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Viewers say ‘hand back our SBS without ads’ competitive neutrality inquiry

In response to the Inquiry into the Competitive Neutrality of the National Broadcasters, Save Our SBS President, Steve Aujard said, "With Australia’s growing migration and the importance of social cohesion, SBS is needed more now than ever before and it’s essential it be on track. We focused our submission to the Inquiry with that in mind while respecting the principles of competitive neutrality."

Centre and front of the 59 page Save Our SBS submission titled: Attaining a level playing field: SBS – commercial is a call for the decommercialisation of SBS and more Charter focused content on all SBS platforms.

Mr Aujard said, "Advertising on SBS means it competes with the commercial sector. That affects content at, and beyond SBS, and has a range of ramifications. The obvious solution is to fully-fund SBS and remove advertising. That was our top recommendation to the Inquiry. Short of that, ads between programs only, although a compromise, would be a significant improvement over the current situation.

"The problem with advertising is that it has caused SBS to chase commercially attractive programs. But that’s at the expense of its Charter.

"There’s nothing wrong with the Charter. It’s a fine document. We just need SBS to comply with it. The best way to do that is to remove advertising or severely limit the placement of ads to away from programs.

"Drawing on reputable evidence from a number of published sources, we show a direct link between the introduction of in-program advertising on SBS, and it moving away from its Charter. It’s not just viewer feedback. In the Lewis review, the Communications Department warned of ‘a greater pressure on SBS management to consider the trade-off of delivering on commercial expectations, against delivering those functions described in the Charter’, due to advertising. A BBC study of public broadcasters carried out by McKinsey and Co in 19 countries concluded ‘dependence on advertising has led inexorably to a more populist and less distinctive schedule’.

"Until just over a decade ago, SBS restricted ads to between programs only.

"However, in recent years with cutbacks and a commercially driven broadcaster, SBS has suffered."

Mr Aujard said, "We want our SBS back and without ads. Tens of thousands of viewers have said so.

"SBS was established to fill the void of the ABC and commercial broadcasters but now it looks pretty similar, especially in primetime.

"We know many viewers love SBS but want it re-established as our leading multicultural multilingual broadcaster, envied all over the world – as it was once.

"Unfortunately there is strong evidence, which cannot be ignored, that SBS has challenged the commercial sector head-on. That has not only tested competitive neutrality principles, but also the very essence of what SBS is supposed to be about, its raison d’être.

"In three separate studies of three different cohorts in 2008, 2013, and 2017, three-quarters of SBS viewers nationally said SBS is ‘less faithful to its Charter since it introduced in‑program advertising’. The 4,953 participants of all three cohorts were given the Charter to read in forming their view. This is all detailed in our submission.

"Earlier this year a fourth cohort of 1,249 viewers identified 45% of content on SBS ‘as the type expected to be seen on channels 7, 9, or 10 – not SBS’, while 70% said SBS currently has ‘insufficient niche programming compared to more than 10 years ago’.

"Before on-screen watermarks, it was always possible to tell if a television set was tuned to SBS because its programming looked inherently different from the ABC and commercial television. That’s no longer the case. Since the introduction of in-program advertising a little more than a decade ago, SBS presents itself – advertisements and programs – like a commercial broadcaster. These days, a lot of content is similar.

"We’re totally opposed to the privatisation of any public broadcaster. It’s absurd and ridiculous. It’d damage the broadcaster more and strain the commercial sector further. But the commercialisation of SBS is not far off that scenario and that’s the root cause of the problem that now needs fixing to ensure SBS competes without an unfair advantage."

Mr Aujard concluded by saying, "We made seven recommendations in our submission that will improve SBS and establish a fairer playing field all round. These address advertising, funding, board minutes, accountability, reporting, efficiency, and codes of practice."

The full Save Our SBS submission is here. A short version is here.

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