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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Special Broadcasting Service Corporation

Special Broadcasting Service Corporation


CHAIR: Welcome, SBS. Do we have an opening statement?

Mr Ebeid : No. I'm happy to go to questions, Chair.

CHAIR: That's an excellent idea. I'm happy to do that.

Senator O'NEILL: Mr Ebeid, would you please describe the impact of the federal budget on the SBS?

Mr Ebeid : Firstly, I should thank the government for the reinstatement of our ad legislation money that was returned to us. We had an increase in our federal budget of $14.6 million for the next two years starting from 1 July, which will go a long way to reinstating the money that was removed in the hope of the legislation passing for us to increase our ad mintage. That means for us as an organisation that we will be able to retain the services that we have currently that we are putting to our audiences. All our services will continue. So from that perspective, our budgets are whole.

Senator O'NEILL: You were set to lose some and now you've received a reinstatement. What was the shortfall between what was taken in the 2015-16 budget and what was replaced in this budget?

Mr Ebeid : The measure that was applied at the time ended—

Senator O'NEILL: Of the 2015-16 budget?

Mr Ebeid : Yes. Actually, it was started the year before. It was a three-year measure. In the final year of the three years was the $8.7 million. That was removed from our budget into perpetuity for the forward forecasts. So we have received that back for the next financial year and a part reinstatement for the year after.

Senator O'NEILL: So what part is missing?

Mr Ebeid : So $2.8 million in year 2. We'll be working with the government to obviously take that into consideration as part of the triennial funding discussions going forward.

Senator O'NEILL: So you don't have an amount for year 3 at all?

Mr Ebeid : For year 3, no, we don't, no. I think year 3 will be taken care of as part of the triennial funding, we hope.

Senator O'NEILL: You hope?

Mr Ebeid : We hope, yes. The discussions for the triennial funding will probably begin later this year.

Senator O'NEILL: And that's probably. Do you know when?

Mr Ebeid : Normally, the discussions for triennial funding would start around September for the three-year period.

Senator O'NEILL: Has the government made any commitment for triennial funding, or will SBS have to go back to ask for the funding year to year?

Mr Ebeid : We would start our triennial funding discussions around September this year. It will then be taken into consideration in May 2019. It will be announced then for the three years after that.

Senator O'NEILL: Have you had any assurances from the government that you've got triennial funding, or is it just year on year?

Mr Ebeid : We haven't begun those discussions yet.

Senator O'NEILL: So how many efficiency reviews has the SBS been subject to in recent years?

Mr Ebeid : Certainly in the last four years we have had five reviews. We had a funding—

Senator O'NEILL: Five reviews in four years?

Mr Ebeid : Yes. We had an adequacy review first. We had a convergence review and the Lewis efficiency review. At the moment, we're in the middle of the competitive neutrality review. Obviously, the new announced efficiency review as part of this budget will take place. I think the minister will be announcing the terms of reference shortly.

Senator Fifield: Correct.

Senator O'NEILL: How many of these were external or internal reviews?

Mr Ebeid : They were all external. External to SBS, if that's what you mean.

Senator O'NEILL: Yes.

Mr Ebeid : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: Would you say SBS is operating efficiently?

Mr Ebeid : The first one that we went through—the funding adequacy review—said that SBS was underfunded to be able to deliver on our charter. Since then, the reviews have all indicated that SBS is operating incredibly efficiently. I think it's widely known that SBS is very lean in our operations. We do things at a fraction of the cost of all other broadcasters in Australia. Our certain costs per hour, our costs per audience and all our measures would be at the very low end of all the broadcasters. We do operate as efficiently as we can. As an organisation, I think by and large we have been very underfunded since we began, so we've never really had a period of being overfunded. We've always had to operate as efficiently as we can. That's just part of the DNA of the organisation. I think it makes us rather creative and innovative in many ways, even though, of course, I would always like a bit more funding. But we make do with what we can.

Senator O'NEILL: Would you please describe the operating environment the SBS is in and what that means for SBS funding going forward? There are significant costs in doing business in the media landscape of today.

Mr Ebeid : Of course. The environment that we're in is definitely one of increasing costs. The media landscape has also changed enormously in that our audiences are expecting different services from us for what was expected just a few years ago. So there is an expectation that we have a significant online presence. The services that we have provided or are providing online, be it SBS On Demand, our online news services or social media platforms, are all things that we have to man and find resources for. We have had to find resources either from efficiencies or taking money away from other parts of the business to be able to fund that. A big part of our future is obviously in online digital services. Those costs are only increasing. We need to be in those platforms to be relevant in the future. So increasingly, that is a challenge for us as an organisation.

As you would be aware, Senator, 30 per cent of our funding is advertising based. The advertising market is always very challenging. It's a short market at the moment. We struggle, like the rest of the industry, given that a lot of the ad dollars are moving to digital platforms like Google and Facebook. That's not going to recover any time soon. So, all up, it's challenging from a revenue perspective. It's challenging from a cost perspective whilst our audiences do expect more and more services from us. Take radio, for example. Just having the radio service in a language program is not enough. We need to be able to have a presence online. We need to have those stories online. We need to be able to podcast and stream those programs. They are all services that we didn't do a few years ago but our audiences expect them from us.

