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What will the Parties do with SBS after the election?

Save Our SBS put six questions – the same questions – to the Coalition, Labor and Greens parties about their policies for SBS. This is what they promised.

The full unedited answers are in the Q&A section lower down this screen.

  • The Greens are the only party who will move advertising away from programs on SBS.
  • Labor does not plan to alter the advertising arrangement at all.
  • The Coalition have already introduced a Bill to increase primetime advertising.
  • Labor has not promised to return the cuts made to SBS by the Coalition but the Greens have.

Information: Last year, the Coalition government introduced a Bill that if passed would have doubled the hourly advertising content on SBS in primetime. The Bill, which had no community support, failed to become law. Save Our SBS gathered 62,000 petitioners who objected to the further commercialisation of SBS and the advertising Bill was opposed by Labor, Greens and most cross benches.

But what will a new government do?

Advertising: We asked the Coalition about the future: if they would increase advertising on SBS. But they were only prepared to tell us about the past, that the Coalition had introduced such a Bill and it "did not pass the Senate".

On the other hand, the Greens said they will move advertising away from programs by clarifying the phrase "natural program breaks" in the SBS Act – the loophole discovered by SBS in 2006 under which programs are now disrupted for commercial breaks.

Labor does not plan to alter the advertising arrangement on SBS at all.

Funding: The Greens will restore all funding cuts that were made to SBS since 2014 while Labor promises SBS will be properly funded.

By comparison, last December and in the May Budget, the Coalition partly restored some of the cuts they had made to SBS.

The Coalition state "total funding for SBS has been higher every year under the Coalition than at any time under Labor".

Save Our SBS notes that the period of funding to which the Coalition refers (2013 to 2016), was budgeted for under the triennial funding arrangement of the previous Labor government although administered by the Coalition over the past three years however with cuts.

Government triennial funding for the three years to 2019 reduces before it equalises to that of a couple of years ago [click graph to enlarge].

Merger: On the topic of an ABC-SBS merger, Labor communications spokesperson Jason Clare said "there may be potential for some shared services between the ABC and SBS" but desires the ABC and SBS remain separate entities while the Greens oppose a merger saying that would "amount to an ABC takeover [of SBS]".

The Coalition states it has no plans to merge SBS and the ABC.

Spectrum: Although in his May Budget media release, Communications Minister Senator Fifield said that later this year the government will consider "a broader package of reforms that will include consideration of the pricing of broadcasting spectrum", the Coalition says it has "no plans to remove SBS from the free-to-air broadcast spectrum". Earlier this year it was widely reported such propositions were being considered, that SBS would be relegated to internet only. Labor and Greens do not support the removal of SBS from free-to-air either.

Culture: The Greens, Labor and Coalition place great value on the role of SBS in fostering multiculturalism and social inclusion of those from non-English speaking backgrounds. All parties express immense importance in having SBS as Australia’s national multicultural public broadcaster.

Overview

The three-column table below is a snapshot only of six policy positions for SBS of the Greens, Labor and Coalition. The details are in the Q&A section beneath the table.

SBS harbours social inclusion, a service we are fortunate to have, and the Greens are proud to support.
Labor says SBS provides a unique  service promoting multicultural Australia, and for non-English speaking backgrounds.
The Coalition believes SBS plays a vital role as our national multicultural broadcaster ensuring Australians remain connected to their cultural heritage.
Greens opposes an ABC-SBS merger as it risks being an ABC takeover of SBS.
Labor believes ABC & SBS should remain separate entities with potential for sharing resources.
The Coalition has no plans to merge SBS and the ABC.
Consistently opposed more ads on SBS and will seek to amend legislation in this regard.
Does not plan to extend advertising.
The Bill introduced by the Coalition (that would have doubled primetime advertising) failed in the Senate.
Greens will restore all funding cuts made to SBS since 2014.
Labor will ensure SBS remains a properly publicly funded broadcaster.
The Coalition provided some funds to replace revenue not raised from the failed advertising Bill and an additional $8.3m as part of the $814.2m package for SBS over the next three years (announced in the May Budget).
Supports the current arrangement of SBS broadcasting on the digital free-to-air spectrum.
Wants SBS to reach as wide an audience as possible, through TV, radio and online.
Has no plans to remove SBS from the free-to-air broadcast spectrum.
The Greens support defining "natural program breaks" consistent with that expressed by the legislators in the Hansard who established SBS as a corporation (thus removing the loophole under which in-program advertising occurs).
Labor has no plans to amend the current legislation.
The Coalition says advertising on SBS must be in accordance with the Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991 and programming decisions are matters for the SBS Board.

