Wednesday, 13 September 2006
Questions without Notice
Special Broadcasting Service
My question is to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Is the minister aware of the announcement by SBS of its intention to introduce advertising during its programs? Can the minister indicate whether the government supports this policy change? Is the minister aware that the SBS Act only permits ads within programs if there is ‘a natural program break’, such as at half-time in the soccer? Does the minister believe that the act allows SBS to put ads in the middle of news, current affairs, documentaries and movies? Has the minister obtained any legal advice on this issue? What steps is the minister taking to ensure that SBS complies with its obligations under the law?
Presumably she would like some answers—if Senator Faulkner would stop the din. SBS has a legislated cap of five minutes of advertising per hour. This legislated cap has not changed. All that has changed is that SBS management have announced that they will change their program break structure to allow limited program promotion and advertising within rather than between programs. SBS expect to raise additional funds from this change, which will be used to boost news and current affairs programming and increase the production of Australian multicultural drama and documentaries.
Surely this is good news both for SBS viewers—indeed, for Labor senators, if they take an interest in these matters—and certainly for the local production sector. SBS is permitted to and does, of course, show a limited amount of advertising, and has done for some time. This will simply alter the times and manner in which advertising is shown but not the quantity. Under the SBS Act, SBS is an independent organisation and operational decisions such as these are taken by the SBS board.
The act establishes the framework within which SBS is permitted to advertise. SBS may only broadcast advertisements before or after programs or during the natural program breaks. As I have said, advertising is limited to no more than five minutes in an hour. I do note that the SBS board is required to develop and publicise guidelines in relation to advertising and to include them in its corporate plan, explaining how this will contribute to the achievement of SBS’s objectives. I understand that this process is underway. It is the board’s responsibility to ensure the new arrangements will comply with the requirements of the act. I note that the SBS board has directed management to ensure the new regime, which will be implemented over the next six to 12 months, will be constructed so as to preserve the SBS viewing experience—which we all value, those of us who watch it—and to be consistent with the SBS Act and charter. So far as I am in a position to say, SBS complies with the requirements under its charter, the requirements under its act and any imputation to the contrary is simply incorrect.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister explain why the government is permitting SBS to become a de facto fourth commercial television network and can the minister rule out similar plans for the ABC?
I did not hear the bit about the ABC; I did not hear the second part of the senator’s question. But it is a gratuitous and quite irresponsible comment for the senator to have suggested that SBS would become yet another commercial station. SBS has a very clear charter, a very clear act and those requirements are adhered to.