Crikey thought it could be fun to live-blog the proceedings. It’s our first time doing it, so forgive any bumps. You can follow along by clicking the stream to Environment and Communications Committee here.
6.07pm. That Media Watch story on The Oz’s coverage of that wind turbine research gets a mention.
Scott says the ABC has received a complaint from Stephen Cooper, and will be “managing its complaint through the formal processes”.
Asked if stories like this are legaled before being put to air (today’s Oz carries claims Cooper wants to sue Media Watch), Scott says he’s not in a position to say whether the Media Watch episode was legaled before it went to air.
“This is ongoing, and will be looked at by our independent review process.”
Today Tonight has claimed it wasn’t contacted before the Media Watch story aired. Canavan asks whether it’s normal practise to contact media organisations mentioned on Media Watch. Scott says it depends. “In operating as media critics … they wouldn’t necessarily always go back and seek views on that, like David and Margaret wouldn’t go back and seek views with the directors.”
“It is also journalism too,” Canavan says. “In my experience, good journalists come and talk to you first.”
5.58pm. Canavan hones in on whether that question on that ABC’s Vote Compass asking people about mining activity in the Great Barrier Reef (there is none — though there are mining-related shipping lanes) was fair.
“We try to have clean hands on this process,” Scott says. “We work with a major group of academics. We develop questions, and send the questions to the parties. No objections were raised. I can understand your view on it — there was no malice on it …”
One of the researchers who’ve worked on the study, Canavan says, is a former adviser to Anna Bligh and Peter Beattie. Scott says he wasn’t aware of that. “Academics have different backgrounds … I’m not sure we want to rule anyone else because they worked for a political staffer at one point. That’s why we have a group of people … and that’s why we give it to political parties.”
Canavan says he wrote to ABC Fact Check about the polling question, and was told they didn’t look at media outlets. He says they told him they don’t look at media outlets. He says their own ‘About’ page said they looked at statements from figures in the public debate. Scott says Fact Check has discretion on what it covers, and wasn’t intended to be a Media Watch.
Canavan asks whether there’s a policy on ABC Fact Check not fact-checking the ABC. “I don’t see why it needs to be quarantined in that way.”
Scott repeats himself. “We didn’t want to turn it into a de facto Media Watch, or another complaints process to the ABC.”
5.48pm. Nationals Senator Matthew Canavan asks Scott what his view of the Taylor Swift controversy is.
“As I say,” Scott responds, “hates gonna hate hate hate.” Triple J had it’s highest ever vote for the Hottest 100, he adds.
Canavan says he used to listen but doesn’t anymore. “You’re in the target demographic,” Scott quips.
On more serious matters, Canavan warns Scott that the ABC’s cuts, and its coverage of things like the live cattle export industry, mean it risks targeting the brand of the ABC in regional Australia.
5.42pm. Scott says he’d have loved to buy Aussie drama Cloudstreet off Foxtel, but Foxtel don’t ever want to see to the ABC because they want exclusivity. “Foxtel has placed a premium on exclusivity, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if they’d said if you want to see the Asian Cup, you have to see it on pay TV.” Yes, we’re still on this.
Scott asks a question trying to find out what Leyonhjelm’s beef is. He’s cut off by Rushton — he’s not allowed to ask questions.
5.30pm. Senator Leyonhjelm wants to know how much the ABC paid for the Asian Cup. Scott says it’s commercial-in-confidence, but does note that the ABC’s submission wasn’t enough without a top-up from Football Federation Australia.
“On a cost-per-program basis, I can tell you what we paid was a fraction of what commercial networks have paid to broadcast soccer or football in the past.”
The bid, Scott says, was intended as outreach to attract viewers who wouldn’t normally be interested in watching the ABC.
Leyonhejelm asks if the ABC’s generated any revenue from the bid, perhaps from the ABC shop. Scott says that’s auxilary, but says the ABC did use the Asian Cup to alert audiences to other programming. “We put in a bid, 7 million people watched it, and we were delighted with the outcome.”