Senator O'NEILL: What is the reach of SBS across all its platforms?

Mr Ebeid : It's difficult to give radio figures, but on television our reach is about 13 million Australians. We reach 13 million Australians a month on television across our channels. With regard to radio, we know that there are in Australia some five million Australians that speak another language other than English. Our online language websites are seeing about three million unique browsers come to our language websites every year. So they are pretty significant numbers. In terms of our language programs, we're podcasting around 1.6 million podcasts a month at the moment. In terms of SBS On Demand, as of this week, four million Australians have registered to use the SBS On Demand services. We are delivering roughly about 30 million video views a month at the moment.

Senator O'NEILL: I have to confess that I became one of those quite recently.

Mr Ebeid : I'm glad to hear it.

Senator O'NEILL: Because it's still on long enough to put it on. I have been promising myself for ages. Would you please inform the committee on SBS's budget and how, roughly, it is apportioned? Obviously, you have wages, transmission costs, content and other overheads. Can you give a global view?

Mr Ebeid : Just at a high level?

Senator O'NEILL: Yes.

Mr Ebeid : We receive $282 million in government appropriations. On top of that, we have about $105 million of ad revenue. So we spend a total of about $400 million a year in our annual operating expenses. In terms of breaking that up, roughly about $86 million would be transmission costs. The rest is spent on content and running the organisation.

Senator O'NEILL: Can you give me a bit of a split on what remains of that $400 million? So $312,000 in content and wages?

Mr Ebeid : Employee costs are roughly about $132 million. Suppliers, which would include content—a lot of our productions are obviously done with the independent production sector—is about $240 million. Depreciation and amortisation is about $12 million, roughly.

Senator O'NEILL: And what is left is for overheads?

Mr Ebeid : That's within the—

Senator O'NEILL: For the content?

Mr Ebeid : Overheads are included in those figures.

Senator O'NEILL: Okay. Do you want to correct anything there?

Mr Ebeid : We have a breakdown in our annual report that I might be able to give. I will table that on notice for you and I'll give you a breakdown.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you very much. You've indicated that you're a fairly lean organisation.

Mr Ebeid : Very lean, I think I said.

Senator O'NEILL: So what do you make of the minister's comments on a program with journalist Patricia Karvelas that shared services between the ABC and the SBS should be examined in the efficiency review?

Mr Ebeid : It's a reasonable question to examine those services. Indeed, the Lewis review spent probably a big chunk of the review looking at opportunities for shared services. I can tell you, having been the managing director now for seven years, that we have looked under every single rock between the ABC and SBS in terms of what we can share in back office services. We have spent quite a bit of time in both the Lewis review and outside the Lewis review looking at opportunities to do things together. We have had several key projects where we've negotiated with major suppliers together to be able to get a better outcome for both organisations. Ultimately, the two organisations still have a very different operating framework. What we have found is that there's actually not that many opportunities for us to share services because invariably what we have found is that things would end up costing SBS more to do because of the nature of the way the ABC is run and the SBS is run. They are very different. I don't think it's fair to compare them for different reasons. But where there's an opportunity, we have taken that opportunity and done that over the last few years. So I can confidently say that I would be very surprised if there was much left in terms of back office services because we have spent years looking at that over the last three or four years.

Senator O'NEILL: The minister seems to be out of touch with the reality, given his comments on Ms Karvelas's show that there's more money to be found there by pushing the ABC and SBS together.

Mr Ebeid : Well, I'll let the minister answer his own comments. But from my perspective, there is always new ways of doing things. There are always new technologies and new ways of saving money. But the big items where you look at transmission, satellite costs, subtitling and captioning—those big outlays—we have done together. We've looked at the suppliers together. We've gone into procurement negotiations together to get the best outcome for the Commonwealth. So, having done that, then it comes down to individual work flows. Then the question comes down to whether our work flows are as efficient as they could be. Certainly that has been a real focus at SBS to make sure that we can free up money for all those new services—the digital services that I spoke to earlier. We have not received funding to be able to do those things, so the only way that we have been able to launch things like SBS On Demand or our digital platforms has been to find savings. To do that—and we have had to do that—we have made sure that we have looked at all our work flows. In fact, I think in the last four years at SBS, we've probably been from one end of the organisation to the other twice or three times in looking at work flows and how we put content to screen or to air.

Senator O'NEILL: I'm not surprised, given that you have had four reviews in five years. You've been looking at a lot.

Mr Ebeid : We have.

Senator O'NEILL: I think it's fair to say, from my understanding of your comments, that there is a limit to which shared services model is workable between two very distinct broadcasters and you are at the edge of that limit of capacity to work together?

Mr Ebeid : This next review will be another opportunity for us to demonstrate that efficiency. I always look forward to taking the opportunity to demonstrate our efficiency. We'll do that in this next review as well.

Senator O'NEILL: Minister, would you be able to provide an update on the progress of the inquiry into the competitive neutrality of the national broadcasters?

Senator Fifield: Yes. It is underway. I understand that Robert Kerr, who is chairing that piece of work—

Senator O'NEILL: Sorry, I missed that name.

