With the federal government set to introduce legislation this week to allow SBS to change its advertising arrangements, Free TV Australia has called on the Senate to block the move.Under the proposed changes, SBS will have to average five minutes per hour across the day, but will be able to run up to 10 minutes of advertising in any given hour, maintaining the existing limit of 120 minutes per day.
The announcement of the changes last year brought criticism from free-to-air TV chiefs, with Ten Network executive chairman and chief executive officer Hamish McLennan stating the government was “creating a fourth free-to-air network by stealth”.
In calling on the Senate to reject the Bill, Free TV chairman Harold Mitchell has labelled it “bad public policy”, stating it “will come at the expense of programming and jobs in commercial free-to-air television”.
“The proposed Bill in effect creates a new commercial broadcasting licence by stealth,” Mitchell stated.
“SBS will have the same amount of advertising in prime-time as commercial broadcasters and they will target the same advertisers with their programming.”
Free TV stated, while SBS continues to assert the changes will result in a gain of an additional $28.5 million over four years, “there is no transparency of the revenue figures on which that claim is based”, citing independent analysis, conducted for Free TV, which it said demonstrates SBS will have the potential to earn an additional $148 million in advertising revenue over four years.
“Everyone knows that any additional revenues SBS attracts will come from the existing television advertising pie, so effectively commercial broadcasters are being asked to subsidise a government-funded broadcaster,” Mitchell stated.
“Commercial broadcasters are the major investors in quality Australian programming, including drama, news and sport. SBS will not be required to invest one cent of additional revenues in Australian content.”
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, however, has stated additional advertising revenue received by SBS is “highly unlikely to have a material impact on the advertising revenue of the commercial broadcasting industry”.
“In the longer term, the government’s intention from these changes is that SBS becomes a stronger and more sustainable broadcaster,” Turnbull stated.
“Advertising flexibility strengthens SBS by making it less dependent on government and helps secure its future and independence.”