All of this was covered in depth at the last estimates hearing.
5.25pm. Singh asks if Scott is aware of how the BBC responded when faced with allegations of its London-centrism — it established regional outposts. “Why are you doing the exact opposite,” she asks.
Scott says the BBC has ten times the money to deliver to three times Australia’s population in a “country the size of a postage stamp.” He says he made a decision when he came into the role not to benchmark against the BBC.
5.14pm. Singh asks whether the ABC has moved to a one-hour news bulletin on certain days of the week. Scott refers to his earlier answer (4.03pm note). He says Singh wasn’t there for his opening remarks, where he explained this.
5.10pm. Singh isn’t letting this go.
“How can you sustain coverage of special events, like ANZAC day in regional places … when those places no longer have the ABC’s prescience. And not just ANZAC day … what about a tragic event?”
Scott: “We’re keeping a compliment of news and current affairs teams around the country. There remains staff that are producing television content all around the country.” About the lack of Outside Broadcast vans, which Singh raised, no television company in Australian maintains television brands.
Singh hates that answer. “You’re not like other broadcasters. You’re the ABC. Do you get that?” She’s told off by the chair for badgering the witness.
Scott argues it’s more economical to rent the vans, as commercial stations do.
5pm. Senator Lisa Singh wants to know if the ABC supports Xenophon’s aforementioned bill. The ABC does not, though, Scott says, it supports diverse local production. It just doesn’t want to be tied to having permanent units in all the states and territories.
“My question to Mr Xenophon is are you trying to solve local employment levels, or are you trying to get us to commit to internal in-house production.” The answer, Scott says, is work with the independent production sector. “That’s the best way of simulating local film and TV industries … We believe we should have a mixed model. ” That means news and current affairs made in-house and locally, while one-off programs are commissioned out.
“If you committed me to an in-house drama model, our levels of drama production would halve,” Scott warns. “If we make drama and documentary in-house, we don’t get Screen Australia money, we don’t get producer money or state-based funding as well.”
So, the ABC should work with independent producers, because that way the taxpayer further subsidies the whole thing. That’s interesting.
Singh makes some pointed remarks. “Over time, under your leadership Mr Scott, [the ABC] has been reduced and reduced until it’s no longer [a flagship of quality],” she says. “How is the regional vote now being lost in South Australia, as the result of the closure of another ABC production unit, how is that regional voice being replaced? … There is no replacement for it — it’s just the loss of it.”
Scott says the question reflects the only way the ABC being able to reflect that voice is through programming made in its studios. He appears ramping up to list local productions made with the independent production sector. “The question is not how you make it the question is the stories that you tell.”
4.57pm. A series of questions by Urquhart about Lateline. Its new 9.30pm on ABC News 24 slot will mean it airs at 6.30pm in Western Australia, so it’s more accurate to describe it as “Late-afternoon-line” there perhaps, Scott says. What a mouthfull.
4.50pm. Urquhart asks if any staff who’ve been made redundant have been rehired on contracts. Scott says there’s a two-year wait in the guidelines between someone losing a job at the ABC and being employed there agin. Though he does acknowledge it may have happened in South Australia.
4.41pm. Deputy chair Senator Anne Urquhart takes the floor. She says she wants to confirm some of what Xenophon brought up. She asks how many redundancies have occurred. She is told that including the Australia Network redundancies, 241 staff have left the organisation.
Scott now talking Urquhart through the redundancy pools process. Much of this was covered in this Crikey piece, so forgive your corespondent for the sparse notes.
4.40pm. Rushton recalls a question she asked last time — if the ABC froze its wages, how many jobs could it have saved? Scott says he doesn’t think the ABC answered that — it’s taken on notice again.
4.37pm. Rushton brings up former news director John Cameron’s piece in The Australian that claimed a 5% budget saving could have been found without compromising content.