Senator Fifield: Sorry. I understand that Robert Kerr, who is chairing that piece of work, is a former head of office of the Productivity Commission. He and his co-panellists, Julie Flynn, formerly of Free TV, and Sandra Levy, formerly of ABC—mind you, both of them have done many other things as well—have met with public broadcasters. They have met with commercial broadcasters. They have issued an issues or discussion paper.

Senator O'NEILL: And where to next?

Senator Fifield: Well, they will take responses to the issues paper. They will talk further to the relevant parties and they will produce a report with the time frame, I think, of September.

Mr Mrdak : That's right. Mr Eccles might be able to give some details.

Senator Fifield: I'm happy for Mr Eccles to add to that.

Senator O'NEILL: Is the discussion paper published?

Mr Eccles : The discussion paper is out. Submissions close on 22 June. The panel expect to report in September. Everything is on track.

Senator O'NEILL: Mr Ebeid, can you provide an update on that process from your perspective?

Mr Ebeid : I haven't really got anything to add on that other than we've received the issues paper as well. The submissions are due at the end of June. I think it is 22 June. We are putting together our submission to meet that deadline.

Senator O'NEILL: There are two parallel processes running here. Will they dovetail, Minister?

Senator Fifield: Well, they are two separate pieces of work, but they are happening in parallel.

Senator O'NEILL: So my question is: will they dovetail? Could you explain for me so I can understand the difference between the two?

Senator Fifield: One is a competitive neutrality review that is examining the public broadcasters and their status as government funded organisations and whether that status is relevant to the way that they compete with commercial media organisations. The other piece of work is an efficiency review to help the public broadcasters be the best stewards that they can be of taxpayer dollars.

Senator O'NEILL: So do you see these two as dovetailing?

Senator Fifield: I see them both as good pieces of work. They are happening in parallel, so that's the situation.

Senator O'NEILL: So they'll remain two separate processes and there will be no integration?

Senator Fifield: They are two separate processes.

Senator O'NEILL: What are the key questions that you would like these two parallel processes into the national broadcasters to answer, Minister?

Senator Fifield: Well, it's a competitive neutrality inquiry. There are perspectives amongst commercial broadcasters, which they have shared in a range of forums, that the commercial broadcasters are competing in ways that they believe are unfair. The public broadcasters have a different perspective, which they have articulated. This is an opportunity for those perspectives to be ventilated and for people who have good experience across both the commercial and public broadcasting sectors to bring a fresh set of eyes to these issues. The efficiency review, as I said before—

Senator O'NEILL: Before you move on to that, can I just ask you: what are the key questions you think that this competitive neutrality review needs to answer for you? You are getting them to do this work because you must have some questions about it. What are the key questions?

Senator Fifield: They are contained in the terms of reference, which have been given to the competitive neutrality inquiry and which are available.

Senator O'NEILL: But from your point of view, what are the burning issues there that need an answer?

Senator Fifield: I have outlined the threshold issue, which is—

Senator O'NEILL: The two sectors have different views. That's all I've got from what you've said so far. I need to hear something else.

Mr Mrdak : Perhaps I can assist.

Senator Fifield: I will continue for a moment, sorry, Mr Mrdak, before passing to you. This is an area of some contention between the two sectors, so the government thought that it would be a good exercise to look at facts rather than positions passionately advocated and to see where the evidence lies. That is the objective.

Senator O'NEILL: What are the key issues, Minister, that you would like to resolve about the national broadcasters?

Senator Fifield: Well, I have outlined what led to this exercise. I look forward to the work of the panel chaired by Mr Kerr.

Senator O'NEILL: I still don't have a question, Minister. I have a sense that you've gone, 'Okay, well, these guys say that. These guys say that. Let's just outsource it to somebody else and they'll tell us what's going on.' I can't hear the core question that you've asked them to go out and answer.

Senator Fifield: Look, Senator, I have outlined the genesis of this exercise. I'm not prejudging what the panellists will find. I'm happy for Mr Mrdak or Mr Eccles to add the observations that they may have made through the course of this exercise.

Senator O'NEILL: And I would love to take that from them. But I have to ask you, Minister, if you can't articulate for me here at estimates why you're undertaking these reviews—

Senator Fifield: I have, Senator. I have articulated why this review is being undertaken.

Senator O'NEILL: Because there's a difference of opinion between the public and the commercial broadcasters?

Senator Fifield: And I don't have a settled view on the contentions, so I think it's good to have a fresh set of eyes with people who have experience in both the public broadcasting sector and the commercial broadcasting sector on a panel chaired by a very eminent economist who has long experience with the concept of competitive neutrality.

Senator O'NEILL: So can you assure the public that this is a truly independent panel?

Senator Fifield: Yes. I think anyone who knows Mr Kerr, Ms Levy or Ms Flynn will know that that is the case.

Senator O'NEILL: Mr Mrdak?

Mr Mrdak : I was simply going to add that the context of this is well set out in the discussion paper. We are happy to table a copy. All public bodies are subject, under successive governments, to competitive neutrality reviews to ensure that the principles of competitive neutrality across the public and private sectors are being met. That has been the longstanding policy of successive governments. The discussion paper, which we are happy to table, does set out some very good bases on which competitive neutrality should be judged and a series of questions seeking comment, which I think will test those principles well in relation to both the current operations and future operations and importance of the national broadcasters.

