SBS-fed-square-melbourne-trim BLOG   By Victor Borg  The Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) recently launched a public consultation in relation to the draft criteria that SBS will apply when reviewing its radio schedule next year and determining how the broadcast hours will be spread among the various community languages. A similar review last took place in 2012.

Following the 2011 Commonwealth Census, SBS savaged the Maltese language radio broadcast time from 9 hrs to only 2 hrs per week. Subsequently, as a result of strong representations made on behalf of the Maltese community, 2 additional one-hour weekly programs on digital radio were allotted, bringing the total Maltese language air-time to 4 programs per week. Upon expiry of the two-year period, these additional hours were terminated allegedly on the basis of a lack of funds. 

According to a report published on 11 October 2016 in The Voice of the Maltese, SBS advised the Shadow Minister for Telecommunications, the Hon. Michelle Rowland, that due to a cut in Federal Government funding, there is a $2 million budget black hole that would impact ethnic broadcasting and this hole would equate to ending the funding of 20 language programs in the future.

It is worth noting that these comments from SBS about the existence of a $2 million budget black hole contrasts sharply with a statement that SBS CEO and Managing Director Michael Ebeid made on 18 October 2016 to a hearing of the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee that SBS has “ended [its] financial year in a very strong position.”

If SBS has really had a shortage of funding in recent years, it certainly does not appear to have had any impact on its highly expensive participation in the Eurovision Song Contest which has no relevance to the Australian community, given our remote geographic location, well outside Europe and on the other side of the globe.

It would be interesting to know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars SBS has wasted on its past participation, how many more are being budgeted for its next appearance.

Obviously the priorities of SBS are markedly different from community expectations.

SBS has recently announced its intention to review current ethnic broadcasting schedule following publication of the relevant data from the 2016 Census expected by June 2017. As part of the proposed community consultations, SBS has published draft criteria for comment.

One criterion that directly impacts our community is the very low weighting allocated to ‘ageing’ at 15%.  It is imperative that SBS balances the size of various communities taking into account the extent of broadcasting by commercial and ethnic community radio stations. It is understood that the Italian, Greek, Chinese and others are serviced by commercial broadcasting on a 24-hour daily basis. It is worth noting that SBS has set up a 24-hr station to the Arabic community.

Council made every effort to ensure that people of Maltese background complete the 2016 Census form correctly to provide accurate data about how many speak Maltese in their homes.

The MCCV will again be making representations to SBS to ensure that the criteria for the radio schedule review are fair and the needs of the Maltese community, and particularly those of our ageing members, are brought to the attention of the SBS Board.