SBS Responds

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David Ingram’s suggestion on newmatilda.com that until his address to the Murdoch University conference last month SBS Managing Director Shaun Brown has consistently "downplayed SBS’s multicultural credentials" is blatantly incorrect and frankly offensive.

Shaun Brown was appointed managing director of SBS in 2006 and since that time has delivered many speeches, made public statements and formal applications to the Government outlining the need for SBS and its unique multicultural services to be adequately funded. If David hasn’t read SBS’s most recent Triennial Funding Submission or its submission to the Australian Government’s review into public broadcasting, he could try a simple Google search or visit SBS’s website to turn up volumes of evidence of Shaun Brown’s advocacy on behalf of SBS, all clearly tied to the purposes outlined in the Charter.

For example, in 2007 Shaun addressed the National Press Club in Canberra outlining the need for SBS’s services to be expanded to meet the evolving needs of Australia’s multicultural society. At the Sydney Institute in 2008, he presented two sets of independent research commissioned by SBS showing the changing nature of the culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) community in Australia and outlining how CALD communities in Australia have a deep engagement with SBS’s content.

It is true that Shaun has acknowledged that SBS has been unable to serve some communities as it should. He did so in the recent speeches David Ingram cites, but even this is not a new position as the same points were made last year at the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) conference in Shepparton. One would have thought an honest admission of shortcomings would be welcomed not derided.

These comments reflect the fact that shortages of resources, rapidly changing demographics and technological limitations have long constrained SBS’s ability to adequately meet the needs of language communities — particularly those in high need — across all of our platforms.

David Ingram would know first-hand of those constraints considering he was part of the SBS Radio senior management team from 1994 until 2007. Sadly, during the time when he could have influenced SBS services, David was part of a team that steadfastly refused to change the schedule or the nature of the service to meet the evolving needs of CALD communities.

David completely fails to acknowledge the many positive steps SBS has taken under Shaun Brown’s leadership. They include the launch of SBS Two, a service that is almost entirely in languages other than English; the expansion of the WorldWatch news service; the relaunch of dozens of in-language websites; the expansion of SBS Radio via self-help and digital radio services; and significant investment in original TV content that tells the story of multicultural Australia.

Clearly David Ingram has a gripe against SBS. He can see nothing positive at all and uses his status as a former SBS executive to denigrate the network and spread patent untruths: he says ratings are at an all time low when in fact they are at or close to all time highs; he claims revenues are declining when they have grown year on year for the past several years, even in the face of the recent downturn in the advertising market; and he repeats an old furphy that money has been ripped out of radio to be invested in television.

Bizarrely, he lays into Stvdio, SBS’s new subscription arts channel, before it had even launched, and declares it a betrayal of what SBS stands for, when in fact it will show a wide range of international and Australian programming that aligns with the SBS charter and generate a profit to be reinvested in SBS free-to-air services.

SBS is an important institution that deserves to be the subject of considered debate. Where there are failings they should be acknowledged or pointed out. Its successes also deserve to be celebrated. It does the readers of newmatilda.com no service to be fed a diet of bile and misinformation in the guise of informed opinion.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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