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Preserve its Integrity! Don’t Increase Advertising on SBS


PETITION The Australian Parliament: Members & Senators, SBS Board & CAC

Do not amend the SBS Act 1991 to permit advertiser-averaging, which will see a doubling of ads and commercial breaks on SBS. This will mean that during primetime & sports broadcasts, SBS will look no different from the commercial networks.

Increasing ads will seriously threaten SBS’s ability to comply with its Charter obligations.

If the law is amended, eventually SBS will broadcast 14 minutes of disruptive commercial breaks per hour in peak viewing — 6pm to midnight and in sport (10 minutes of ads plus 4 minutes of promos every hour) — the same as commercial TV.

Commercial breaks disrupting SBS programs are not natural and should be stopped, not increased! 

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Why is this important?

The further commercialisation of SBS will take it to the brink of a shadow of its former self and amounts to a strangling of the world’s first multicultural broadcaster.

Australia’s public broadcasters should be adequately funded from the public purse however despite making an election promise not to cut SBS or the ABC[1], the Abbott government has slashed funding twice to both since being elected, and now the government proposes to increase advertising on SBS radio and TV by ad-averaging[2][3].

The Lewis efficiency review into SBS was supposed to focus on back office efficiencies. More ads is hardly a back office change. It’s a full frontal in-your-face change, forever.

Increased advertising will lead to SBS being less efficient in its primary function — Charter compliance — not more efficient.

As a result of SBS advertising increases in recent years (due to in‑program advertising), compliance with the Charter decreased significantly[4].

The Lewis review acknowledged there will be risks to Charter related content and LOTE programming as a consequence of further increases in advertising[5]. Reputable evidence worldwide and locally shows populist programming dominate and non-adherence to Charter is proportional to the placement of advertising[6][7]. If the review had been serious about SBS becoming more efficient in Charter compliance, this opportunity would have been used to remove in‑program commercial breaks, not ramp them up.

When the Fraser Coalition government established SBS television in 1980, it was on the back of two multilingual radio stations formed under the Whitlam Labor government and bi‑partisan support for multiculturalism. SBS played and still plays an important role in social cohesion and inclusion in Australia however this drastic commercialisation threatens its special purpose.

SBS is already conflicted with the current placement of commercial breaks inside programs, and an increase in advertising will only further make the advertiser the client, instead of the viewer.

Until 2007, SBS did not have ads within programs but side-stepping the Parliament, community debate and the courts, SBS exploited a loophole in the law to do so. Any further increase in advertising will critically jeopardise the integrity and mandate of SBS, and undermine its ability to espouse multiculturalism, social cohesion and inclusion.

Audiences love SBS and would love it a whole lot more without more commercial breaks continually disrupting programs. It is not fair play to increase advertising, take money from and reduce the budget set aside for SBS. Financially, SBS is a very efficient broadcaster operating on a budget that is far less than any other network.

“This is no way to treat SBS which has made a remarkable contribution to the success of Australia as an inclusive and cohesive multi-culture. And you’d think in terms of counter terrorism the role of SBS in inclusion and cohesion would be more important now than ever before. What we’ve got here is an ideological aversion to public broadcasting”[8].

This changes the dynamic of any government commitment to multiculturalism and the role of SBS as a valuable link in engaging culturally and linguistically diverse people in a socially cohesive society, furthermore if the proposal becomes law, SBS will be required to hand over the advertising revenue from increased ads to government. Nothing in the Minister’s statement[9] requires SBS part with any ad revenue if the proposal to increase advertising fails to become law and that consistently remains the official line of government and SBS[10][11]. If it does become law, the government will take $28.5m of SBS’s ad revenue — the amount that SBS predict they will earn from more ads. If the proposal fails to become law, SBS will keep all of its ad revenue — the status quo.

Money earned by the new regime for ads is no more than money removed from the budget. It’s a cut.

Advertising revenue has never been additional income for SBS. The more successful SBS is at generating revenue from advertising, the further it departs from its Charter and the greater it is then underfunded by government.  

Regardless of whose idea it was or when[12], increasing ads is another step in the awful commercialisation and trashing of SBS and has not been welcomed by anyone. SBS audiences don’t want it, SBS staff don’t want it, the individual communities SBS works in partnership with certainly don’t want it, community and commercial[13] broadcasters don’t want it. No one wants it. It is bad policy and not wanted under any circumstances.