Senator O'NEILL: I look forward to reading that document. Chair, I have two questions and I am finished with SBS.

CHAIR: That is great. We'll go to Senator Lines.

Senator O'NEILL: Mr Ebeid, could you please talk me through some of your recent announcements, the ones that I'm aware of, on Eurovision, the FIFA World Cup, the introduction of three 24-hour digital radio stations and digital television and SBS Untold stories. I think the latter has been immersing Australian audiences in Torres Strait Islander stories. Can you tell me a bit more about those announcements?

Senator Fifield: We should probably settle in for a while.

Mr Ebeid : Is there something specific you would like me to focus on, Senator?

Senator O'NEILL: You look like you're setting a pretty clear strategy and it's quite broad. Do you want to put on the public record why you've taken these particular initiatives?

Mr Ebeid : Sure. Obviously with our unique purpose, one of the things we try and do is make sure that we've got content that is quite distinctive in the marketplace. We are a broadcaster that provides Australians with a different lens on different issues. Things like Untold stories is a series that we're very proud of, which is stories from around Australia, particularly focusing around some of the regional areas as well that other people aren't talking about. So the first one that is going to air is about outback rabbis and about the Jewish community, which I think is a great episode. We're looking at things like the forgotten islands on the Cocos Islands and some of the issues there. There's one that is called 'Behind the blue line' that is all about the Mirrabooka police in north Perth, which is a very multicultural community. It is about how they have multicultural teams that follow and work with the police there to help with community relations et cetera. These are all great stories that other people aren't telling, so that's why we've called the series Untold Australia. We've obviously got our big drama that we just aired recently, Safe Harbour, about a group of Australians who set out on a sailing trip who come across a refugee boat that is overcrowded and sinking. It's quite a psychological thriller, if you like, about what happens next and what the Australians do with that refugee boat. It's a great drama. I'd recommend to you, now that you're on SBS On Demand, to catch that.

Senator O'NEILL: It's one of the reasons I got on there.

Mr Ebeid : Fantastic. Our next drama is actually called Dead Lucky, which is quite a multicultural story. That's what we try and do: make sure that our dramas and documentaries are representing the Australia that we see today—the multicultural Australia. We've obviously got the World Cup next month, which once every four years is a very big property for us. It allows us to draw in quite a big audience. Then we get to cross-promote a lot of our Australian commissions and other programs that we have. The World Cup this year will be quite big for us. It is a good time zone difference. We look forward to airing that. The Tour de France et cetera is next month as well. Another series that we just announced that will go to air on 8 June is called Where are You Really From? It's a series about, again, regional Australian towns and multicultural communities in those towns. That's hosted by one of our young comedians, Michael Hing, who does a great job going around regional Australia telling fantastic stories that nobody really is picking up about regional Australia.

Senator O'NEILL: I hope he doesn't say anything that upsets the minister or he'll be writing off to ACMA.

Mr Ebeid : We try to not upset the minister.

Senator Fifield: I'm just trying to recall if I've ever raised a complaint about the SBS. I can't bring one immediately to mind.

Senator O'NEILL: I think you are ground-breaking with the ABC already, Minister.

Mr Ebeid : I don't recall, except I do know the minister does like Eurovision.

CHAIR: Hear, hear! Tell me more about that.

Senator Fifield: And The Handmaid's Tale.

Mr Ebeid : And The Handmaid's Tale.

Senator O'NEILL: Who couldn't love Jessica Mauboy?

Mr Ebeid : And certainly from an On Demand perspective, a couple of my favourites that I've mentioned is a series at the moment on air called Next of Kin, which is about a Pakistan family whose son is radicalised and goes to fight overseas. The family is drawn into that. It's rather a powerful series, very timely, as indeed is a series called Bad Banks, which is set in Germany. It's a German series about bankers behaving badly. It is rather timely, but a fantastic series nonetheless.

Senator O'NEILL: It might be an international illness.

Mr Ebeid : Indeed. So lots of great content that you just wouldn't see anywhere else. So we're rather proud of the line-up that we have had.

Senator O'NEILL: Well, congratulations on the suite that you offer, particularly in the uncertainty that you have had to endure with the government threatening to withdraw such a significant amount of funding in the last period. Finally, would you please advise the committee on how the SBS has responded to the passage of the bill to restrict gambling ad promotions during live sport? Did you amend your code of practice for online content or did you decide against that given the bill means the ACMA has the call?

Mr Ebeid : No. We have amended our codes to be in line with the changes for the industry. Our codes are in line with the industry codes. We will obviously be limiting our gambling advertising on our TV and online accordingly. So that's already been done. We will work in with the ACMA for any complaints, but hopefully there won't be too many anyway. So that's all done. So we have already implemented all of that.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you very much. Thanks, Chair.

Senator RHIANNON: I have Eurovision questions. What was the total cost of participating in the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest?

