30 Jun 2011

SBS To Go Back To Where It Came From?

By David Ingram
Once the thinking person's pick for TV news and current affairs, SBS lost its way under outgoing MD Shaun Brown - but the change of guard means there's some hope for the network yet, writes David Ingram
The departure of Shaun Brown as managing director of SBS brings closure on an era the national broadcaster and many of its supporters may wish to forget.

The collapse of the house of cards SBS had become began 18 months ago with the replacement of chairman Carla Zampatti by Joseph Skrzynki and is completed by the ascension of Brown's successor Michael Ebeid, though as these two undertake the process of rebuilding the multicultural broadcaster, observers might care to remember that Brown's tenure too began with fanfare and high hopes.

Admittedly, when Brown crossed the Tasman in 2003 to become Head of SBS TV he trailed behind him the whiff of controversy from his time at TVNZ, but as he stepped into the shoes of the affable but increasingly undermined Nigel Milan — also a British-born media man who'd served time in New Zealand — Brown was welcomed inside and outside the organisation as a hands-on journalist who seemed prepared to listen and learn.

That impression proved to be superficial, but in his first months as head of TV Brown brought a fresh breeze into the charged atmosphere of the corporation's Artarmon headquarters, where his predecessor Peter Cavanagh had been fighting a rear-guard action against the board's wishes to introduce advertising within programs, rather than between programs as had been the practice to-date.

Brown proved far more compatible to the commercially minded Zampatti board and within six months of his taking over the reins as managing director in 2006, the board approved in-program advertising. Though this was a commercially common-sense decision, the move lost the broadcaster many loyal viewers and much support. Recriminations continue to this day.

But in attempting to understand Brown and the damage he wrought on SBS, the Thoi Su controversy was probably just as significant.

When, within months of joining SBS as head of TV, he began broadcasting a program provided by the Vietnamese state broadcaster VTV, Brown was genuinely shocked by the virulent opposition from the Australian Vietnamese community. They protested in their thousands in Sydney and Melbourne that the Thoi Su program was pure Communist propaganda and they pulled out all the political and publicity stops to get it taken off air. Brown felt no-one should dictate what SBS broadcast and was deeply unhappy when the board decided to drop the program. The decision was made all the more unpalatable as Brown suspected behind-the-scenes manipulation by his executive rival Quang Luu, the Vietnamese-born head of SBS's more community-based radio division.

Brown's actions over the following years suggest he would never again place himself in a position where anyone inside or outside SBS — other than the board — would tell him what to do.

Brown never forgot the lesson of Thoi Su. One of his first actions on becoming managing director was to dismantle the radio division, ostensibly under a corporate restructuring but effectively placing the staff and budgets of radio news, operations and publicity into departments headed by his TV managers. Within six months, Luu retired after 17 years.

Despite Brown then assuring radio staff at a mass meeting that Luu's successor would be someone with broadcasting experience, the board appointed Paula Masselos, someone with no significant broadcasting or senior management experience in a large organisation. In doing so, they passed over more suitable and better qualified internal candidates of non-English speaking backgrounds, senior managers who had worked with the departed Luu. Predictably, Masselos's tenure was not a success and she spent the final six months of her contract at home. But by that time, the damage had been done, all the division's senior managers had left and SBS radio was a shadow of its glory days under Luu.

It is impossible to know whether the Thoi Su incident also fatally coloured Brown's opinions of Australian multiculturalism — of which he'd had little experience in New Zealand — but his actions over subsequent years did nothing to stem the criticism that he had moved the country's second national broadcaster in a more populist mainstream direction, away from its multicultural charter.

Most tellingly, in a 2006 speech quoted in the book The SBS Story, he summed up his interpretation of the word "all" in the SBS Charter, stating: "By charging us with the responsibility to reach out to all Australians the Charter ensures that SBS must not and cannot be defined by its audience."

Brown did briefly attempt to mend the rift this policy engendered between SBS and its multicultural stakeholders by appointing the charismatic and well-connected Ukrainian/Canadian/Australian radio division executive Olya Booyar as his link to the ethnic communities, but communications deteriorated again after she left to become deputy director of the Classification Board.

More public manifestations of internal and external disquiet came with the replacement of many experienced managers by lesser men — and Brown's senior executives have been overwhelmingly Anglo males — and the loss of key on-air talent. While Brown said in a recent interview in The Australian that the loss of experienced broadcasters — such as newsreader Mary Kostakidis and the movie show's David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz — had opened the door for younger people, it did nothing either to quell criticism that SBS was dumbing down or to boost its ratings by a significant degree.

