The recent acrimonious departure of Mary Kostakidis is the last in the long line of defections and ejections from SBS under the current management. The organization has been stripped of just about anyone who had any connection to an SBS where an ethos of commitment pervaded the organization. There has been a cultural genocide at the place.

Obviously there has been an agenda to move the broadcaster away from its original multicultural identity to something else, something more saleable perhaps.

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There is no doubting the influence of Gerald Stone on SBS’ Board. It’s no surprise that success is measured now in increased advertising revenue, just like Channel 9.

But what is advertising doing on a public broadcaster? Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, that dollar will ultimately shape programming. The antics of Paris Hilton are well-covered on the commercial broadcasters, what is the justification for including a story about her at the top end of the SBS news? Did anyone mention dumbing-down?

You could perhaps justify the changes if they proved more relevant to more Australians. But the reverse has been the case. SBS news was respected, valued and watched. In its new, more commercial incarnation it is actually less watched. It’s sad to see the demise of this flagship of SBS as the ratings plummeted with the new format. A format very much like Channel 9. Or 7. Or 10.

Within the organization morale is low, permanent staff are being routed at a rate of knots, dissension is punished, a rigid hierarchical corporate culture dominates.

My suspicion has always been that the increased commercialisation of SBS and the move away from its identity as a multicultural broadcaster would mean that it would ultimately be sold as the fifth free-to-air commercial licence. And why not? If you move away from the reasons that SBS was established in the first place, if it loses its distinctive identity, why should Government be called upon to fund it?

There are still good things happening at SBS, within SBSi – although the programming of their productions leads one to suspect that management’s commitment to SBSi product is less than robust – with Insight, with the still challenging documentaries on Cutting Edge on Tuesday nights.

But sadly the commercial agenda of this current Board and of management indicates they know the price of everything and the value of very little.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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