Michael Ebeid

 SBS boss Michael Ebeid

When SBS Comedy was shut down last month, many wondered if the site was the victim of political pressure. But according to the multicultural broadcaster, not a single politician ever sent a complaint about SBS Comedy. 

The site was shut down last month after SBS boss Michael Ebeid flagged a restructure of websites in Senate estimates in May:

“We have gone through to work out what pages are working well, what are not, what pages are contributing to our charter, what are not and what pages are simply there, as you say, to be able to bring in traffic to then cross-promote our other on-charter work, because that is incredibly important in the overall mix of what we do … We will be making some changes internally with our structure.”

According to responses from SBS to questions on notice released last week, two full-time staff did not have their contracts renewed when the decision to shutter the site was made. The official reason for shutting down the Comedy site was to do with an increased focus on video rather than written content.

Crikey filed a freedom of information request for any written complaints or records of complaints from any politicians regarding the content on SBS Comedy, and late last week, the company responded that it had no records of any complaints dating back to its launch in 2014. 

In response to a question on notice, SBS did say it had received one complaint over the past year from a company featured in one of SBS Comedy’s satirical articles, but that upon investigation, SBS found that the article wasn’t in breach of the SBS editorial code.

SBS Comedy made up 3.7% of all of the web traffic SBS received in May this year.

The public broadcaster has also been forced to defend its relationship with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and CEO Alan Joyce’s public advocacy for marriage equality in several responses to pointed questions from conservative Liberal Senator Eric Abetz.

Abetz asked why SBS ran the SBS Sexuality page, to which SBS responded that it brought the issues of the LGBTI minority “to a wider audience” and was in line with the SBS charter. Abetz also asked how much it cost to broadcast the Mardi Gras parade, which SBS declined to reveal on commercial-in-confidence grounds, but said it was in line with the average cost of entertainment programming.

The right-wing senator also filed a freedom of information request for emails between Ebeid and lobby group Australian Marriage Equality in which the lobby group asked for Ebeid’s support for marriage equality. The FOI request was denied; in response to a question on notice, SBS said all 66 emails between the two organisations were found to be personal emails and therefore would not be released under FOI law.

 

Correction: This article originally stated the SBS Sexuality portal had been shut down. That was incorrect.

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