While Brown and his executives claim to have grown audiences, the 20 per cent share increase of which they boast is off a small, single-digit base and represents capturing an extra one out of every hundred viewers watching free-to-air television in the five main capital city markets. And this during a decade when the taxpayer pumped almost $75-million into extending SBS's hitherto notoriously poor signal. In 2004, SBS's analogue programs could be received by only 80 per cent of homes. By 2009-10, this figure had increased to 97 per cent of homes, undermining the old excuse that the main impediment to viewing was poor reception.

Added to the relaxation of the advertising limits, extensive job shedding, outsourcing and other cuts and the offloading of much of the multicultural burden of the charter, SBS should have been able to do much better than it did. The board under Zampatti and Brown had turned a small but much admired national broadcaster into a commercial TV network massively subsidised by taxpayers — all for a few paltry points of audience growth.

To be fair, they were at the time mostly following the wishes of the Howard government to make SBS pay its way and downplay multiculturalism — a concept Howard publicly disparaged. But to suffer so much for so little benefit seemed to many knowledgeable observers a sign of poor governance.

All this is not so say SBS hasn't managed to make some great programs under Brown, though it should be pointed out that while the excellent East-West 101 and Go Back to Where You Came From were commissioned under him, other programs trumpeted in the fawning Australian article such as Remote Area Nurse and First Australians were conceived under his predecessors. And there were many flops and thousands of hours of forgettable programs in between.

Its once-famous television news service — while still being more professional than the other commercial broadcasters and more stimulating than the ABC — has been badly compromised by the inability of SBS executives to recognise that the absolute and sometimes painful honesty admired in their on-air news programs had to be reflected by their own behaviour in other areas of corporate life if the whole was not to be tainted. But driven by commercial imperatives, protecting 'the Brand' at all costs became a way of life. Obfuscation, denial and spin became kings at SBS and everyone suffered as a consequence.

Only towards the end — with Skrzynski's accession and the appointment of two new board directors of non-English speaking backgrounds — did Brown seem to rediscover the value of multiculturalism. But by then it was too late.

In the end, of course, the saddest thing about Brown's tenure at SBS is that by making him managing director the SBS board kept the door closed on someone better who might have been able to successfully navigate the trials and turmoils of the Howard years, the global financial crisis and the apparently uncaring attitude of Labor without damaging the corporation.

Perhaps the best one can say of the Zampatti/Brown era is that at least SBS survives. Hopefully Skrzynski and Ebeid can now do the job their predecessors were charged with several years ago.

 

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Worker
Posted Thursday, June 30, 2011 - 14:15

Thank you for this outstanding article David. Your insight and truthful observations reflect what many insiders know is the real story of SBS. Even though the damage seems well and truly done, now that Brown and Zampatti have finally gone there is at least some hope. It will take a minor miracle to make SBS a functional organisation again, but there are people willing to work towards making it happen. Thank you for your continued support of our special public broadcaster.

James-ONeill
Posted Thursday, June 30, 2011 - 15:13

I am afraid the rot goes even deeper than David says in this very thoughful and useful article. The world news at 6.30 very often sounds like little more than a propaganda outlet for the latest in Anglo-American imperialism, with Afghanistan and Libya only two of the more recent examples.

Even when the news is read by one of the generally excellent newsreaders the script makes one wince such is the naivety, ignorance and trumpet blowing that emerges.

The documentary section also produces some particularly egregious examples of bias and ignorance not overcome by late night reruns of John Pilger. Who would know from watching SBS that the whole Warren Commission fable had been discredited by the US government appointed ARRB in the 1990s? Or that articles have appeared in scientific peer reviewed journals demonstrating conclusively that the three world trade centre towers in New York were brought down in 2001 with the aid of nano-thermite?

There are many many other examples, but these illustrate David's point that SBS has sunk to a deep low from which it may never recover.

redact
Posted Thursday, June 30, 2011 - 15:23

"He left a management position at SBS in 2007"

Says it all, really

wideEyedPupil
Posted Thursday, June 30, 2011 - 15:59

"Even when the news is read by one of the generally excellent newsreaders the script makes one wince such is the naivety, ignorance and trumpet blowing that emerges."

Yes, and the newsreader non-anglo celtic faces are the last trace of 'multicultural broadcasting' on SBS1. SBS2 is running lots of foreign language movies which was part of the original SBS brief so that's a positive.

