaks, thus successfully preventing the regulator, ACMA, from investigating viewer complaints on breaches of natural breaks (in-program advertising). The study formed part of a community-wide submission to the Board.

Although it was forgotten at the meeting, Save Our SBS can confirm Skrzynski did not make it an agenda item before the meeting. He had ample time to do so — five weeks in fact — from the day he received the submission, to the date of the meeting.

That a study of this magnitude should “slip his mind” is remarkable — almost unbelievable.

Three weeks before the Board met, Skrzynski wrote to Save Our SBS confirming the submission “has been received and that the matters the submission covers will be raised at the forthcoming Board meeting of SBS”.

Although Skrzynski failed to place the 23 July submission on the agenda for the 29 August Board meeting, three other Directors were aware of the study while two knew of the expectation that the Chairman was to raise it. It is not clear if those Directors reminded him before the meeting closed.

Save Our SBS also confirms Skrzynski did not have the submission tabled as correspondence received. Although the document was addressed to the Board — and the content throughout is clear on that — officially it has never been received by the Board.

Save Our SBS had hoped that the Chairman might place it on the agenda for the Board’s October meeting this week. That has not occurred. Although Skrzynski could raise it under General Business, there are no guarantees his memory won’t lapse again. Save Our SBS calls on any Director who is aware of the submission, to remind Skrzynski should he forget. The October Board papers make no reference for the tabling of the submission.

Other than a poor memory, is there any reason not to table or discuss the submission – the largest study ever undertaken of SBS viewers that covered 13 key points and made five recommendations to the Board?

If adopted, some of the recommendations would have required a change of direction of SBS bringing it back to Charter compliance and impacting on SBS’s Corporate Plan due for imminent release.

The Corporate Plan, issued every three years, locks in the broadcaster’s objectives, strategies, policies and financial matters — how SBS will operate — over the triennium. Save Our SBS understands SBS had virtually completed its Corporate Plan and was preparing to hand it to the Minister following the recent federal election. The SBS Act requires that.

At the eleventh-hour, the last thing the Board wanted was to re-think and re-write its plan for the next three years.

Although the Chairman may determine which items he wants included — or excluded — from the agenda, the Board is duty bound under the SBS Act to ‘be aware of and respond to community needs and opinions’. It may take advice directly from the community or from the SBS Community Advisory Committee (CAC).

Save Our SBS also sent the submission to CAC and requested CAC ‘formally advise the Board of the community needs and opinions and recommendations of the submission’. CAC met the day before the Board. The submission was tabled at CAC.

Although Save Our SBS is yet to hear what CAC recommended, it has been speculated within SBS that CAC supported a response from SBS management — their views on the Save Our SBS submission, rather than referring the submission to the Board. Such action is well outside the scope of the way in which the SBS Act sets out the functions of CAC. The role of CAC is to bring to the attention of the Board the views of the community — not to refer community views to management.

If expected procedure had occurred, CAC would have referred the submission to the Board (it may still do so) and allow the Board to perform its role, which may include taking advice from management on the matter.

Although the submission is now in the public domain and any Director could have read it, Save Our SBS questions the failure to include with Board papers (to Directors) ahead of the October Board meeting, why — yet again — it was not specified as an agenda item and apparently won’t be tabled.

It is unacceptable that anyone should forget the existence of a detailed, evidenced based 102-page document, let alone the head of a major tax-payer funded organisation that was the subject of the document.

Although the Board members were denied an opportunity to discuss the submission in the August Board meeting and respond to community views — which the SBS Act requires — it is the wider community, the supporters of SBS who are most let down by lack of action and failure of the Chairman to engage.

In the meantime SBS will keep their disruptive advertising policy — which has no community support — and has, at best, led directly to the broadcaster paying lip service only to their Charter. That advertisers will continue to take precedence over Charter compliance for the next three years is disgraceful.

To avoid further consequences of mind slips, Save Our SBS calls on Skrzynski to table the submission at the next Board meeting and have a proper discussion about the contents; the impact of advertising on the Charter and lack of transparency in an unfair complaints policy, designed to lock out viewers from taking complaints to ACMA.

As it stands, Skrzynski’s guarantee of 7 August, “We shall respond to your submission following the [29 August] Board meeting” is meaningless.

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