SBS has started the unenviable task of finding a replacement for departing managing director Michael Ebeid, who announced his resignation earlier this month. Ebeid spent seven years in the role after a surprise appointment from his previous role as a corporate strategist at the ABC.
Optus’ World Cup disaster was SBS’ gain this year, but the change comes at a difficult time for the network. Commercial networks are baying for changes to the SBS charter in submissions to the competitive neutrality inquiry. They want SBS On Demand (the online catch-up service), advertising share, and television content rules to be overhauled by rewriting the charter.
And the job isn’t made any easier by the number of stakeholders with competing interests in the broadcaster. We asked some of those who know SBS best what would be one criterion they would like from the new managing director.
Steve Aujard – Save Our SBS president
It’s essential to recognise the large body of evidence from different studies which repeatedly show in-program advertising has conflicted SBS away from its charter obligations, so if the new MD is incapable of at least returning SBS to the pre-2006 model, where ads were between programs only — and not in them — then we don’t want that person. No ads would be ideal, but that’s a big ask.
It is very important SBS find someone with a strong public broadcasting ethos — who puts viewers before advertisers — and is committed to SBS scheduling niche and diverse multicultural and multilingual content, especially in primetime, so it looks noticeably different from the ABC and commercial media.
A good MD will listen to, and act on, advice from key stakeholders like Save Our SBS.
Denise Eriksen – Monash University Documentaries producer, Australian International Documentary Conference co-chair, The New Daily TV writer
S/he needs to be a clone of Michael Ebeid, and ensure the continuing survival of Australia’s most exciting and innovative public and commercial broadcaster. Michael Ebeid has played a skilful political game, settled on a clear interpretation of SBS’ charter and enabled his team to deliver on that vision.
His successor has a solid platform to build on. SBS On Demand is a market leader and provides a window on the world with its international, in-language content. With strong nurturing, the television, radio and news platforms will continue to grow.
The key criterion for the new leader? Don’t stuff it up. It’s not broken. Don’t “fix” it.
Matthew Deaner – Screen Producers Australia CEO
SBS has a strong tradition in telling distinctive, diverse stories that many other broadcasters won’t or can’t tell. Most recently under Michael Ebeid, this tradition — which has been mostly in factual television — has translated into high-quality Australian drama and children’s television. Dramas such as Safe Harbour and Indigenous children’s television such as Little J and Big Cuz bring parts of Australia to the screen that have been neglected by others.
I would hope an incoming managing director will continue to see value in these stories and invest further in this successful storytelling with the independent production sector.
Andrew Jakubowicz – University of Technology Sydney sociology professor, former SBS board member
Multiculturalism in Australia is under major threat, so Ebeid’s replacement will need to be aware of the range and nuances of the factors that help or hinder social cohesion in multicultural Australia, while being committed to its advancement. She will need to be adventurous and brave, as she will face an imminent attack from the commercial forces of News Corp and Fairfax, the commercial channels, cable and FT, as well as the threatened ABC.
This attack from competitors in media will be exacerbated by the attack from opponents of multiculturalism (including elements of News Corp). The new CEO will need to understand the way in which public opinion is shaped, and the way in which complex and multiple identities can be best tended.
What would you like to see out of the new managing director? Let us know at [email protected].