Who would ever have guess SBS would stoop to running McDonald's ads infinitum and petrol head TV on weekends. First Law of Marketing: all bow to the dollar, it is the supreme measure of everything. It's clear the global Marketing conspiracy executed a rout at SBS HQ with the shift to in program advertising to this outsider.

Great article. Wish this was talked about more. SBS _was_ a model TV network. I don't care if SBS never makes another local drama again, just boot the Marketers out of the comfy chairs with head-rests.

Worker
Posted Friday, July 1, 2011 - 10:01

"redact 30/06/11 3:23PM
“He left a management position at SBS in 2007”

Says it all, really"

Sorry redact, what exactly are you insinuating? It says to me that David has experiential knowledge of the inner workings of SBS. What exactly does it say to you?

Annepals
Posted Friday, July 1, 2011 - 12:00

Let's look at the viewers' experience. SBS News and current affairs provide content and presentation of the highest standards.
But to cut wonderful programs like Shameless, Oz and James in California and no doubt many others before the series end, and then replace them by completely lame and stupid programs like facejack or lindey and blair is unforgivable. I'm surprised how little is written about this. Perhaps journalist don't follow tv series

This user is a New Matilda supporter. aussiegreg
Posted Friday, July 1, 2011 - 12:27

Yep, James-ONeill, let's have more conspiracy theories on SBS News -- just the thing to improve the willingness of the 90% of Australians who don't ever watch SBS to see hundreds of millions of their tax dollars pay for it each year!

metrodora
Posted Friday, July 1, 2011 - 14:26

O dear aussiegreg. That argument died out years ago. You still believe taxpayer money only goes to public broadcasters? What about the $250-million rebate on licence fees Conroy gave the commercial networks last year? What about all the business cost write-offs and other tax breaks? What about the fact that they get to operate in a triopoly market, protected from competition but using a publicly-owned resource, i.e. broadcast spectrum? We need more public broadcasters, not less - and not commercialised like SBS. SBS was once a great TV and it can be again. But let's stay in the real world, eh?

This user is a New Matilda supporter. aussiegreg
Posted Friday, July 1, 2011 - 18:54

O dearest metrodora

I would certainly rate funding SBS (and the ABC) way above many of the things our governments of both persuasions find to spend our hard-earned on. I was just having a dig at our conspiracy-theorist friend, but nonetheless I think you are way too optimistic about the generosity of the average taxpayer towards public broadcasters, especially SBS.

Oh, and when it comes to the flow of taxpayer dollars it <i>is only </i>those public broadcasters who get to see it flowing towards them. All your excellent examples of government coddling the commercial triumvirate are all examples of government taking less tax or less in license fees -- the public purse still ends up in front (by the amount of tax and fees actually paid), even if massively short-changed.

Elbert
Posted Saturday, July 2, 2011 - 11:19

I was a total fan of SBS when there was no advertising. Still loved it with advertising between programs, because it was an escape from the ubiquitous self-congratulatory trash of the USA. We had films and programs from everywhere except the USA and the UK... wondrous.
Now that is all gone. American exports rule. on the News there's a brief mention when a thousand drown in floods in Asia, but a family whose blankets get wet in a storm in Iowa get minutes of interviews, as if they're our dearest friends. 99 percent of films are repeats, and the only non-repeats are on at the same time on both SBS one and two. Brilliant. There are more UK and USA films, and what non English background there are seem less intellectually demanding. As for the news. I learn more about the planet watching France 2 than I do from SBS. To my astonishment, I watched the commercial channels recently after ten years of abstinence and discovered there's as much or more cutting comment about the current political and social situation on commercial TV as on SBS and ABC.

James-ONeill
Posted Saturday, July 2, 2011 - 11:25

Dear aussiegreg,

The two examples I cited were not "conspiracy theories" but factual material sourced (in the case of the ARRB) from a government set up and funded organization; and in the case of nano-thermite from an article published in a peer reviewed scientific journal.

People who use "conspiracy theorist" as a general term to denigrate ideas with which they don't agree or are too lazy or incompetent to ascertain a closer approximation of the truth than the official government version are frankly a waste of time and space.

A conspiracy is simply an agreement by two or more persons to carry out an illegal act. The business pages of your local newspaper have regular examples. In the case of "9/11" the official version is that 19 Muslim fanatics conspired to hijack four aeroplanes and fly them into buildings. i.e. it is a conspiracy theory. The test is not whether something is a conspiracy theory or not, but which provable facts best fit the competing conspiracy theories.