“On his argument that says 5% should be found through support service efficiencies, that’s all we’re trying to do Senator,” Scott says. ‘But in the years that Mr Cameron has been with us the digital revolution has marched on … If we’re not trying to find ways of investing in websites… then in fact we’re condemning the ABC to exist in the past and not have a future.
And some of the money spent on consultants, Scott says, “has been an exercise in finding more money to save”.
4.35pm. “More than a 100 staff have now exited the ABC … more than 200 redundancies have been approved,” Scott says, in response to a question by Senator Rushton on how the ABC was tracking in terms of its efficiency goals.
“Our overwhelming bias has been to try and save as much money from the support service areas as we can to deal with the funding cut, but to reinvest the content money for the future. A number of those redundancies in the content areas were implemented last year, or have been implemented now. We’re not expecting the content reinvestment money to start flowing until the first of July …
“So the process is underway … And the programming changes, a number of those cme into effect at the end of the programming year.”
Rushton wants, at some point, a briefing on which of the Lewis Review’s efficiency recommendations the ABC was able to implement.
4.32pm. Xenophon puts on notice a question about what material board members received before approving decision to shut down the ABC’s Adelaide division.
Scott assures him it was the same briefing given to the board when it has to make all decisions. Not to be dissuaded, Xenophon wants a question on notice about what documents were given to the board.
“I can tell you Senator that the executives who were responsible for the operation of divisions were very involved in the preparation of the material that went to the board,” Scott says. “As always senator, I look forward to reading your questions on notice and will consider them in detail.”
4.28pm. Xenophon asks Scott about a story by the SMH’s Matthew Knott about two women on maternity leave were asked to fight each other for spots in the ABC’s Hunger Games. He asks whether that’s an appropriate way to run a redundancy program.
“We’ve fulfilled all our obligations undertaken to staff under our industrial agreement in running this process,” Scott says, adding that Fair Work Australia is monitoring the situation and has not stopped the process. “This is the process [the Department of Communications] followed.”
And why not pursue voluntary redundancies? “We have a dual responsibility frankly – we want to look after our staff, but we also need to ensure that the organisation has the skills and the experience left in it so we can still fulfil our obligation to our audiences and taxpayers,” Scott says.
4.20pm. Xenophon moves onto the ratings for the local 7.30s, which he says Scott axed for their poor ratings. He tables information showing they rated very well in West Australia and South Australia.
Scott says he appreciates there are variances in how state-based current affairs will rate. But he says the ABC additionally didn’t want to quarantine coverage of state-based affairs any more. “We should be providing it when the story demands it, and provide appropriate focus on that. This year already, we’ve had 3 extended one-hour bulletins in Queensland …” Xenophon interjects, saying there was an election in Queensland. Scott continues: “We did a special in Tasmania on education policy. We did a special edition on the leadership challenge in the Northern Territory … I can tell you I think that strategy is working.”
Xenophon asks Scott to conceded that on average, the “state-based 7.30 programs out-rated national programs in Western Australia and South Australia”. Scott says he only has aggregated national figures. And anyway, it’s “better to deliver when the story demands it”.
Xenophon asks Scott to table the number of reports filed by state-based current affairs reporters to national programs, to gauge whether 7.30 is filling the gap left by a lack of the local programs.
Scott will also have to answer questions about the 5 hours of American Antiques Roadshow that air on ABC TV in Tasmania, replacing local show The Collectors. Xenophon wants to know if that better serves the ABC charter. Scott says he’ll answer the question on notice, but also that foreign acquisitions are much cheaper than locally-produced programs.
Furthermore, Xenophon wants to know how much it’ll cost to set up TV production in Tasmania, compared to the cost of shutting it down. Scott assures him shutting it down is a “fraction of the cost”.
4.15pm. Mark Scott says the Adelaide redundancies have yet to be finalised. “Some have gone, but others are still working for us.” Xenophon asks if the retrenchments are being done out of Sydney. “It depends,” Scott says, sounding exasperated.