Mr Ebeid : All our content and programs are commercial-in-confidence and we don't provide those figures. But I can tell you that the cost of Eurovision is reasonably modest compared to, say, making an Australian drama. It's a lot cheaper. In terms of the costs per hour, it's probably way below our average cost per hour for television.

Senator RHIANNON: Why is it commercial-in-confidence? I just find that term is used so often these days.

Mr Ebeid : Well, because we have agreements with both the licensees—with the EBU as well as the production company that helps us produce the production from wherever Eurovision is hosted. So things are commercial-in-confidence.

Senator RHIANNON: Is that just because you decide that? Is there anything that is laid down about how you determine that?

Mr Ebeid : It's contractual. Particularly what I wouldn't want to do is put SBS in a competitive disadvantage by publicly revealing what we pay for certain bits of content. As it is, we find it very hard to compete against other networks that have 10 times our budget. Obviously it's important for us to keep those things confidential where we can to retain the content and do the great things that we do.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to ask about how SBS determines if it will cover Eurovision. Recent events along the Gaza border have shown that the Israeli defence force engages in lethal military actions on days that are seen as significant or when Palestinian-led protests are planned. You would obviously know what I'm referring to there with the tragic events that have occurred in the past few weeks. This means that Eurovision's 2019 activities could impact on Palestinians. They could actually impact on who lives and who dies. Will SBS consider these factors when it considers whether to participate in next year's contest or if it's held in 2020?

Mr Ebeid : Firstly, SBS has been broadcasting Eurovision for 35 years this year. We have been doing it for a long time. I'm not sure if you'd be aware, but the history of Eurovision when it started 62 years ago was all about bringing together European nations after the war. The whole point of Eurovision is to forget politics, forget all of that and unite communities and countries together in the spirit of song, in the spirit of celebration, and in the spirit of culture. So it transcends things like what you're talking about. That is the essence and the spirit of Eurovision. The fact is that Israel won. Israel has won before. Israel has hosted before. In the spirit of unity and bringing people and cultures together, I can't imagine that we would not televise Eurovision next year.

Senator RHIANNON: You put great emphasis on bringing it together. But they are only bringing together one country in the Middle East. It's not Europe. It's one country in the Middle East. That argument really falls down, does it not?

Mr Ebeid : Well, I don't think we would be one to speak about that given Australia is not part of Europe and—

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, absolutely.

Mr Ebeid : We are very excited. Israel is not part of Europe either.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, absolutely.

Mr Ebeid : There are numerous countries that participate in Eurovision that are not part of Europe. Israel is—

Senator RHIANNON: But isn't it the case that none of those other countries have been invited, that it's only Israel?

Mr Ebeid : No. There are several other countries.

Senator RHIANNON: No. I mean within the Middle East.

Mr Ebeid : Well, I don't know if they've asked. I can't answer that question.

Senator RHIANNON: Are you following calls for—

Mr Ebeid : That is a matter for the European Broadcasting Union. It's not a matter for Australia. We are a participant, a lucky entrant to be invited. I think you are asking me questions that I am happy to put to the European Broadcasting Union if you would like, but I don't think it's appropriate for me to answer those questions.

Senator Fifield: Senator Rhiannon, you might be more a fan of the Intervision Song Contest.

Senator RHIANNON: I like them all, actually. They all have benefits. But I do have a question mark if this one goes ahead.

Senator Fifield: It is the network of eastern European Soviet bloc states.

Senator RHIANNON: Oh, for heaven's sake. The Cold War's over. Has SBS been following calls—

Senator Fifield: It was their equivalent of Eurovision.

Senator RHIANNON: Has the SBS been following calls for a boycott of the contest?

Mr Ebeid : Senator, I have certainly not seen any serious boycotts. I know some quarters have talked about it. But, as I say, the European Broadcasting Union is all about uniting people and communities, not dividing them. The Eurovision Song Contest is something that transcends politics. It is not about politics.

Senator RHIANNON: So when you cover the Eurovision Song Contest, you do all that excellent coverage in the weeks—I think it is weeks, actually; it used to be just a week—leading up to it. So if you do go ahead and cover it, will SBS cover the humanitarian crisis in Palestine and Israel along with its coverage of the Eurovision in Jerusalem, if it does go ahead?

Mr Ebeid : I think it's fair to say that we cover those issues almost every night at the moment on our evening news bulletins. We have had numerous documentaries about the Middle East. I can't recall an evening in the last two months where we probably haven't covered the issue nightly on our news bulletins or online. So it's clearly an ongoing issue. The issues of the Middle East have been going on for well over 60 years. I don't think the Eurovision Song Contest is going to change that any time soon. We'll certainly continue to cover the issues of the Middle East in a news and current affairs fashion, as we have been doing, in an excellent way.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering I asked the question very clearly whether you would cover the humanitarian crisis in Palestine and Israel along with the coverage of the Eurovision contest when it's held and considering the way you answered it, it appears—I don't want to verbal you; I just want an answer—you are saying no?

Mr Ebeid : No. That's absolutely not what I'm saying. I'm not saying that at all. Let me be very frank. We have only just finished Eurovision. I think it's fair to say that nobody at SBS has turned their mind to next year yet. It's a long time away. When we sit down and start doing our planning for Eurovision next year, we'll take that on board.

