The content on this page and other DBCDE document archive pages is provided to assist research and may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. See the full archive disclaimer.
The formatting of this submission may have been altered due to the processing required for publication on the Department's website.
My submission relates to SBS Television.
I have been an avid viewer of SBS-TV since the very beginning in 1980. Here was something very different on the Australian broadcasting scene: global, adventurous, risk taking, experimental, creative television, a window into a world that wasn't as "global" 28 years ago as it is now.
All these great programs on public funded free-to-air TV? Brilliant.
SBS's producers and programmers treated the audience with respect &intelligence. Australian audiences were introduced to the best global feature films, documentaries &series.
In 1986, when SBS-TV was relegated (in the capital cities) to the wasteland of the UHF band, I was up there on the roof with my new antenna. When friends complained that they couldn't get SBS, I would turn up with a ladder and an antenna.
SBS-TV became something to be proud of, and a special relationship developed between the viewers and "their" SBS.
It quickly evolved into one of the best public broadcasters in the world, broadcasting many of the world's best television programs and feature films, and it remained so for many years.
Some of the best local creative people were drawn to and commissioned by SBS-TV.
Filmmakers, composers, graphic designers, editors, presenters, reporters, audio designers and more.
Even the network idents were renown for their innovative graphic designs and animations.
The SBS Act was changed in 1991 to allow for advertising in "natural breaks" although confined to between programs except for sport. The break between programs was considered to be a safe definition of a natural break. Ostensibly, the revenue from advertising was to make up for a shortfall in Government funding during the Howard years and to allow for SBS's expansion into digital broadcasting &online services. The intrusion of commercials was undesirable, but tolerable. SBS was still a refuge from the commercial networks and from the more conservatively programmed ABC-TV.
However, I feel that there has been a gradual reduction in innovative programming, and a decline in creative and technical standards, at SBS-TV over the last few years with the increasing "commercialisation" of the network. Good programs and people have departed, and there are reports of low staff morale and high staff turnaround.
In September 2006, SBS re-wrote their Codes of Practice and published "Guidelines for the Placement of Breaks in SBS Television". The consequence of this was that in 2007 alone, more than 6000 commercial breaks were forced into some 2000 program broadcasts that were never intended to have commercial breaks, turning SBS into a de-facto fourth Australian commercial network.
For the viewer this means, not only great annoyance, but often loss of continuity and in some cases content, as dialogue is clipped, sometimes in mid sentence, and scenes are cut in half.
Unlike programs made for commercial television, these programs weren't made with "natural breaks".
The forcing of commercial breaks into these programs is offensive, not only to the viewer but to the program makers themselves.
I've lost count of the number of times I've been completely absorbed in watching a beautifully crafted and engrossing feature film or documentary, only to be assailed by yet another brash commercial for an erectile disfunction clinic.
I think the following (taken from the Save Our SBS website) sums up the situation well:
"Many remain annoyed by the ad interruptions, but aside from the annoyance factor, one of the problems of allowing a public broadcaster to carry advertising is that the broadcaster's relationship to their audience changes. The client of a non-commercial public broadcaster is the audience, and the product is the program. However the entire relationship changes once advertisements are introduced. The client of a commercial broadcaster becomes the advertiser, and the audience becomes a product to be sold to the advertiser. The role of the broadcaster is no longer to serve the audience, but rather to sell their product, that is the audience, to the broadcaster's client, that is the advertiser".
I noticed that there were no breaks during the recent broadcast of the excellent series "The First Australians". I can only assume that the producers negotiated this with SBS. The same sensitivity should be applied to all SBS programs.
I urge the Federal Government to:
Legislate to prohibit SBS from interrupting programs for commercial breaks.
Use the opportunity of the 2009 review of SBS's triennial funding to provide additional financial resources to the network so that, amongst other things, it can continue to fund the production of high quality local programs such as "The Circuit" and "East West 101" and to help SBS to regain its position as one of the best public broadcasters in the world.