He’s answered almost every question asked by Xenophon so far with an “it depends”.
“I put to you that there are at least 6 senior managers tasked with managing the Adelaide retrenchments,” Xenophon says. Scott says, you guessed it, “it depends”. He says the ABC isn’t organised according to a geographical structure, which makes it hard to reduce things to those terms.
4.14pm. Xenophon wants to know if the ABC has employed two additional producers in Sydney to deal with extra workload caused by Adelaide redundancies, which meant some national bulletins were no longer produced in Adelaide. He puts a question on notice asking if it’s true there’s been no net saving to the ABC from the Adelaide cuts.
4.07pm. Independent senator Nick Xenophon raises the issue of the ABC’s planned digital-only unit. “The savings from Adelaide will be invested into that [online unit],” he says. “Is it true you can produce online from anywhere?”
To an extent, Mark Scott agreed. Xenophon says the CPSU suggested revamping the Adelaide TV production into an online unit. Scott says the question is whether or not the ABC will create an online video unit in the same form as the current TV production capabilities.
Xenophon currently has a bill open for submissions that would force the ABC to employ people in all Australian states and territories.
“Given the mass retrenchments that are planned for Adelaide, why wouldn’t you ensure that online production stayed in South Australia, rather than just going 19 people who have considerable experience,” Xenophon asks.
Mark Scott says the question “assumes we’ll be making video production with internal staff … and in one place.”
Xenophon wants to know if that’s an admission the online production will be outsourced. Scott gives a noncommittal answer.
“I am sympathetic to the issues in South Australia,” Scott says, acknowledging South Australia was hit hardest in the latest cuts. Scott says that when it comes to the ABC’s commissioning of independent production companies, he’s keen to commission companies in all states and territories.
4.05pm. National’s senator John Williams says it’s impossible to be an emergency broadcaster if people can’t hear you. Many of his constituents, he says, have a poor ABC signal. “They chew my ears … and they do really have a strong argument.
“Could your revisit that and give [Inverell] a good signal?”
Scott says he will pursue that with Broadcast Australia and the ACMA.
4.03pm. Mark Scott, unlike Ebeid, does want to make an opening statement. Last week, he says, the ABC was the emergency broadcaster through two cyclones. People were concerned whether, with the cuts, the ABC could remain an effective emergency broadcaster, he says. He lists the huge number of bulletins, live crosses and online coverage generated by both cyclones. “I want to pay tribute to our staff who worked around the clock … Many of our staff had their homes themselves affected and were without power, but worked to deliver their communities the information they needed. I wanted to put on the record my appreciation.”
4pm. We’re back. And quickly too — your correspondent barely had time to finish her coffee. Here’s Mark Scott, facing the committee that’s currently running 2 hours behind schedule.
3.43pm. The committee takes a tea-break until 4pm. When they return, it’ll be the ABC’s Mark Scott facing the committee.
3.41pm. Dastyari tries again. “Mr Ebeid, would I be wrong to assume you met with Mr Greiner?” Rushton says he’s taking liberties. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable,” Dastyari pleads.
“Mr Ebeid, in your capacity as the managing director of SBS, did you meet with Mr Greiner between May and September last year,” Dastyari asks one last time. This time, we get an answer. Ebeid confirms he’s seen Greiner at various functions during the period.
3.37pm. Dastyari wants to know whether, in the period where SBS had no chairman and Ebeid was having coffees with perspective chairs, Ebeid ever spoke to Nick Greiner, who was another name shortlisted by the committee. There’s a long pause, after which Fifield steps in. He says unsuccessful candidates should be entitled to their confidentiality.
Ebeid says it’s unfair on the applicants for him to answer questions about them.
Rushton’s had enough. “You’re now so completely outside the scope of what we do here at estimates,” she says to Dastyari. “If you want to discuss appointment process of the chair, we should put that to the department.”