Senator RHIANNON: So when you say take it on board, take it on board. It is the most extraordinary situation, where you have snipers lying on the ground and on tops of buildings picking off kids. It is an extraordinary situation. You really need to take it seriously.

Mr Ebeid : Of course we take issues of Middle East news seriously. That goes without saying, I think. It is one of the things we do regularly. Look at any of our major events. With the World Cup in Brazil, we spent a lot of time doing programming in and around Brazil on issues in Brazil and food programs in Brazil. We're going to do the same with Russia. Last year, when Eurovision was in the Ukraine, we covered topics that were of relevance around issues in the Ukraine. We will probably do the same in the spirit of Eurovision. Our programming will be much lighter, most likely, around celebrating the cultures of Jerusalem, the Palestinians and the Israelis. We'll look at food programming. We'll do all of that. We will cover those serious issues that you are referring to in our news and current affairs, not in a Eurovision way. I don't think that would be appropriate.

Senator RHIANNON: It has been reported that Eurovision brought in $2.5 million. This is at some past Eurovision.

Mr Ebeid : What was that figure, sorry?

Senator RHIANNON: It is $2.5 million.

Mr Ebeid : What is that figure?

Senator RHIANNON: It was reported when I was reading up about some of the past Eurovisions. It has been reported that you brought in $2.5 million in revenue from major brands like Harvey Norman, Renault and AHM Insurance.

Mr Ebeid : We've never released figures about what we would get in revenue. That might have been somebody's estimate. I don't know what you're referring to and where that number came from.

Senator RHIANNON: It was just one of the news articles. You obviously bring in a lot of money.

Mr Ebeid : We make sure we try and cover our costs. That is something that SBS always tries to do when we do this.

Senator RHIANNON: Do you make a profit out of it?

Mr Ebeid : I think we cover our costs. If there is a profit, it might be a very modest one but certainly wouldn't be a big one. Certainly we don't do Eurovision for a profit, but we always make sure we try and cover our costs, absolutely.

Senator RHIANNON: So do you need to take that on notice? I notice you said, 'I think it's a modest profit.' So do you need to take that on notice so you can tell us what the profit is?

Mr Ebeid : Again, those things are commercial-in-confidence. I would be putting SBS at a disadvantage in giving you program by program revenues and costs. We don't do that. We run a commercial business that does have to operate in a very competitive market. I'm sure you wouldn't want to put SBS at a disadvantage.

Senator RHIANNON: No. Absolutely not. I love it. That's actually one of the reasons I am asking the questions. I think it would be tragic if you get caught up in this. Yes, it has been in Israel before, but it has gone to a whole new level with what has happened in the past few weeks. I was asking a question about the money because you clearly and obviously have a good revenue stream coming from this advertising. When you are making your decisions about whether you go ahead with Eurovision, will you be weighing that revenue stream against the impact on Palestinian lives? Is the money going to win out?

Mr Ebeid : I don't think we look at our programming that way. Our programming decisions are made for our Australian audiences. We bring in advertisers to help cover the costs of our programming. The impacts on the Palestinian people that you are referring to is a completely separate issue. I'm not sure about conflating the two issues of a song contest with the trials and tribulations of two communities or two cultures. They are very different things.

Senator RHIANNON: With all due respect, it is not trials and tribulations. Gaza is a giant prison now. That's why the people were protesting there. They have no future. To call it trials and tribulations does not do SBS any credit. It really doesn't. Thank you.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you to SBS for being here this evening. I would like to begin with an article published on the SBS Feed blog on 23 April 2018 called 'Anzac Day politics are holding back Australia's recognition of the Armenian genocide'. I think that's what it was called in the blog post. I think the headline was 'Every Anzac Day, Australia commemorates war while ignoring a genocide that killed millions'. Was that piece taken down, because I can't seem to find it any more?

Mr Ebeid : To be honest, I'm not sure what you're referring to. Can I have those dates again?

Senator KENEALLY: Sure. I have here a printout from the SBS blog website. It was posted on 23 April 2018 by Alex McKinnon. It was called 'Every Anzac Day Australia commemorates war while ignoring a genocide that killed millions'.

Mr Ebeid : I'm not across that article, so I'm very happy to take that on notice and look into it for you. It is the first I've heard of it.

Senator KENEALLY: It appears that it has been taken down. It's been republished on Can you take on notice whether the SBS received any complaints regarding this piece? Were there any factual errors in the piece? Was the piece deemed to have been offensive or racially vilifying any particular group? Can you take them on notice?

Mr Ebeid : I will. I'm very happy to. If we had received complaints, I think I would have known about that article. I do see a lot of the complaints with our SBS ombudsman. That one has not surfaced to my attention, so I would be surprised if we had. I will take it on notice and come back to you.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. Does the SBS have a style guide that advises staff on how to refer to sensitive topics and issues?