If you can't grasp that simple fact you really need something else to occupy your time than writing to New Matilda.

metrodora
Posted Saturday, July 2, 2011 - 14:21

Point taken aussiegreg, though if you expand the argument just a bit it takes you into the whole issue of who REALLY pays for commercial TV, the interconnectedness of 'free markets' and the opportunity cost to the economy of advertising. Probably a bit off the topic for this occasion.
So while we may not agree on public broadcasting, the big issue for me is does SBS deliver what its funded to do? I think David thinks it doesn't and i agree on that.
I also am interested to know why redact thinks it is important he left in 2007, or am i missing something? What happened in 2007?

connaust
Posted Saturday, July 2, 2011 - 20:10

Hardly surprising considering the social, political and media climate that has been apparent in Australia since the mid 90s.

Inverse political correctness where the PM's Dept. under Howard had the word "multiculturalism" proscribed and anything directly or indirectly related to multiculturalism, immigration, refugees, republicanism, football, non English speakers or other languages, non Anglo/Celtic culture or identity has been targetted as "fair game" or censured (adherents who unfortunately include most of the parochial skip political and media class, i.e. some outrightly antagonistic or racist towards "others", while the more tolerant hold patronising or condescending attitudes, e.g they like the food, coffee etc. that immigration brings but we cannnot cope with population issues.....).

Of more concern for Australia is that it has been decided that SBS, along with many other features or icons of our diverse, successful and internationally admired first world society (and less successfully to Australians), are apparently not acceptable to mainstream Australia because it's political correctness gone mad, thus Australians need protecting from the reality that surrounds them?

Unfortuntaelky this has made Australians look like a bunch of intolerant losers afraid of the outside world, bit like others who believe:

"Or that articles have appeared in scientific peer reviewed journals demonstrating conclusively that the three world trade centre towers in New York were brought down in 2001 with the aid of nano-thermite?"

...... manufacturing the truth or image of the world that people want to believe.... some of us are comfortable with the facts and some analysis and have no need for the conspiracy theories, stereotypes, scaremongering and cultural superiority.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. aussiegreg
Posted Sunday, July 3, 2011 - 01:01

Dear James-ONeill

<i>The two examples I cited were not “conspiracy theories” but factual material sourced (in the case of the ARRB) from a government set up and funded organization; and in the case of nano-thermite from an article published in a peer reviewed scientific journal.</i>

Whether or not they are factual is beside the point -- almost all SBS viewers would <i>think</i> they were just conspiracy theories, and so such stories on SBS news would only damage the case for her slice of the taxpayers' pie. We're not talking A Current Affair's audience here.

<i>People who use “conspiracy theorist” as a general term to denigrate ideas with which they don’t agree or are too lazy or incompetent to ascertain a closer approximation of the truth than the official government version are frankly a waste of time and space.</i>

I am both lazy and incompetent, but I was still able to debunk a whole bookful of Canberra-centred conspiracy theories back in the 1980s (it had convinced two close friends, one an engineer and one a teacher, that the One World Government would soon be flying into Canberra in their black helicopters) by the simple expedient of ringing the public servants I knew in the relevant departments and talking my way into a personal inspection of these "secret" facilities.

Five years later I was doing much the same for an academic friend who had become convinced, as you are, that the Warren Commission Report was a fable. I understood when I got hold of a video of a documentary on the Kennedy assassination (to go with the books I had borrowed from the local library back in those pre-internet days) that the Zapruder film makes a very convincing case for the fatal shot having come from the grassy knoll and not the Book Depository building (Oswald's sniper nest), but I did have the advantage of knowing a ballistics/weapons expert. He showed how frame-by-frame the Zapruder film actually shows Oswald to have been the lone gunman. He also showed me how the much-lampooned "magic bullet" was perfectly capable of passing through the soft tissue of Kennedy's neck, tumbling out the exit wound so the back of the bullet strikes Connally, leaving the front of the bullet "pristine".

Have I done the same thing with 9/11? Nah, that would cut too far into my time for writing to New Matilda. But like the Kennedy assassination (and the moon landing), the theory that 9/11 was a US government black op fails the <i>omertà</i> test: just how do you ensure that the hundreds of people you need to be involved for such fakery and its concealment all keep their traps shut forever, especially when over 4000 innocent people die?