In Dastyari’s defence, Fifield jokes, the Labor senator always has an obsession at estimates with one chair or other. Rushton gives Dastyari two more minutes. Reluctantly.
3.28pm. Senator Dastyari has the floor again. He wants to check the dates of that extraordinary February 2 meeting again, where Gupta tried to oust Ebeid. The meeting was called on Thursday, he confirms, but Ebeid wasn’t invited until Saturday. “So the initial notice that went out of the meeting wasn’t sent to Mr Ebeid.”
How did Ebeid find out? “I received an email from the chair,” he says.
Ebeid, in response to questioning, says he has a fortnightly meeting with Gupta, usually in person. It can go from anywhere between one to two hours. Did they have a meeting after the February 2 meeting and the one later in the month? “Yes we did,” Ebeid confirms, on Wednesday the 18th of February. He says nothing about the contract was discussed.
Chair Rushton’s unhappy with the line of questioning. Meetings between a chairman and his managing director “is not a matter for the committee … it’s not something you reasonably should be asking.”
3.24pm. “We can’t afford to tell Australian stories through drama anymore — it’s too expensive,” Ebeid says, in a long answer about the future of SBS. A sad reality for Australian TV producers.
3.16pm. Senator Sinodinos takes the floor. He’s concerned there’s a leak on the board. “Has the board constituted an inquiry to [uncover] how this information has been conveyed to Ms Markson,” Sinodinos asks, referring to the Australian’s media editor Sharri Markson, who along with Michael Bodey has been breaking the stories about ructions on the SBS board.
Ebeid says there’s always chatter with a public organisation. “This is beyond chatter,” Sinodinos says. “It’s very detailed.” He asks whether this would have been discussed at a management level.
“It’s unfair to say this is a board leak,” Ebeid says. “It could have come from a number of areas.”
Has Ebeid started inquiries about who had contact with Markson? Ebeid confirms he has, unsuccessfully. He also says, in response to questioning, that he hasn’t had contact with Markson himself. Sinodinos is basically asking whether Ebeid planted the stories himself.
“What steps have you taken to stop leaks in the future,” Sinodinos asks. “We are a media organisation,” Ebeid protests. He says his organisation has been “extremely good at not having any leaks last year throughout the budget process.”
On Twitter, Markson isn’t impressed. “There should be an investigation into how a Liberal donor, Nihal Gupta, was appointed SBS chair not an inquiry into my stories,” she tweets.
3.15pm. Last estimate hearing, Ludlam described this dilemma as “extortion”, saying the minor parties were being forced to pass the advertising changes otherwise saddle SBS with a greater budget cut. He seems to be confirming this is how it will work.
He’s picking up this thread now.
“How advanced is your plan B planning,” Ludlam asks Ebeid. “I think you have to start thinking very seriously about that funding being taken off the table.”
“It’s in your hands,” Rushton remarks. “No, it’s in the Minister’s hands,” Ludlam says. “I don’t like having a gun put to my head … Pass my bill or the broadcaster gets it.”
3.06pm. Ludlam confirms that due to the ad changes, SBS projects it’ll secure an extra $9 million in advertising a year. Is that equivalent to the budget cut, he asks.
Ebeid responds: “The way its modelled is so it’s a net zero.” So no change. Ludlam notes that if SBS is better at selling ads than it anticipates, that’s an incentive. Ebeid says that’s his understanding.
And if SBS doesn’t make its ad budget, or if parliament doesn’t pass the bill? It’ll have to cut content, Ebeid says, given the changes in the Lewis Efficiency Review the organisation has already implemented. “I’m very confident there’s very little left to cut [outside of that].”
Ludlam asks whether, if the bill doesn’t pass, the budget cut will be passed onto SBS. “It’s my understanding that the $9 million has already come out of our forward estimates,” Ebeid says. Has he spoken to the minister about it? “If it doesn’t pass, we’ll have to have another conversation about what the organisation and the government will do.”