Q&A

The full unedited text of each party’s promises for SBS are in alphabetical order – GreensLaborLiberal-National Coalition.

Below are six questions Save Our SBS put to the Greens about their pre-election policies for SBS.

1 What cultural, sociological or other value does the Greens place on the role of SBS (e.g., the place of SBS in a diverse, socially inclusive, multicultural and cohesive society; etc) – the broad Greens SBS policies?

Without the SBS, the great multicultural society that is Australia is would be the poorer. The SBS broadcasts in over 70 languages, but the services it provides run much deeper than that. The SBS caters for a level of cultural sensitivity that other networks cannot. It helps new Australians settle into Australian life. It grows our country and the helps incoming Australians make their best contribution, as others have before them.

The SBS harbours social inclusion. It truly represents the values, concerns, views, and interest of multicultural Australia. And it does so in a way other networks don’t, because its primary responsibility is, first and foremost, to that community. It is a service we are fortunate to have, and the Greens are proud to support.

2 Does the Greens desire that SBS remain a separate entity from the ABC?

Yes, the Greens are strong supporters of the autonomy of the SBS. The Greens have consistently raised concerns with a proposed ABC-SBS merger, fearing that it will instead amount to an ABC takeover.

The SBS services a staggering number of Australians from a variety of cultural backgrounds in over 70 languages. But the SBS’s role is so much greater than just being a service designed to share information in a different language. If that were the case, then a merger may not be out of the question. The thing that sets the ABC and SBS apart is the fact that the SBS places the content that it shares into a familiar cultural context. It is not just a means of conveying content in this language or that. It is designed to provide an important cultural communication, fostering our multicultural society, helping to create a sense of the familiar, and building a level of comfortability that cannot be measured in purely financial terms.

The SBS is also a career path for new Australians working in the media and broadcasting space. They tell their own stories, in their own cultural context, and they foster the development of other people from those cultural backgrounds to tell their stories too.

3 Will the Greens seek to amend – or oppose an amendment – to section 45 of the SBS Act 1991 (that limits advertising to 5 minutes per hour) to increase the current hourly limit in some or all parts of the schedule and if so, with or without any provisions (e.g., limiting the number or position of commercial breaks; requiring that revenue from increased advertising be tied to increased local multicultural content on SBS; etc)?

Yes. The Greens have consistently opposed attempts to increase the amount of advertising on the SBS, and will continue to oppose this by seeking to amend the legislation.

4 Will the Greens partly or fully restore some or all of the 2014 announced funding cuts that were made to SBS and if so, to what extent?

Yes, the Greens have committed to restoring all funding cut by the current government for the SBS since 2014.

5 What is the Greens policy on SBS continuing to occupy the free-to-air digital broadcast spectrum?

The Greens strongly support the access of the SBS to the free-to-air digital broadcast spectrum.

6 In 2006 SBS re-interpreted the SBS Act 1991 and the phrase "natural program breaks" with the introduction of in-program commercial breaks. Will the Greens support a clarification to the phrase "natural program breaks" to reflect that understood and expressed by the legislators in the Hansard in both Houses in the debate and Second Reading speeches immediately before the SBS Act 1991 became law? 

Yes. The Greens have been strong supporters of the definition of Natural Program Breaks as set out in the section of Hansard quoted [below].

The Greens have consistently called for Natural Program Breaks to be defined in legislation, and in accordance with this definition [see Hansard quotes below].

HANSARD QUOTES to which the Greens referred in the debate and Second Reading speeches immediately before the SBS Bill 1991 was voted on and passed with bi-partisan support in the House of Representatives and Senate on the phrase “natural program breaks” . . .

Mr SMITH Liberal  half-time in a soccer match … in effect what will happen is that advertising will top and tail programs  

Sen ALSTON Liberal  natural program breaks, one would think that it is not too difficult to identify … clearly the half-time break in football and other sporting programs is a fairly common occurrence. The topping and tailing of programs so that good quality films are not massacred by advertisements is something that most people will readily identify with and recognise the breach of very quickly  

Sen COLLINS Labor  natural program breaks will be so unobtrusive on audiences as to be almost undetectable

Mr LEE Labor  advertisement–at the beginning and the end of the sponsored program. In that way the viewers were not disturbed and were not constantly interrupted, as is the case on some of the commercial television programs

Mr SINCLAIR National  let us not try to get the advertising revenue that will make the SBS another commercial channel. If we do, again, that will change its character, and I do not think that is really what we are about


Below are six questions Save Our SBS put to the Labor Party about their pre-election policies for SBS.

1 What cultural, sociological or other value does the Labor party place on the role of SBS (e.g., the place of SBS in a diverse, socially inclusive, multicultural and cohesive society; etc) – the broad Labor party SBS policies?

