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Mary Kostakidis speaks out against government Bill to increase SBS advertising

Mary Kostakidis today called on ordinary people to oppose the further commercialisation of SBS in a campaign called, Preserve our media diversity: Don’t turn SBS into Australia’s fourth commercial TV network.

The former SBS World News Australia presenter, Ms Kostakidis said, “Save Our SBS and I launched the website campaign so that SBS viewers can voice their concerns about the government’s plans to make SBS even more reliant on advertising. We expect the government proposal to become more apparent following the Budget.”

Save Our SBS President, Steve Aujard said, “The government are going to have another go at increasing the hourly advertising limit on SBS. They tried in 2015 but 62,000 people signed the petition we ran, and the advertising increase never happened. We have been trying to get SBS to return to their former model with ads between programs only. We certainly do not support even more commercial breaks interrupting SBS programs.”

Ms Kostakidis said, “If the parliament were serious about improving SBS they would remove the disruptive in‑program commercial breaks. But the government Bill fails to address that.

“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.”

Mr Aujard said, “SBS forces about 6,000 commercial breaks per year under the pretext they are natural breaks. But they are not. We know that from answers SBS has given to Senate questions.”

“If the government Bill becomes law, 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,” said Ms Kostakidis.

Ms Kostakidis went on to say, “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’.

“As former Chair of SBS Sir Nicholas Shehadie noted in his book A Life Worth Living, public broadcaster SBS should be run as a service, not a business. What we’ll end up with is a fourth commercial channel with a bit of an ‘ethnic’ flavour.

“SBS’s stewards are determined to increase revenue by increasing advertising quotas. The most effective way to do this of course is to have more interruptions within programs in primetime, and for commercial imperatives to drive programming decisions. The two go hand in hand.

“SBS managers will spend increasing amounts of time counting eyeballs in 30 second slots. Instead they should be looking at ways to promote what should be a distinctive service. SBS has managed in the past to broadcast the best of what is produced overseas and to bring to the screen stories that depict the rich diversity of a cosmopolitan Australia.”

Mr Aujard explained, “If the Bill passes in its current form, the end result will see SBS interrupting our evening viewing with 10 minutes of ads hourly (double what it currently is) on top of SBS’s usual 4 minutes of promos hourly. That’s 14 minutes of commercial intrusion every hour 6pm to midnight, a minute more than channels 7, 9, and 10.

“If this Bill passes, we would want to see the law restrict advertisements on SBS to between programs only. SBS can certainly afford that what with the SBS Annual Reports showing that in the three years to 30 June 2016 SBS achieved a 31% increase in advertising revenues, and the latest SBS Corporate Plan forecasts a 27% increase for this year and 35% growth next year.”

Preserve our media diversity: Don’t turn SBS into Australia’s fourth commercial TV network is here.

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