James-ONeill
Posted Sunday, July 3, 2011 - 12:55

Dear aussiegreg,

The space limitations prevent a detailed rebuttal of the case you present. I doubt that it is worth the effort anyway given your apparent gullibility in accepting the "magic bullet" fable. But just on the off chance you are interested in the truth can I commend to you some reading, although you may search youir local library in vain as they (at least in Brisbane where I live prefer promoting such garbage as Posner's Case Closed). The books are Gerald McKnight's Breach of Trust and James Douglass' JFK and the Unspeakable. Better still buy your own copies, cheaply and free of freight costs from www.bookdepository.com.

The ARRB report and accompanying 12 volumes surely laid to rest once and for all that the fatal shot came from the front of Kennedy's limousine with the back of Kennedy's head blown away in a shower of blood, bone and brains. Look at any forensic text for confirmation. That is what happens with exit wounds.

metrodora
Posted Monday, July 4, 2011 - 10:05

Very interesting, you guys, though I am waiting for Dr Who to reveal who did kill Kennedy.
Never forget what Maggie Thatcher's spin doctor Bernard Ingham (I assume he is not a distant relative, David?)once told Pommy journos - in the choice between a conspiracy and a cock up in government, go for the cock-up.
But connaust makes a good point. Maybe David is wright that management under Zampatti and Brown were not up to the job (cock up), but they were caught in (active participants in?) a government policy which wanted to roll back Australia to the days before Whitlam and Fraser. That wasn't so much a conspiracy as a clear and open plan to turn back time and multiculturalism got caught in it.

davidingram
Posted Monday, July 4, 2011 - 13:31

No, metrodora, Bernard Ingham is no relative of any kind that I know, thank goodness. He is not the most pleasant of men … but maybe that was the company he kept. Neither, as far as I’m aware, am I related to Derek Ingram who founded the Commonwealth Journalists Association (CBA) or Richard Ingrams of the satirical magazine Private Eye. I wish I could say I get confused with the latter two – even though they’re appreciably older than me – but I don’t. I’ve never heard whether they are irritated by my existence.
I have said this a couple of times before, but it’s worth puting on record again that I am wholly in favour of a strong and successful SBS. I gave more than 15 years of my life to the organisation until I left in 2007 (whatever that signifies) and my only reason for writing critically is the poor performance of its board and senior management. While I hope Skrzynski and Ebeid will be able to work a real change, the jury’s still out on both of them. It won’t be easy, as most of the longer-serving board members and senior executives are beyond redemption - though I see my former colleague Tim Burke is more generous in his assessment in New Matilda today. He makes some very wise observations. For the rest, we may have to wait for the book.
www.dogbitesman.net.au

Olivier
Posted Monday, July 4, 2011 - 14:49

David Ingram, and fellow readers- thanks for the info, but I doubt SBS was that bad, and I doubt it will be so much better now. I desire of SBS only more excellent cultural and scientific explorations in the afternoon and more excellent films at night. Gracias/Danke/Merci/Cheers!

This user is a New Matilda supporter. aussiegreg
Posted Tuesday, July 5, 2011 - 05:26

Dear James-ONeill

<i>The space limitations prevent a detailed rebuttal of the case you present.</i>

I would say the same.

<i>I doubt that it is worth the effort anyway given your apparent gullibility in accepting the “magic bullet” fable.</i>

Sigh. Again I would say the same, with "JFK conspiracy" substituting for "magic bullet". And every reputable (if gullible) media organisation in the world would agree with me, which is why you can't expect a financially-precarious SBS to agree with you.

<i>But just on the off chance you are interested in the truth can I commend to you some reading.</i>

I haven't read those books, but I read all the leading conspiracy theorists in the mid-1980s, and while apparently plausible they all turned out to be mistaken. And I didn't need the benefit of recent computer simulations to find the single bullet theory credible, any more than the House Select Committee on Assassinations did at about the same time -- even if they were misled by bad acoustical engineering advice into thinking there had been a fourth bullet and therefore a second (if inaccurate) gunman. If you can't get me to read any more of this genre, how can you expect SBS to?

<i>The ARRB report and accompanying 12 volumes surely laid to rest once and for all that the fatal shot came from the front of Kennedy’s limousine with the back of Kennedy’s head blown away in a shower of blood, bone and brains. Look at any forensic text for confirmation. That is what happens with exit wounds.</i>

Not without an entry wound at the front. Seen the autopsy photos? And my weapons expert showed me how that awful spray of brain matter is perfectly consistent with the Oswald shot from behind (which all the forensic experts consulted by the HSCA and by the Kennedy family agree was the fatal shot). It's like the backwards spurt you get when you stab a water-filled balloon.