3.04pm. Greens senator Scott Ludlam wants to know when the government plans to introduce the SBS advertising bill. He puts the question to Fifield, the manager of government business in the senate. Fifield doesn’t want to answer.
Ludlam says he’d expect it to be passed before the budget.
3.01pm. Dastyari wants to know if Ebeid had any indication the current or previous government was not supportive of his role as a director. Fifield says it’s inappropriate to ask Ebeid that. “The government is, through the board, the employer of the managing director, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask the MD to comment on his employer.”
Rushton interjects to say that perhaps these questions are better put to the Department, whose representatives will be on later tonight.
2.58pm. Dastyari takes a different approach. He tables a question in the form of a paragraph from The Australian, asking whether it’s accurate to describe Gupta as the Oz did: a man lacking in appropriate experience whose rise is linked to that of former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell. Fifield isn’t inclined to take on notice a question in the form of a newspaper article. Eventually he agrees to provide the committee with a backgrounder on Gupta’s credentials.
2.50pm. Dastyari asks Ebeid how Gupta describes himself when the two first met. Ebeid says they weren’t meeting about his qualifications. This line of questioning is about claims, also in The Australian, that Gupta vastly inflated his qualifications for the role.
Dastyari asks whether Gupta ever said he had 200 people working for him in a company called DECA (short for Digital Electronics Corporation Australia). Ebeid says he can’t recall. Fifield warns the committee to be careful to be careful about asking a managing director to provide a commentary on the chairman of his organisation to preserve the relationship. Dastyari responds that the relationship is the point of his line of questioning. But he agrees to back off.
“We are building a productive working relationship …” Ebeid begins, but Dastyari’s having none of it. “Last month he tried to sack you.”
2.49pm. Should Gupta front up to estimates? Dastyari thinks he should. “I know a meeting will have to be held to discuss this, but I believe we have to call Mr Gupta here. There are questions only Mr Gupta can answer.”
Ebeid says that’s uncommon. Mitch Fifield, there representing Turnbull, says it would be highly irregular for Mr Gupta to appear. Dastyari is arguing it’s unfair to ask Ebeid to answer for his chairman. Chairperson Rushton wants it put on the record that Gupta was not requested to appear, but confirms she’ll take the matter to a private meeting of the committee.
2.46pm. Did the minister Malcolm Turnbull know about this meeting? Did Ebeid speak to him?
“I’m sure there would have been discussions over that weekend, yes,” Ebeid confirms to Dastyari.
Dastyari apologises for putting Ebeid in an uncomfortable position. “Too late,” Ebeid says.
2.44pm. Dastyari wants to know whether any lobbying occurred between board members. Ebeid is very reluctant to get into that. But he confirms the board unanimously confirmed his term at the end of the meeting.
“Under our Act I’m not supposed to be involved in deliberations of my appointment.”
2.36pm. Dastyari wants to know how SBS board members call board meetings. He secures from Ebeid confirmation of an unscheduled board meeting on the 2nd of Febuary. He also secures from Ebeid confirmation that SBS hasn’t had an unscheduled board meeting for many years.
The million-dollar question: “Why was there a need for a special meeting?”
Ebeid: “It’s totally normal for a board to call as many meetings as they need to run the organisation. The purpose of that meeting was to discuss my renewal as managing director. My four-year term expires this year. The board, especially the chair, wanted to call a meeting to discuss my tenure for a new term.”
Dastyari confirms that there was already a meeting planned 18 days later. And Ebeid’s term isn’t up for renewal until June. So why have the meeting?
“That’s the discretion of the chairman, and he called the board meeting,” Ebeid says.
Dastyari wants to know if there was any other agenda item discussed at the meeting. Company secretary Peter Khalil confirms there were no other items.
This all confirms Michael Bodey’s story in The Australian the Monday before last. You can read it here.
Dastyari then asks when board members knew of the meeting. Ebeid had only three days notice before the meeting (he found out on Saturday, the meeting was on Monday). “That’s just alarming,” Dastyari says, before saying he won’t get into commentary now. He says they need to bring Gupta in to answer questions.
