The nation’s public broadcasters are in a bit of a holding pattern at the moment, waiting to hear whether their triennial funding submissions will find favour in the Budget.
There has been plenty of cause for pessimism in the last few months. Funding public broadcasters isn’t normally seen as a way of keeping blue collar workers in jobs, which is the government’s understandable preoccupation at the moment.
But the heads of our public broadcasters have not given hope, and I understand there is still a lot of push and pull going on between them and government, which means the cause is not dead.
In this context the Managing Director of SBS, Shaun Brown, made a speech this morning in which he pushed his own case, and used this rather touching (well…) metaphor on why the fact that SBS gets money from advertising should not be used as an excuse to cut public funding.
During Senate Estimates last week I was asked by a Senator why SBS was asking the Government for a not insignificant amount of additional funding if we were still increasing advertising revenue.
I tried to put into perspective the modest nature of this additional revenue and its important role in lifting our local production to barely acceptable levels.
But what I wanted to say, but wasn’t bold enough, was this. Imagine that SBS is a widow with small children in a Dickensian workhouse. She barely feeds her family on a bowl of gruel a day and is grateful for it.
One day she sells a posy of dried flowers for a penny and buys her children half a loaf of yesterday’s bread. That afternoon the overseer inspects the workhouse and sees the children with the stale breadcrumbs around their mouths. He peers over his round belly and says “I don’t imagine you’ll be needing your gruel this evening!”
Anyway, at the risk of emulating Oliver Twist, we are asking for more, because we can barely survive on what little subsistence we get and because there are vital new challenges to be met.
Brown reprised SBS’s funding submission, with its plans for a new SBS 2 digital channel and more radio services, and made the case for broadcastsing as economic stimulus:
“SBS is a significant contributor to the independent production sector as we commission all of our content externally apart from news, current affairs and sport. We create jobs, invest money and foster skills while at the same time preserving and promoting our cultural identity.
Between 2005 and 2008, SBS invested more than $80 million with the independent production sector. When you add to that the funding leveraged from state and federal funding bodies, the 450 hours of television produced had a production value of $182 million.
As for recent fusses about the possibility SBS and the ABC may merge, Brown restates his passionate opposition:
“SBS is a unique broadcaster with a distinctive Charter. It is imperative as Australia shifts into the digital environment that diversity and plurality is preserved in the media industry and that SBS’s contribution is not diminished or marginalised.
Multiculturalism and diversity cannot be left to become a mere footnote in Australian media.