I suppose SBS might be persuaded to do a piece in Dateline about how amazingly resilient conspiracy theories are, how resistant to good science, especially when fed by blockbuster Hollywood fare like Stone's JFK. But your chances of getting them to do an uncritical precis of your latest pet author are (and should be) nil.

Unless of course Dr Who does know who did it. Now <i>there's</i> a story!

metrodora
Posted Tuesday, July 5, 2011 - 10:34

There have already been programs about conspiracy theories. The most recent is Jesse Ventura's series on US cable TV. I think SBS could do it better, but its more the ABC's thing anyway. And they WOULD do it better.
Oliver's comment shows that while we all worry about what's going on behind the scenes, all some viewers want is programs they like. If not they go somewhere else. With cable and internet tv that's more easy every day. But the organisational stuff is important because it determines what programs SBS can make, doesnt it? And the advertising issue effects that.
What makes me angry is the government, Labor or Coalition, think "ethnic TV" has to pay its way with advertising while they fully fund the ABC. Its probably not racism, but its certainly not fair.

davidingram
Posted Tuesday, July 5, 2011 - 16:48

An interesting development since I wrote this article is the announcement that the head of SBS television, Matt Campbell, is leaving to join Shine, the TV production company founded by Elizabeth Murdoch and recently purchased from her by father Rupert’s News Corp. Shine has received commissions from SBS Television for programs such as Letters and Numbers and The Family, so they should already know each other well. Campbell is quoted in an SBS media release as saying “I look forward to continuing to work with SBS in my new role”.
Campbell is the first of Shaun Brown’s executives to leave SBS since Michael Ebeid took over officially this month. The flowery nature of Ebeid’s eulogy at Campbell’s departure - which includes praising Campbell for programs such as First Australians commissioned long before Campbell joined SBS – has an almost Shakespearean tone to it, worthy of Mark Antony himself.
www.dogbitesman.net.au

sasha68
Posted Thursday, July 7, 2011 - 20:25

David, you seem obsessed with this notion that there was a "Golden Age" at SBS TV before Shaun Brown.. Your other articles keep on repeating this mantra.

You'll find that there were many who were dissatisfied with SBS TV when it began broadcasting as Channel 0/28 in 1980 -

--How SBS plays favourites with certain ethnic groups at the expense of others. ie. not one TV reporter has ever been Turkish or Macedonian, even though these are two sizeable communities;
--The 1990 controversial removal of reporter Vladimir Lusic; and
--Foreign interference of SBS TV news; and
--etc etc.

What we need is a Royal Commission or a parliamentary inquiry into the performance of SBS and its long term viability. Let people give sworn testimony that can be tested in a court of law or in judiciary body.

It doesn't matter who comes into power at SBS, whether its your crew David, Shaun Braun or anyone else, when the fundamental problems have been buried away for decades.

cheers
Sasha Uzunov
Independent film maker / photo journalist

links:

Do we really need SBS? - crikey website - 2005

www.mediaspy.org/forum/index.php?/topic/18486-sbs-one/page__st__160

SBS TV & that Commando "scandal" - 2011

http://teamuzunovmedia.blogspot.com/2011/07/sbs-tv-commando-scandal.html

davidingram
Posted Friday, July 8, 2011 - 19:38

I'm not sure I'm obsessive about a golden age at SBS, though I'll be the first to admit one can be too close to the trees to see the forest.
When I’ve referred to golden ages, it is usually in relation to other, poorer times before or after. And I'm reasonably convinced that, in SBS radio for example, the middle years of Quang Luu's leadership – the late 1990s and first years of the new millennium - are generally regarded as one of the best periods, not because I was there but because of what was achieved. It's too complex to go into here, but by most of the measures of a multicultural radio network, significant things were achieved and audiences seemed happy with what was being done. Unhappily, towards the end of Quang's time at SBS, the toll began to tell on everyone, the spark died and good people lost hope or left ... or both. Nothing that has happened since suggests there is a new golden age in the offing for SBS radio, but it could happen and I'd be the first to applaud it if it did.
In SBS television, there have been good times and not-so-good times and probably never a golden age as such. The tragedy of the Zampatti/Brown years is the wasted opportunity. My former colleague Tim Burke has just written a very insightful review of recent years at SBS television in New Matilda, making the point that there was a great opportunity for advancement which was frittered away by people perhaps not up to the burden.
Nothing stays the same - certainly not in the media - but we all work hard and hope for constant improvements. When we fail to get that or are given regression, I think we have a duty to be critical.
www.dogbitesman.net.au