2.31pm. Dastyari moves onto questions about the SBS chairman. He confirms new chairman Nihal Gupta is on the board, and asks what the process is for calling an SBS board meeting. He appears to be asking around Gupta’s reported attempt to remove Ebeid earlier this year.
“We have scheduled board meetings, dates are set. We traditionally have 6 a year, and another day where we look at strategy and direction for the next 12 months. On top of that, the chairman has the ability and discretion to call a board meeting at any stage.”
Dastyari asks when was the first time Ebeid sat down with Gupta.
“Before it was formally announced I had met with Mr Gupta once earlier in the year — in May,” Ebeid says. But he rejects that he’d been foreshadowed as chairman at that point, saying the government selection panel hadn’t even been formed then.
Dastyari asks isn’t satisfied, asking why Ebeid was meeting with Gupta so early. “During the period of not having a chair, some people were expressing an interest in the role. Many people reached out to me to ask me about the organisation … I met many people who were interested in the role — Mr Gupta was one.” After this, Ebeid says, he didn’t meet with Gupta until he was appointed.
2.27pm. Senator Dastyari asks how many languages SBS broadcasts in. Ebeid responds: 74. Dastyari commends SBS on the work they do in welcoming and integrating new communities into Australia. The Vatican’s Voice of God station has 34 languages, the BBC has 37, Ebeid adds. Ebeid confirms that no other broadcaster does as many languages as SBS does.
Dastyari: “So you’re twice the voice of God”. Dastyari made exactly the same joke last time SBS faced estimates.
Dasyari asks whether it’s SBS’ role to combat the more extremist Arabic broadcasts available to Australians. “Absolutely,” Ebeid says. “That’s why the community does like us — we focus on being an independent and unbiased reporting network.”
2.19pm. SBS about to start. Managing director Michael Ebeid nominates to go straight into questions. The first, from Senator Anne Rushton, on the advertising changes. She asks how much money SBS makes from TV advertising currently. Ebeid responds: $50 million a year. Making $200 million extra over five years, as the commercial networks claim SBS will from more ads in prime time, is “not realistic.”
“The thing we struggle with at SBS is our fill-rate. Our fill-rate can vary during the day and night depending on demand. We’re rarely ever full of our 5 minutes per hour. So our ability to double that 5 minutes is particularly unrealistic, especially from day one. In our modelling, we build that up over 5 years,” Ebeid says.
“The other thing it’s important to note … what this proposal is looking to do is to give us flexibility during the day, not to increase the number of ads on SBS. It still limits SBS to 120 minutes a day, compared to commercial networks who have 360 minutes a day. We’re not even close to full.”
Rushton: “So what you’re saying is we’re comparing apples with bananas?” “Absolutely,” Ebeid responds.
1.53pm. While we’re waiting for the ACMA portion of the estimates to finish, here’s a bit of a preview.
With SBS, you can expect Senators to focus on the new advertising legislation the government should be tabling any week now. A loosening on how many ads SBS can air per hour (though not an increase in the daily total), it’s expected to bring more money into SBS’ coffers at the expense of the commercial networks, who are furious at having to pick up the cost of SBS budget cuts.
It would also be surprising if no questions were put about SBS’ controversial new chairman. The Australian has been leading an investigation into his credentials, which appear a lot flimsier now than they did when he was first appointed. SBS chairs are appointed for fixed five-year terms, but Labor’s communications spokesman isn’t happy with the appointment. Two weeks ago The Australian also reported on Gupta having tried to out SBS’s managing director. SBS refused to give reporters very much in terms of either a confirmation or denial of the allegations — you can expect the Senators to try to get to the bottom of what happened.
ABC estimates appearances have always tended to deal with questions of bias and the suitability of coverage. But the impact of budget cuts, which have resulted in over a hundred journalists already leaving the organisation, will surely also get an airing.