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Advertising bill will manoeuvre SBS away from its Charter obligations

by Mary Kostakidis

The relentless push to further commercialise SBS has been ramped up yet again with SBS management and government set on increasing advertising within programs. This destructive policy will ultimately make the public broadcaster – SBS – indistinguishable from mainstream commercial television.

Not only will advertising be more intrusive, it will also increasingly become the driver of programming decisions and the public broadcaster will continue to be manoeuvred away from its Charter obligations.

When SBS first accepted limited advertising between programs, both the Managing Director and then Communications Minister told me this would not result in advertising within programs. Years later, the goal posts were shifted to advertise within programs in “natural program breaks”, even when no such “natural” break existed, and to increase the overall amount of advertising. Those goal posts are set to be shifted again.

If this matters to you, it’s vital that your voice is heard.

I am asking you to please take a moment to send an email to your local MP and Senators voicing your continued objection to the government’s further commercialisation of SBS.

If the parliament were serious about improving SBS they would remove the disruptive in‑program commercial breaks but the Communications Legislation Amendment (SBS Advertising Flexibility) Bill 2017 fails to do that.

Even the government’s own report into SBS (the Lewis review) stated that increased advertising will result in “risks to the amount of Charter-related content” by shifting the focus from viewer to advertiser. The report went on to say, “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[1].

Furthermore, three-quarters of SBS viewers nationally say that since SBS-TV introduced in‐program advertising, it is less faithful to the Charter now than it used to be[2][3]. If SBS becomes more commercialised, this gap will widen irrevocably.

No one wants even more commercial breaks disrupting SBS programs.

In fact the recently published ‘Survey 2017 about SBS’ found that 95% of SBS viewers in every State and Territory do not want increased advertising on SBS and say that if there is an increase in ads, then the law ought to restrict advertisements to before or after programs only — except in sport — like SBS used to be[4].

Unfortunately the parliament will not stop SBS from broadcasting advertisements.

But if enough people demand it, the parliament could at least restrict the ads to between programs as the original legislators intended[5]. SBS might then fulfil its Charter obligations.

Two years ago, the government attempted to increase the hourly advertising limit on SBS, but 62,000 people signed a petition opposing that and the proposed increase failed to become law.

Now the government is introducing the legislation again.

Please help save SBS from becoming even more commercial and abandoning its Charter.

If the introduced Bill becomes law, SBS will broadcast 14 minutes of disruptive commercial breaks per hour in peak viewing — 6pm to midnight and in sport — 10 minutes of advertisements plus 4 minutes of promos every hour; that’s a minute more of commercial intrusion than seen on commercial TV.

You can stop this and stop the institution of SBS from being further eroded. All you need to do is email your local MP and Senators now.

Mary Kostakidis was part of the management team that developed SBS Television in 1980 and presented SBS World News Australia until 2007.

[1] Department of Communications, April 2014, The ABC and SBS Efficiency Study Report (redacted), pp 85
[2] Parliament of Australia, 15 April 2015, The commercialisation of SBS versus efficiency, April 2015, pp 7-8, submission no 5 to the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications
[3] Save Our SBS, 26 April 2017, Survey 2017 about SBS, pp 3, 15
[4] ibid. pp 4
[5] SaveOurSBS.org, Natural Breaks


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