A day after it announced a deal with American youth broadcaster VICE, SBS has been slammed from moving away from its multicultural and multilingual roots.
The Australian is today reporting that the public broadcaster is under fire for adopting a commercial strategy over its “multilingual and multicultural radio, television and digital media services” that reflect multicultural Australian society.
Meanwhile, a group called Save Our SBS also appears unhappy with the editorial direction. Over the weekend it posted a statement to its website that read: “Why is the ABC occasionally broadcasting programs that on the face of it appear more suited to SBS, and why is SBS much of the time shying away from its Charter obligations?
“Clearly the ABC is capitalising on SBS’s self-abandonment of their Charter in favour of wider appeal to advertisers. While advertising revenue may seem additional revenue to the dominant funding SBS receives from the public purse, it is not. It is instead of public funding, ultimately to the detriment of SBS.”
The Oz is reporting that former ABC chairman Maurice Newman has said the broadcaster has “run out reasons to exist” and should have its public funding cut as it has virtually become a commercial broadcaster. Newman said the SBS should be folded into the ABC or become a subscription channel.
Others too have questioned the VICE agreement, arguing it was odd that a multicultural broadcaster was taking content – primarily aimed at young men – from a US affiliate.
“I wouldn’t criticise them for taking programs from around the world, but why you would take your feed from the United States is not immediately apparent to me,” said former ABC chairman, Donald McDonald.
While another ABC boss, David Hill, said the agreement highlighted the difficulty in funding two public broadcasters and, he believed, both the ABC and SBS should be merged into the one organisation.
In February this year, the then boss of the ABC, Mark Scott, echoed the comments saying that SBS could no longer claim it was a multicultural broadcaster and should merge with the ABC. “In a way, the core tenets of SBS when it was established — which was to provide multicultural broadcasting — I suspect the SBS of today, which is more general interest broadcasting, means the difference between the two broadcasters is not as distinct as it was.”
Scott’s comments could be read as a veiled dig at SBS boss Michael Obeid who, interestingly, was said to be in-line for Scott’s own job before it was awarded to Michelle Guthrie in December.
Unlike the ABC, commercial advertising has run on the SBS for some time now. The broadcaster – who has had its budgets slashed by federal governments in recent times – has argued for more ad space, particularly during prime time. However, the request has constantly been vetoed down by the Senate who argue that it’s contrary to its public funding. While the other free-to-air players – Seven, Nine and Ten – are, understandably, none to happy that SBS is going after its piece of the advertising pie and have actively campaigned against any extra ads at the broadcaster.