The ABC’s Chairman Donald Macdonald recently gave an elegant speech at
the National Press Club in Canberra about where the public broadcaster
was heading. Afterwards, as he fielded questions, reporters once again
honed in on the thorny issue of whether the second public broadcaster,
Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), should exist.

Macdonald refused to be drawn on whether SBS was just duplicating a
role the ABC is already performing. It’s a pity – we all know that SBS
will soon broadcast the Ashes Test cricket from England, normally the
preserve of the Nine Network, a large commercial entity. SBS prides
itself on being the voice and face of multicultural Australia. But do
we really need it? Another question is have Australia’s ethnic
communities already moved into the mainstream of Australian society?
Just look at the non-Anglo-Celtic surnames in our parliaments,
favourite sporting teams or on mainstream television!

What is ironic about SBS is that it claims to serve multiculturalism.
But that has to be questioned. Since its inception in 1980, SBS TV,
then known as Channel 0-28, has had reporters and presenters from a
wide variety of backgrounds, such as Greek, Italian, Croat, Serb, South
American, Asian and so on.

In 25 years there has not been one reporter or presenter from
Australia’s sizeable Turkish and Macedonian communities. This is a
remarkable statistic. Members of the Turkish and Macedonian communities
claim that SBS TV marginalises them because the broadcaster fears the
influence of the politically savvy Greek lobby. All of these ethnic
groups do not get along because of historic tensions that have no place
in peaceful Australia. SBS by playing favourites rather than showing
toughness is in fact keeping these tensions alive.

Mark Boyd, SBS TV’s News and Current Affairs Chief, says SBS doesn’t
discriminate nor does it have a quota system. But surely in 25 years,
one Turk or a Macedonian would have broken through SBS’s glass ceiling?

In its coverage of the Iraq War, SBS’s Dateline program, the
current affairs flagship of the network, has never given much coverage
to the Assyrians, who are Iraq’s indigenous people and also happen to
be Christian. We hear daily about the plight of the Sunni and Shiite
Muslim Arabs and the non-Arab Kurds in the north. But the Assyrians
remain a forgotten people in their own land.

In 1990 popular SBS TV reporter Vladimir Lusic was removed from the current affairs program Vox Populi
(Voice of the People) under mysterious circumstances. Lusic, who now
lives in his native Croatia, told me a few years ago he was concerned
about political interference at SBS from the then Communist Yugoslav

Perhaps the time has come for some form of inquiry into the viability
and diversity of SBS. Maybe the time has come for both the Coalition
government and the ALP opposition to adopt a bipartisan policy on
merging SBS with the ABC. After all, we are all Australians, regardless
of our origins.