Mr Ebeid : Absolutely. We do have protocols around some key issues. As you can appreciate, SBS does work very hard to be impartial and quite balanced in all our reporting, particularly where there are sensitive issues around world conflicts, current wars, hot zones around the world and with historical issues. We ensure as much as we can that we are sensitive to our audiences and the communities we serve. Often, as you can appreciate with all the things that have gone on in history and the hotspots that are currently in place, some of our Australian migrant communities are going to differ on some of these issues. We need to take that into consideration, and we do that. So we make sure that where there are contentious issues, we have protocols in place around how we refer to different things, how we might cover them to make sure that we are as sensitive and impartial and balanced as we can be.

Senator KENEALLY: I think in the last estimates you answered some questions from then Senator Ludlam regarding the style guide as it relates to the term 'Armenian genocide' and reflected that it was difficult for the SBS to refer to that historical event as a genocide whilst the Australian government does not formally recognise that as a genocide. Is your style guide often directed or influenced by government policy?

Mr Ebeid : No. It's not influenced by government policy but it is one of the considerations that we would take in place. As you would be well aware, most governments around the world do not refer to it as a genocide. The United Nations does not refer to it as a genocide. The Australian government and, indeed, successive governments, both Labor and Liberal, have not referred to it as a genocide. So in making our determinations, we would look at all of those things together with other major media outlets around the world, from the BBC to the New York Times and Washington Post. None of them would refer to it as a genocide but would put both positions forward, stating that may refer to it as a genocide or that the Armenians refer to it as a genocide and that Turkey denies that it was a genocide. We put both sides to our audiences. We don't try and tell our audiences what to think. We put both sides of the argument forward in a balanced way. We let our audiences make their own conclusions on things like that, particularly where there are sensitivities. As I say, the fact that the government's position is not to call it a genocide is just one of many, many factors that we would take into consideration when making determinations around protocols on very sensitive things like that which are internationally recognised as controversial issues.

Senator KENEALLY: So your style guide, then, would be different in how you would differentiate between the Armenian genocide and how you would refer, for example, to the Holocaust, the Nanking massacre or the Rwandan genocide?

Mr Ebeid : Well, they are all very, very different. I don't think you could compare any of those things. They all need to be looked at individually. We look at the facts, look at how others are treating it, what government positions are and whatever facts that we can get to determine the best way to cover that. The Holocaust is a very different thing. It's not like Germany has denied the Holocaust. What we are saying is Turkey does not call it a genocide. They call it a mass killing. It was part of war and atrocities of war. The Holocaust is a very different thing. Other than a small handful of people who would be Holocaust deniers, by and large, the world community, the United Nations and the German government all agree that the Holocaust was a holocaust. I think it's a very different situation where you've got two communities or nations and governments that differ on historical events.

Senator KENEALLY: During last year's budget estimates, the SBS said that their approach to reporting on the Armenian genocide was justified because it's a matter of contention that historians over the world dispute. Have you seen a letter that you received from the International Association of Genocide Scholars, co-signed by 43 of Australia's leading experts on the Holocaust, genocide and human rights, which condemns the view that you've taken, which is that this is a matter of contention amongst historians?

Mr Ebeid : Yes, I have. I have seen it. I have seen that it's been signed by 43 scholars and historians. I can assure you that I could probably find another 80 scholars and historians that would deny that it was called a genocide. So these things are things that the SBS balances and is challenged by every day of the week. As I say, what we need to do is to be fair and impartial on these things and put both sides to our audiences to say that many call this a genocide, but Turkey denies it. That is what our protocol is. That is a factual statement. There's nothing wrong with that statement. It's not for us to determine a 100-year-old conflict.

Senator KENEALLY: I note you said that what others do is of relevance in this space. I note that the ABC, which is the other public broadcaster, seems to take quite a different position. On 25 April 2016, they talked about Anzacs and Armenia and described it as a genocide. On 4 April 2016, they described it on Overnights with Trevor Chappell as a genocide. Sunday Night with John Cleary described it as a genocide. Do you ever have recourse to consider the ABC's style guide when considering some of these issues?

Mr Ebeid : Of course. We have had conversations with the ABC. Please, it might be a question better for the ABC, but my understanding in our discussions with the ABC is that they actually don't have a position or a protocol or a style guide around it. Some journalists refer to it as a genocide and some don't; that's my understanding. It's probably best to question Mr Sunderland when he's here, if he's here later. But they don't have a position on it. They use both terms. Some networks around the world will use the words 'Armenian genocide' in inverted commas, which I think is probably even worse. So there are different ways of approaching it. I think the SBS way of approaching it, by saying that many call it a genocide and that Turkey denies, is a factual statement. I don't see anything wrong with that.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. I have one last question. Recently, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian gave a speech at the Sydney Institute. In it, she told, in quite moving terms—I was fortunate enough to be present—about her family's history; she is the granddaughter of Armenian genocide survivors. The SBS does have a news story online from 3 May regarding that speech. What is odd to me—perhaps someone could explain this—is that on the website it's got 'Gladys Berejiklian tells the story of her family history as immigrants'. Underneath it has a photo. Underneath it says, 'New South Wales Premier will open up tonight her speech in Sydney Institute about her family's survival from the Armenian genocide.' So the phrase is actually used on your website there. Then there's no story. There's no video and there's no audio. It's simply blank.

Mr Ebeid : There's no video?

