Outgoing ABC managing director Mark Scott has used his final appearance at a Senate Estimates committee to question if Australia needs two government-funded broadcasters and suggested that the SBS should be merged into the ABC.
Scott – who’s to be replaced by Google executive Michelle Guthrie in April – used his appearance in front of the politicians to have a dig at his smaller, multicultural sibling claiming it was broadcasting far less subtitled content than it had done over the past 10 or 20 years.
Earlier in the day the Estimates Committee also heard from SBS boss Michael Obeid who’d expressed his disappointment that the ABC had decided to run its Foreign Correspondent program at the same time SBS’s premier current affairs show Dateline was airing.
The ABC had also bid for the rights to last January’s Asian Cup Football tournament, a move that reportedly infuriated the football-loving SBS.
Interestingly, the affable Obeid was a frontrunner for Scott’s job although his candidacy was overlooked as the ABC reportedly wanted a woman in the role and subsequently recruited Google’s Guthrie.
Obeid said all of SBS’s “audience and revenue numbers have met all our budget numbers to date… the audience numbers have exceeded our expectations to date.”
SBS runs four TV channels and some 70 radio broadcasts in different languages.
However, Scott countered saying be believed SBS was increasingly losing its multicultural flavour and was instead chasing audience numbers and ad dollars.
Scott added: “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 inferred that Obeid had moved SBS away from its own charter and SBS2 had deliberately chased a younger, English-speaking audience in direct competition to ABC2’s programming.
“These are different organisations that operate under different charters to different boards and in practice the co-operation from time to time is challenging.
“SBS was created well before digitisation, well before digital television … it’s an analogue solution in a digital world. When Foxtel wants to run new discrete channels, they don’t create entire new networks around it,” he said.