  • Margaret Pomeranz AM, writer/producer/presenter, former co-host The Movie Show (SBS), and At The Movies (ABC)
  • Quentin Dempster AM, public broadcasting advocate, journalist, author and former 7:30 presenter (ABC)

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[1] Mr Abbott, ‘there will be no cuts to the ABC or SBS’, SBS World News Australia video, 6/9/13, (Mr Abbott the night before the election) http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2013/09/06/no-cuts-abc-or-sbs-abbott

[2] The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, Minister for Communications, 19/11/14, National Broadcasters to implement efficiency measures, http://www.minister.communications.gov.au/malcolm_turnbull/news/national_broadcasters_to_implement_efficiency_measures#.VILfNskXJZ6

[3] The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, Minister for Communications, 19/11/2014, The Future of our Public Broadcasters, http://www.minister.communications.gov.au/malcolm_turnbull/speeches/the_future_of_our_public_broadcasters#.VG6qi8kXJZ4

[4] Senate Select Committee into the Abbott Government’s Budget Cuts, SOSBS, 10/12/14, Impact of budget cuts and increasing advertising on SBS in primetime, upon reading the Charter:- [a] 72.1% & [b] 71.6% – of SBS viewers nationally said, ‘SBS is less faithful to the Charter since it introduced in-program advertising’ (pages 3, 7, 15, 18 – a 2013 study of 2044 viewers; a 2008 study of 1733 viewers). http://www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=000b1891-1c2e-4408-ab68-1e0b0947765b&subId=302262

[5] Department of Communications, The ABC and SBS Efficiency Study Report (redacted), April 2014, if advertising is increased “there will be a greater pressure on SBS management to consider the trade-off of delivering on commercial expectations, against delivering those functions described in the SBS Charter” — and — “further changes to advertising content [on SBS] … risks … the amount of Charter-related content (for example, Language other than English (LOTE) programming), risks to independence, and the decrease in distinctive content in favour of a broader, more populist schedule.” (pg 85) http://www.minister.communications.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/63570/ABC_and_SBS_efficiency_report_Redacted.pdf

[6] McKinsey & Co, 1999, Public Service Broadcasters Around the World, London, (mimeo) – BBC commissioned study of public service broadcasters in 19 different countries, concluded that an increased dependence on advertising led unavoidably to a more populist and less distinctive schedule.

[7] Dr C Lawe Davies, C 1997, Multicultural Broadcasting in Australia; policies, institutions and programming, 1975-1995, PhD thesis, University of Queensland.

[8] Quentin Dempster, 9/10/14, Politics In The Pub, public talk, YouTube video http://youtu.be/HxHuB_vYqIA

[9] The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, Minister for Communications, 19/11/14, National Broadcasters to implement efficiency measures, http://www.minister.communications.gov.au/malcolm_turnbull/news/national_broadcasters_to_implement_efficiency_measures#.VILfNskXJZ6

[10] Hansard Proof, Senate Environment & Communications Legislation Committee, 25/11/14: Senator Urquhart (Labor) asked "if the legislation to increase the amount of ads SBS can show in prime time does not pass the parliament then [would] SBS be asked to find another $28.5 million worth of cuts in the organisation?" Answering for the government, Senator Birmingham (Liberal) said, "… that is a hypothetical question". After further discussion Senator Birmingham did not state that SBS would be required to hand a portion of advertising revenue to government if the bill fails to become law (pg 15 – PDF 19) http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id:"committees/estimate/8064138f-36ef-4588-b531-23ded4cfe308/0000"

[11] Hansard Proof, Senate Select Committee into the Abbott Government’s Budget Cuts, 12/12/14: Acting Chair – Senator Ludlam (Greens) asked if SBS would have a budget hole if the bill to increase advertising did not pass the Senate. Answering for SBS, Mr Ebeid (Managing Director) said, "the minister made it very clear that [a reduction of $28.5m] is dependent on [the bill to increase advertising] passing through the Senate" (pg 26 – PDF 30)  http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/committees/commsen/997410cb-4f6f-4745-91d4-ea41b3361293/toc_pdf/Select Committee into the Abbott Government’s Budget Cuts_2014_12_12_3139.pdf

[12] Hansard Proof, Senate Environment & Communications Legislation Committee, 25/11/14: Senator Canavan (LNP QLD) asked senior public servants if SBS had wanted to increase advertising “before the Lewis review started” (the 31/1/14 ABC-SBS Efficiency Study). Answering for the Department of Communications, Ms Nerida O’Loughlin (Deputy Secretary,) & Dr Simon Pelling (First Assistant Secretary, Consumer and Content Division) said overtime “yes” and confirmed that SBS had raised increasing ads before the Lewis review (pg 12 – PDF 16) http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id:"committees/estimate/8064138f-36ef-4588-b531-23ded4cfe308/0000"

[13] Senate Select Committee into the Abbott Government’s Budget Cuts, Free TV Australia, 8/12/2014, Special Inquiry into the ABC and SBS Budget cuts, (pg 2 – PDF 3) http://www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=9053419e-0475-47ea-b78e-fdeace0b6933&subId=302161

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