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Government asked to increase SBS funding tied to charter compliance by a reduction in commercial breaks

Save Our SBS has called on the federal government to hand back a significant portion of the funding to SBS that was cut from the national broadcasters under the previous prime minister.

In May, the federal government will hand down funding details for SBS over the next three years.

Save Our SBS President, Steve Aujard said, “In our pre-budget submission we outlined a series of options to Treasury that would assist SBS to better fulfil their Charter obligations.

“Basically we examined various options ranging from no commercial activity at one end, to limiting advertising to between programs only at the other, and a mid-way point that would reduce the frequency of commercial breaks to not more than one within programs, with the exception of sport. Each scenario is costed and the later is revenue neutral.

“Our submission shows there is very strong evidence that the efficiency of SBS in adhering to its multicultural Charter — the core reason for its existence — diminished proportional to the level of in-program TV advertising. In 2006 when SBS shifted advertising to within programs (instead of only between them), the degree to which SBS complied with their Charter fell markedly.

“The published evidence shows that as advertising increases, distinctiveness decreases. That shift has directly impacted on how faithful SBS has become to its Charter. The Charter describes a very special broadcaster, one that is like no other, distinctive in character.

“SBS is a public broadcaster that should not be scheduling programs for advertising dollars. It was supposed to compliment, not compete with commercial TV.

“Unfortunately and understandably, commercialisation has forced SBS to focus on advertisers ahead of the Charter. The budget process is the one opportunity the parliament has to bring the focus back on track.

“SBS is the leanest of all broadcasters, funded about a quarter of that of the ABC. If a significant portion of the joint cuts that were made to both national broadcasters were handed to the leaner broadcaster, SBS, with a requirement that it reduce or wipe out in‑program advertising, the evidence strongly suggests it would become more focused on fulfilling Charter obligations than has been the case. SBS would therefore be more efficient its primary reason for existence.

“We are proposing an environment where executive brain space will become less concerned with ratings and commercial ‘sell ability’ and the centre of attention becomes that of satisfying Charter requirements, providing a much needed contrast to mainstream television benefiting all Australians.

“Overwhelmingly the supporters & friends of SBS want SBS to be more faithful to its Charter and relevant without viewers being on-sold to advertisers. Viewers do not like commercial breaks interrupting their programs. Reducing or doing away with in-program advertising is achievable even in a tight fiscal environment. SBS could move in this direction but it is going to take the will of the parliament to lead it there. That could and should occur through the budget process.”

The Save Our SBS submission to Treasury is here.

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