Government wants to fully commercialise SBS with new law

Today the government decided to proceed with the Communications Legislation Amendment (SBS Advertising Flexibility and Other Measures) Bill 2015 to double advertising on SBS and allow product placement. Minister Turnbull is expected to introduce the bill tomorrow. 

Save Our SBS President, Steve Aujard said, “If passed, SBS will look no different from commercial TV. It will broadcast 14 minutes of disruptive commercial breaks per hour, mostly in primetime and sport.

“Despite some 50,000 people signing a petition against the bill, the government is still putting this forward. There will not be a debate when the Minster introduces this.

“When we heard of the government’s proposition, Save Our SBS with Margaret Pomeranz & Quentin Dempster launched a petition on the community campaigning website, CommunityRun.”

Campaign spokesperson, journalist and public broadcasting advocate, Quentin Dempster said, “If the politicians don’t reject this bill, SBS will become Australia’s fourth fully commercial free-to-air broadcaster.

“Margaret and I joined this campaign to try to save SBS from forces and strategies which can only destroy it.

“More adverting and now product placement is not what SBS should be about. On-set product placement will remove the independence of probing journalism and restrict what presenters may say.

“SBS is a remarkable legacy of the late Malcolm Fraser, established not to strive to look like commercial TV, but as a specialist broadcaster and the Australian commercial networks hardly need another competitor for precious advertising dollars, particularly at a time when global players have video streaming access to Australian households from which they derive user pays fees. Few contribute to local content creation and most use tax havens.

“At a time of geo-political tension, fear and terror Australia needs SBS focused on its reason for being – to build understanding, inclusion and cohesion to this polyglot country of ours. Its purpose is to break down bigotry, racism and xenophobia through engagement with audiences in multi-lingual services, journalism, documentary, talk back, informed conversation and entertainment. SBS should not be focused on destroying its own Charter compliance obligations to chase yet more advertising revenue. The rot started some years ago when the SBS Board abandoned long accepted legal advice and redefined ‘natural breaks’ which only allowed ads between programs, to within them.

“It seems apparent that Malcolm Turnbull had agreed to a request for increased advertising from SBS before the expenditure review committee of the federal cabinet imposed a funding envelope last year. But it is unsettling to see that the majority of current SBS Board apparently want increased advertising. The Parliament ought to send a clear message back to government and the SBS Board – to go back to the drawing board.”

Save Our SBS President, Steve Aujard said, “There is reputable evidence that more advertising on SBS will seriously affect its ability to be faithful to its Charter.

“Last year, the ABC-SBS Efficiency Study – the Lewis review – noted this and said: ‘… there will be greater pressure on SBS management to consider the trade-off of delivering on commercial expectations, against delivering those functions described in the SBS Charter.’ (pg 85)

“In two comprehensive studies, one of 2,044 viewers in 2013 and another of 1,733 viewers in 2008 – after reading SBS’s Charter – three-quarters of SBS viewers nationally (71.6% in 2008 and 72.1% in 2013) said that since SBS TV introduced in-program advertising it is less faithful to the Charter now than it used to be. This strongly suggests that any increase in advertising in any part of the schedule will worsen SBS’s ability to adhere to its Charter obligations.

“Under the current SBS Act, advertising is capped at 5 minutes per hour. It does not restrict the duration of promos and station IDs. SBS broadcasts 4 minutes of promos and 5 minutes of advertisements per hour in primetime. If this bill passes, 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). This is one minute more than commercial TV.”

Margaret Pomeranz AM, Foxtel presenter began as a writer/producer at SBS where she co-hosted The Movie Show before moving to the ABC with At The Movies. Quentin Dempster AM, Fairfax contributing editor is former presenter of 7:30 NSW, journalist and well known public broadcasting advocate.

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