Labor believes that SBS has a very special mandate to tell the stories of multicultural Australia. 

The SBS provides a unique national broadcasting service promoting multicultural Australia, and provides services to Australians from non-English speaking backgrounds which are not delivered by the ABC or the commercial broadcasting sector. 

2 Does the Labor party desire that SBS remain a separate entity from the ABC?

Labor believes that the ABC and SBS should remain separate entities. However, as Shadow Minister for Communications Jason Clare has said there may be potential for some shared services.

3 Will the Labor party seek to amend – or oppose an amendment – to section 45 of the SBS Act 1991 (that limits advertising to 5 minutes per hour) to increase the current hourly limit in some or all parts of the schedule and if so, with or without any provisions (e.g., limiting the number or position of commercial breaks; requiring that revenue from increased advertising be tied to increased local multicultural content on SBS; etc)?

Labor has no plans to extend the current advertising quotas on SBS.  

4 Will the Labor party partly or fully restore some or all of the 2014 announced funding cuts that were made to SBS and if so, to what extent?

Labor will ensure SBS remains a properly publicly funded broadcaster. 

5 What is the Labor party policy on SBS continuing to occupy the free-to-air digital broadcast spectrum?

Labor has no plans to change the current arrangement relating to free-to-air digital broadcast spectrum. Labor is committed to ensuring that SBS continues to be able to reach as wide an audience as possible, through TV, radio and online.

6 In 2006 SBS re-interpreted the SBS Act 1991 and the phrase “natural program breaks” with the introduction of in‑program commercial breaks. Will the Labor party support a clarification to the phrase “natural program breaks” to reflect that understood and expressed by the legislators in the Hansard in both Houses in the debate and Second Reading speeches immediately before the SBS Act 1991 became law?

Labor has no plans to amend the current legislation in this regard.


Below are six questions Save Our SBS put to the Liberal and National Parties about the Coalition pre-election policies for SBS.

1 What cultural, sociological or other value does the Coalition place on the role of SBS (e.g., the place of SBS in a diverse, socially inclusive, multicultural and cohesive society; etc) – the broad Liberal and National party SBS policies?

The Coalition team understands the important role SBS plays as Australia’s national multicultural broadcaster. SBS plays a vital role ensuring that all Australians remain connected to their cultural heritage. SBS also ensures that the around three million Australians who speak a language other than English at home have a resource to enable them to stay connected to their communities and participate in public life.

2 Does the Coalition desire that SBS remain a separate entity from the ABC?

The Coalition team has no plans to merge SBS and the ABC.

3 Will the Coalition seek to amend – or oppose an amendment – to section 45 of the SBS Act 1991 (that limits advertising to 5 minutes per hour) to increase the current hourly limit in some or all parts of the schedule and if so, with or without any provisions (e.g., limiting the number or position of commercial breaks; requiring that revenue from increased advertising be tied to increased local multicultural content on SBS; etc)?

The Coalition introduced the Communications Legislation Amendment Flexibility and Other Measures) Bill 2015 to provide the SBS with more advertising flexibility. This Bill did not pass the Senate. 

4 Will the Coalition partly or fully restore some or all of the 2014 announced funding cuts that were made to SBS and if so, to what extent?

The Coalition Government is maintaining the level of base funding for SBS at $814.2 million over the next three years. Total funding for the SBS has been higher every year under the Coalition than at any time under Labor.

The Government is also providing an additional $8.3 million to the national broadcaster to deliver their current services, including local news services and investment in new content and digital services.

In addition to base funding and continuing programme funding, SBS will receive $6.9 million in 2016-17 to replace revenue the corporation has been unable to raise after the legislation that would have provided advertising flexibility failed to pass the Senate in 2015.

This significant level of Government investment in public broadcasting is not only good for the national broadcasters, but also for Australian audiences, in particular those living in rural and regional Australia.

A Coalition Government will always ensure the ABC and SBS are appropriately resourced to undertake their roles. Allocation of funding within each organisation is a matter for their respective boards and managements.

5 What is the Coalition policy on SBS continuing to occupy the free-to-air digital broadcast spectrum?

The Coalition team has no plans to remove SBS from the free-to-air broadcast spectrum. 

6 In 2006 SBS re-interpreted the SBS Act 1991 and the phrase “natural program breaks” with the introduction of in‑program commercial breaks. Will the Coalition support a clarification to the phrase “natural program breaks” to reflect that understood and expressed by the legislators in the Hansard in both Houses in the debate and Second Reading speeches immediately before the SBS Act 1991 became law?

Advertising on SBS must be in accordance with the Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991. Programming decisions are matters for the SBS Board.


 

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