In an AAP story in the West Australian, Stan Grant, the new co-anchor of the hour-long SBS News which starts next Monday at 6.30pm, says the new news format fills a hole in Australian news coverage.

“It will be the only national prime time news bulletin on free-to-air television and complement, not necessarily compete with the network’s state-based coverage … There are some news and current affairs programs that do their job really well in Australia, especially SBS and the ABC with shows such as Foreign Correspondent. But as far as daily world news coverage goes, there is a real shortage that we are addressing,” he says.

But Stan should’ve recognised a couple of points in this little bit of boasting – much of the new content in the extended broadcasts will either be longer local stories, or more foreign material. SBS is very light on for local reporting: in fact it is a bit of a joke among its competitors in the ABC and commercial TV who devote more resources to Australian stories.

SBS has a “skeleton” Australian news presence, depending heavily on sharing vision with other networks than generating its own. And finally there’s the real reason for the change and it’s nothing but a bit of grubby commercialism.

“The change in format is in large part a reaction to a large viewer drop-off between the news and sport bulletins attributed to the lengthy commercial break between the two.”

Yes, it’s the era of Shaun Brown and his in-program ad breaks, all designed to raise another $10 million or more in extra revenue. SBS is trying to stop the drift of viewers which occurs at the end of its popular programs. That was very noticeable in the break between the end of the old 6.30pm news and the start of the Les Murray-hosted Toyota World Sports program at 7pm (which was a cop out in itself and very commercial with the program naming rights sold to the car group).

Rather than boost the coverage of world events by expanding the news to an hour, SBS is attempting to boost viewer numbers and make more money from a reconfigured series of ad breaks. To claim anything else is spin, Stan.


Bruce Meagher, SBS Director for Strategy and Communications, writes: At a time when some other news rooms are shrinking, SBS’s is expanding. We are proud of and excited about this fact. So it’s a pity Glenn Dyer doesn’t share our enthusiasm for the new SBS News Hour. While it is true that SBS has a relatively small news team, this is a product of our low level of funding, not lack of commitment to quality coverage. A major reason for growing our commercial revenue is to increase the size of that team and the scope of our coverage. Unlike the other networks (including the ABC) we have never sought to be a “local” news service. SBS is a national broadcaster with a focus on international stories and local news of a national character – often news that other stations will not carry but which fulfills our charter obligations to represent the diversity of Australian society. The new hour long news service will enhance our ability to cover more major stories and in greater depth. It will also provide opportunities to showcase aspects of Australia’s diverse society that even we have not been able cover in the past. The bulletin will be headed by two highly regarded senior journalists, Mary Kostakidis and Stan Grant and will maintain the quality of journalism that have made SBS News one of the most respected services in the country. Your sole subscriber is probably already an SBS News viewer, being a discriminating person. If not, I recommend that she or he tunes in next Monday at 6.30pm and gives the new service a go.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey