TV & Radio

Feb 10, 2016

Is it time to get rid of SBS?

Talk of a merger between the ABC and SBS has intensified following Mark Scott's appearance at Senate estimates yesterday. But those who love SBS fear the two would "merge" the way a shark merges with a mackerel.

Myriam Robin — Media Reporter

Myriam Robin

Media Reporter

Has SBS’ time come? ABC boss Mark Scott appears to think so, describing the multicultural broadcaster as an “analogue solution in a digital world” at Senate estimates yesterday. In a world of multichannels, he said, there was no reason to produce multicultural content with an entirely separate network.

A solution to this redundancy could be to merge our public broadcasters, and in fact suggestions SBS be made part of the ABC go a long way back — well before the rise of digital television. SBS was originally intended to operate as part of the ABC, until then-prime minister Malcolm Fraser grew convinced then-ABC management’s heart wasn’t in it. But ABC executives and board members in particular have floated the suggestion of a merger from time to time. Those within SBS firmly reject it, as former chairman Joe Skrzynski did at the National Press Club in 2014.

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16 thoughts on “Is it time to get rid of SBS?

  1. Roger Clifton

    Conversely, there is a case for SBS to take over the ABC. ABC management is shamelessly British in its programming bias and staffing policy, so it’s time for a new mob at the top. Modern schoolkids have no idea why there is a Union Jack in the corner of The Flag, yet they are tomorrow’s audience for our public broadcaster.

    Those subtitles are marvellous for me. No matter what noise is going on, I can still read what the faces are saying. Perhaps SBS could put subtitles under the unintelligible regional British programs and sell them back into Europe where 2ELs would appreciate a good program in an international form of the language. Perhaps Brits from other regions would appreciate the cleaned-up version too.

  2. Chris Cathel

    Merging the two would allow commercial advertising on the ABC. Then the ABC would be more sensitive to big business and its budget could be reduced.

    A win-win situation – at least for the Liberal Party.

    Who then would shine a light on back room dealing?

  3. morebento

    SBS’ move away from its ethnic focus has been detrimental to migrant communities. I would like to see it multicast further with more non-English content and non-Anglosphere focus. Perhaps an alliance with Al-Jazeera. As for the ABC, it should be broken up into smaller stations with more multi-casting. It is far too Anglo-centric, both culturally and politically, and likewise is too oriented to Sydney and Melbourne. The loss of the Adelaide studios was terrible.

  4. Lee Tinson

    As an older white Australian male, I spend on average maybe 6 or 7 hours a week with SBS, and thoroughly enjoy every minute of it.

    Looking at its timetable, I see material (for example, foreign news) scheduled for a large quantity of every day. Recently, SBS showed Shameless, an English show. This show (amongst others) points out just how foreign and exotic (and multicultural) England can be and I’m sure SBS regards it in that light.

    So one could argue that much of their English-speaking programming is actually helping to fulfill their charter.

    Seriously, though, SBS shows an enormous quantity of material of a kind that ABC never has and never would. A merger would, in time, put a stop to that I think, because ABC and SBS have distinctly different jobs to do. They both perform magnificently, I think, and this is despite various governments but particularly the current pernicious one attacking them relentlessly and defunding them towards a slow death.

    Just quickly on Newman’s comments: what he actually believes is that just one public broadcaster is one too many.

  5. Laurie Patton

    A merger between the ABC and SBS would simply create a large divided and dysfunctional organisation and do good. Even if you think either or both are unwieldy and in need of reform a merger is just not the way to go. For sure, there are opportunities to decrease the overall operating costs of the public broadcasters by combining some of their technical “back end” functions. But that’s as far as it should go.

    SBS’s image problems go back a few years to a board that tried to make it a fourth commercial network. Michael Ebeid has gone some way to redressing the programming imbalance, but arguably not far enough.

    SBS took over NITV a few years back, but only reluctantly and under pressure. It should have embraced the idea from the outset. Community television is on the way out for lack of spectrum yet SBS had spare capacity but wouldn’t do the right thing and make space available. Where else should community TV be housed but at the Special Broadcasting Service?

    SBS needs a new Statement of Expectations from the Minister yanking it back firmly to its core purpose.

    As for the ABC, it has charted a new course under Mark Scott that has set it up well for survival in the Internet age. However, like all broadcasters, public and commercial, it needs to be very careful when deciding its next steps. Becoming mired in what would be a very fetid dispute with the supporters of SBS would be extremely unwise.

  6. zut alors

    Hands off public broadcasting, full stop.

    This is an area which the Oz taxpayer doesn’t begrudge funding & which delivers value for money.

  7. Laurie Patton

    Obviously I meant: a large divided and dysfunctional organisation and do NO good.

  8. Norman Hanscombe

    Merging the ABC / SBS empires should be the first of numerous changes needed; but it’s understandable the Crikey Commissariat doesn’t want anything as rational as that being done, isn’t it.

  9. AR

    I believe that the ABC/SBS audience to be exceptionally homogeneous – with for the exception of the ethnic & sport elements which is unique – and most of them make no distinction, quality oprogramming is quality programming.
    Even when it’s not, it’s still orders of magnitude superior to the commercial channels.

  10. Chris Cathel

    ” it’s still orders of magnitude superior to the commercial channels.”

    So why should the public pay to undermine the audiences and profitability of commercial channels?

    Let me count the ways!

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