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Issue #1777      May 17, 2017

Budget 2017-18

Fight for Special Broadcaster

We need your help right now in the aftermath of the Budget to fight off a Bill to further commercialise SBS, undermining its purpose even further. In 2015 the government tried to increase the hourly advertising limit on SBS. Thankfully, you and 62,000 other people signed a petition opposing that and the proposed advertising increase failed to become law.

Mary Kostakidis.

The government has reintroduced the same Bill you objected to in 2015 but in this year’s Budget granted SBS a one-off sum “due to the delayed passage of legislation”. This means it remains government policy to double the hourly advertising limit on SBS as stated in the Communications Legislation Amendment (SBS Advertising Flexibility) Bill 2017. That will be at the expense of its Charter.

The relentless push to further commercialise SBS has been ramped up again with SBS management and government set on increasing advertising within programs. This is a destructive policy that will ultimately make the public broadcaster – SBS – indistinguishable from mainstream commercial television.

Not only will advertising be more intrusive, it will also increasingly become the driver of programming decisions and the public broadcaster will continue to be manoeuvred away from its Charter obligations.

When SBS first accepted limited advertising between programs, both the Managing Director and then Communications Minister told me this would not result in advertising within programs. Years later, the goal posts were shifted to advertise within program in “natural program breaks”, even when no such “natural” break existed, and to increase the overall amount of advertising. Those goal posts are set to be shifted again.

If this matters to you, it’s vital that your voice is heard.

If the parliament were serious about improving SBS they would remove the disruptive in-program commercial breaks but the Communications Legislation Amendment (SBS Advertising Flexibility) Bill 2017 fails to do that.

Even the government’s own report into SBS (the Lewis review) stated that increased advertising will result in “risks to the amount of Charter-related content” by shifting the focus from viewer to advertiser. The report went on to say, “there will be a greater pressure on SBS management to consider the trade-off of delivering on commercial expectations, against delivering those functions described in the SBS Charter”.

Furthermore, three-quarters of SBS viewers nationally say that since SBS-TV introduced in-program advertising, it is less faithful to the Charter now than it used to be. If SBS becomes more commercialised, this gap will widen irrevocably.

No one wants even more commercial breaks disrupting SBS programs.

In fact the recently published Survey 2017 about SBS found that 95 percent of SBS viewers in every State and Territory do not want increased advertising on SBS and say that if there is an increase in ads, then the law ought to restrict advertisements to before or after programs only – except in sport – like SBS used to be.

Unfortunately the parliament will not stop SBS from broadcasting advertisements.

But if enough people demand it, the parliament could at least restrict the ads to between programs as the original legislators intended. SBS might then fulfil its Charter obligations.

If the introduced Bill becomes law, SBS will broadcast 14 minutes of disruptive commercial breaks per hour in peak viewing – 6 pm to midnight and in sport – 10 minutes of advertisements plus 4 minutes of promos every hour; that’s a minute more of commercial intrusion than seen on commercial TV.

With every best wish,

Mary Kostakidis

Send an email to your representative at

Mary Kostakidis is a former SBS World News Australia presenter, the first woman to present a national prime time news bulletin in Australia. She was a member of the management team that set up and developed SBS Television in 1980 and went on to present its flagship World News for 20 years.

Next article – Budget 2017-18 – Education smoke and mirrors

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