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Monday, 14 October 1991
Page: 1857

Mr LEE(8.00 p.m.) —-Tonight I wish to speak in support of the legislation which is currently before the House, the Special Broadcasting Service Bill 1991.

Mr Griffiths —-Will you confine yourself to the legislation?

Mr LEE —-I will confine myself to the legislation, as requested by the Minister for Resources. I will not be discussing abattoirs, the meat industry or anything of that nature. This legislation will provide for specialist legislation to give SBS a charter which will express and guarantee the multilingual and multicultural character of the Special Broadcasting Service. It is something which I am sure would have the support of many honourable members, including the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair).

Later in my speech I will say something about some of the programs run by SBS, which I find highly commendable. They are programs which I believe attract the support of my constituents for the continuation of the Special Broadcasting Service. The primary role of the legislation we are debating is to ensure that the charter for the Special Broadcasting Service is codified and removes from the Broadcasting Act the clauses which provide for the special nature of SBS.

Mr Acting Speaker, as you would be aware SBS has a charter to provide radio as well as television services. There has been some debate in your own State and others that extra funding should be used by SBS to ensure that a larger number of Australians do have access to the radio and television services which it provides. It is common knowledge, of course, that many Australians have great difficulty in picking up SBS television in particular. I hope that SBS is able to devote resources to that in years to come to ensure that more Australians are able to receive some of the excellent programs which it broadcasts.

The area in this legislation which I wish to address in the short time that I speak tonight is, in particular, the Government's proposal to allow SBS to increase its revenues through advertising and sponsorship. It is no secret that the television networks would have much preferred the Government not to have allowed SBS to attract sponsorship and advertising revenue. That is because in the advertising market, if an advertiser is able to buy time or place advertisements on SBS, that is revenue which probably will not be going to other parts of the media. However, I suppose the special attraction for advertisers is that by advertising on SBS they are able to reach a relatively small audience--an audience which might be unique in its ethnic character. For example, one can imagine that if OTC wanted to promote cheap discounts on telephone services to Italy, it might seek to sponsor a program or have an advertisement run on one of the Italian programs on SBS. So while the audience might be relatively small compared with some of the other areas of the media, it could still be quite profitable for advertisers to secure advertisements at the right price on SBS radio and television.

It is also important that we recognise that any revenues which SBS is able to attract through sponsorship or advertising will be in addition to the revenue which SBS now receives. The Government has given SBS a guarantee that for the next three years its funding will be guaranteed and indexed for inflation. So if it is able to attract that extra revenue it can ensure that it will be used to improve the quality of its programs. That should be an encouragement to SBS to get out into the marketplace and seek to attract the extra revenue.

If that guarantee were not there and SBS was told that any advertising or sponsorship revenue it received the Government would deduct the public funding by an equivalent amount, then SBS would have no incentive to go out and seek to maximise the revenue it can receive from advertisers and sponsors. That is something many of us would think was not very clever.

I suppose the program which has been sponsored and has received the greatest publicity on SBS television is, of course,The Civil War series. I remarked in the Labor Caucus recently that it is one of the best programs, of the one or two episodes I have seen. I think SBS should be congratulated for the high quality of that program and others which it broadcasts.

The right honourable member for New England is a great fan of soccer and I am sure he would have been a very frequent viewer when the World Cup soccer series was broadcast on SBS. That program was also sponsored by Australian Airlines. I think Legal and General was the sponsor for The Civil War. The sponsor, by providing the sponsorship funds, was given the right to run one advertisement--I think perhaps a 60 second advertisement--at the beginning and the end of the sponsored program. In that way the viewers were not disturbed and were not constantly interrupted, as is the case on some of the commercial television programs. I do not think that the viewers suffered in any way. The viewers, of course, gain the advantage that SBS achieves an increase in its revenue and it has extra funds to use to provide greater quality programming, so everyone is a winner.

When this debate took place in the Labor Caucus I contrasted the SBS policy with that of the ABC. I made the point that sometimes I am a little irritated by the number of advertisements which currently appear on ABC television. ABC is meant to be advertisement free--advertisement free time and space--yet I am sometimes a little irritated by the number of advertisements for books, records and other promotions that are available at ABC shops. While I am sure Tim Bowden writes excellent books, I cannot quite see the difference between an advertisement for one of his books on ABC television and an advertisement for one of his books on commercial television.

