HSV Submissions – December 2008

Review of ABC and SBS

Submitted 1 December 2008 to the Department of Communication and Digital Economy, Australia

To the Federal Government’s review of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), HSV made the following submission.

General remarks:

  1. Victorian Humanists welcome this timely review of the ABC and SBS.
  2. The national broadcasters report, interpret and promote debate on aspects of an increasingly complex world. This should be done in depth and with integrity, and needs to be of high quality. And as we do not live by information alone, the arts (drama, concerts, comedy, ballet, etc.) should be of an exemplary standard and reflect the pursuit of excellence and should be untainted by commercial advertising.
  3. The privately/commercially operated media outlets have been shown to be guilty of unethical broadcasting practices, undisclosed vested interests, “opinions for sale” and some censored reports. And we see no commitment to excellence, education or serious debate where the interests of sponsors or advertisers prevail. It is therefore imperative that the ABC remain entirely free and independent from commercial interests.
  4. The freedom from political interference is of greatest importance. This particular freedom is the hallmark of democracy and must be maintained at all costs.
  5. The Humanist Society of Victoria does not offer technical expertise on digital broadcasting, but we submit our members’ hopes and concerns about the future of the ABC and SBS.

Specific points:

  1. It is our sincere hope that this review will result in significant and badly needed improvements to the national broadcasters in the area of funding, governance and independence from government and commercial influences; and that there will be a growth in the production of meaningful, innovative and high quality content. We are encouraged by press reports that indicate commitment to such improvements.
  2. In the past decade, both the ABC and the SBS suffered a decline in independence and, consequently, a decline in meeting its charter obligations.
    • The appointment of ABC directors who were the winners in the “culture wars” was seen as board stacking and eroded the valuable public trust the ABC enjoyed.
    • The gradual spread of advertisements throughout the SBS programs caused this specialist multicultural station to depart from its primary role and to resemble a mainstream commercial station. Sponsors and advertisers have no interest in special social objectives.
  3. It is our hope that better funding and freedom from advertising revenue will allow programs that help to combat social ills, such as racism, xenophobia and intolerance of diversity. The recent and highly acclaimed First Australians is an example of “value for money” invested in national broadcasting.
  4. We also hope that in all its new delivery platforms, the national broadcasters will be able to:
    • be widely accessible and free of charge;
    • use its considerable records, archival material and new research to play the role of an open university, and
    • maintain the separate focus and functions of the ABC and SBS.
  5. We state our support for the following proposals, canvassed at the 2020 Summit on this subject:
    • Reform sedition laws to ensure freedom of speech principles. The provision of new sedition legislation has no application to works of art, works of scholarship or works of intellectual inquiry.
    • Increase peer assessment to improve the quality of work.
    • The government should take immediate steps to remove culture from all free-trade agreements, including the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement, to ensure Australian content restrictions.
    • Ensure that screen agencies support access and development for emerging film-makers and practitioners.

Published: Victorian Humanist, Feb. 2009: 4

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