Mr Hawker —-They are free, that is the difference.

Mr LEE —-The shadow Minister for land transport, the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Hawker), makes the point that advertisements are free. That makes it more attractive to Tim Bowden and I am sure he has no objection to the ABC running those advertisements. I think that sometimes the ABC needs to do market research on whether there is any irritation for the viewers due to what seems to be an increasing number of advertisements promoting not only ABC programs but other ABC products.

I do not deny the fact that the ABC should have the right to inform viewers and listeners of programs that are coming up--all radio and television stations do that--but I think the ABC has to be careful that it does not run too many advertisements on television. I make it clear that I have not made this point tonight simply because of the 8c a day advertisement which the ABC ran some years ago; I just think the ABC at the moment is running too many promotions for products available at ABC shops and records which are put out through the ABC marketing system.

However, I do not deny the fact that SBS does the same. Those of us who watch SBS know that SBS marketing seeks to promote books and other products, such as videos, that are available through SBS marketing. Of course, SBS is able to increase its revenue by promoting products in that way. At this stage the number of advertisements on SBS has not reached the saturation level which seems to be the case on ABC at the moment.

Having dealt with that issue, I wish to mention several other areas where I think SBS is doing an excellent job. First of all, as my colleague the honourable member for Gray (Mr O'Neil) mentioned, SBS should be commended for the extremely high quality of its news service. The international coverage of SBS leaves every other channel for dead. That is a marketing decision which has been taken.

The SBS decided to develop its news service as the one providing the best quality and the one that gives the greatest coverage of international news events. I suppose the fact that its resources are limited means it is difficult for SBS to match the major commercial networks and the ABC local content. That might be one of the forces which drive SBS into having a very high proportion of television footage from international television networks. However, I think SBS and Brian Johns and his staff deserve to be commended for the high quality of SBS's news and current affairs programs. I am not mentioning this because I happened to be featured on Dateline last Saturday night. I have to make that clear.

Mr Sinclair —-You might be on there next week, too.

Mr LEE —-Perhaps for balance SBS will have the right honourable gentleman on next Saturday's program. Another program which has really set a standard for all networks is SBS's broadcasting of the program Eye on the Prize, which I think was produced originally by one of the public broadcast networks in the United States. Eye on the Prize is about the American civil rights network. I think it was subsequently repeated on the ABC or on one of the commercial networks. Certainly that series won a large number of international awards, and rightly so, with some amazing footage of the stormy events of the 1960s in the United States.

There is another matter that would be of interest to you, Mr Acting Speaker, as I understand you met Alexander Dubcek recently. I had the privilege of meeting Mr Dubcek while he was in Australia and I asked him to autograph one of the books released by SBS marketing called The Other Europe. It has a photograph of Mr Dubcek and Mr Brezhnev outside a meeting which took place shortly before the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. It triggered for Mr Dubcek an amazing recollection of the events which led up to the taking of that photograph. I have to say he was certainly impressed with that book produced by SBS marketing.

Whilst other speakers have mentioned the very important role SBS plays in producing programs for Australians who have come here from other countries, it is also important that we realise that SBS believes its special charter extends to other people as well. Knowing your background, Mr Acting Speaker, I am sure that you would be a keen watcher of the Eat Carpet rock program sometimes late at night on SBS television. I am sure the right honourable member for New England is always watching Eat Carpet late at night. I am afraid to say the program's content on the beef cattle industry has dropped off in recent days, but Eat Carpet has been running a series of short films which I understand have won very strong commendation from people involved in the Australian film industry. Often it is very difficult to be able to get mainstream television stations and the ABC to run these short, and sometimes quite experimental, films. Eat Carpet is playing an excellent role in ensuring these programs are able to be watched by those Australians who are keen observers.

I wish to reaffirm my view that this legislation which provides SBS with its special charter has the support of all members of this House. I know the Opposition has foreshadowed some amendments because it believes the charter and the structures for SBS can be arranged in a better way. However, I will leave that for the Minister at the table, the Minister for Resources and others who are more expert than I am to explain why they think the Opposition's amendments are unwise. I will finish by adding my support once again to the Government's proposal to give SBS this charter. It is long overdue, and the Minister for Transport and Communications (Mr Beazley) deserves to be commended.