Senator KENEALLY: There's nothing. If you click on the Arabic translation at the top, there is a story, which I have tried to get translated. It does appear. It tells—

Mr Ebeid : So you must be on the Arabic page?

Senator KENEALLY: No. I'm on the English page. There's a little button up the top where if you click you can get an Arabic translation. So on the English page there's nothing.

Mr Ebeid : If that language click is there, you are on a language website.

Senator KENEALLY: Right. So if you're an English reader looking for news of Gladys Berejiklian, the Premier of New South Wales, and her speech to the Sydney Institute about her family's survival of the Armenian genocide, you can't read the story if you want to read it in English?

Mr Ebeid : Please allow me to take that story on notice and find out where that was posted. Again, I'm not aware. I don't recall seeing that story myself. Obviously we publish a lot of things so you wouldn't expect me to. So allow me to take that on notice and see where and how it was published and why there's no story under there. It might simply be a technical error. I couldn't tell you.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm sure many readers who don't read in Arabic would like to know about her experience.

Mr Ebeid : Absolutely.

Senator KENEALLY: This is an example of where SBS has used the term 'genocide'. It seems to me, even in my Arabic translation that I got done into English, there's no further acknowledgement.

Mr Ebeid : If we're quoting somebody, say, in a speech like that, and we're taking a quote, we would then obviously take that quote as given. So if the Premier was referring to it as an Armenian genocide—

Senator KENEALLY: Which she does.

Mr Ebeid : we would have reported that.

Senator KENEALLY: Because she is the head of a state that has actually acknowledged the Armenian genocide?

Mr Ebeid : That's right. New South Wales is one of only two states in Australia—South Australia being the other state; we are aware of that. That's obviously a speech by our largest state Premier. A speech like that would be on our website. There might be some sort of technical error why that story is not there given the photo and headline, so allow me to find out.

Senator KENEALLY: I have one last question in this space. Thank you for your time tonight. Has the SBS ever been lobbied by any organisation to sensor its coverage or change its coverage of the Armenian genocide?

Mr Ebeid : I have been lobbied on many, many occasions by various people from the Armenian community. I have never in my seven years at SBS had a single meeting with anybody from the Turkish community to discuss anything around this issue. I've tried explaining that to many of our Armenian audiences and community members. They do have a false view that I've been lobbied by the Turkish community, which is absolutely false.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you, Mr Ebeid.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Keneally. I think that then concludes—

Senator LINES: I've got one.

CHAIR: Senator Lines, I beg your pardon.

Senator LINES: If you indulge me, about 10. SBS On Demand is terrific. It has a great range of programs. I watch it on iPad and phone. On the TV, it's really clunky to search. Is that a product of budget cuts? Why is it so clunky?

Mr Ebeid : Do you mind if I ask what sort of TV you're viewing? What brand of TV do you have?

Senator O'NEILL: This is not how questions are answered.

Mr Ebeid : It will help me to answer the question.

Senator LINES: I think it's a Panasonic. I don't really know.

Mr Ebeid : Okay.

Senator LINES: You have to spell out every single letter.

Mr Ebeid : Okay. We are on about 10 platforms. Each platform that SBS On Demand is on needs individual development, which takes a lot of time and resource. Obviously something like IOS on the iPad was one of the first ones that we did. Then we did Android et cetera. We have just relaunched our Samsung, Sony and LG television sets. Panasonic is one of the smaller manufacturers. I will take it on notice. I think Panasonic is being developed later.

Senator LINES: Is it a budget thing? The ABC is very easy to—

Mr Ebeid : Yes, absolutely.

Senator LINES: search.

Mr Ebeid : Yes. It is a budget thing.

Senator LINES: On yours, if you make one mistake, it's very frustrating.

Mr Ebeid : Do you have an Apple TV, by any chance?

Senator LINES: No.

Mr Ebeid : That is another way you can easily view it—through an Apple TV with the Internet.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm going to jump in and say I find it very frustrating as well, if we're going to enter into this discussion.

Senator LINES: So have you got a Panasonic?

Senator KENEALLY: The Apple TV and connectivity with SBS. This is if we're going to move into the Michael Ebeid technical assistance portion of the estimates.

Senator Fifield: He'll hold a workshop outside.

Senator LINES: I'm sure I'm not the only one. It puts people off because it's too hard—

Mr Ebeid : It is.

Senator LINES: if you leave an 'S' off. Obviously you are well aware of the issue.

Mr Ebeid : We are.

Senator O'NEILL: We should give special money to fix this.

Senator LINES: Thank you.

Mr Ebeid : Particularly if you have a TV manufactured by one of the smaller manufacturers, it is difficult for us. We don't have the resources to develop platforms for every manufacturer. Unfortunately, one of the problems is you don't develop it once and then it applies on every brand of television, because every single brand has different protocols and different platforms that we need to develop individually. I wish I could say that the government has funded us for On Demand, but, as I said earlier, we do it out of savings. We've done the best we can. The best experience is really to use an Apple TV or a Chromecast on any brand. But if you happen to have a Samsung, Sony or LG, in the last month we have launched brand new versions, which we're getting terrific feedback on. Indeed, iPad and Android devices offer a very good user experience.

Senator KENEALLY: I suspect my issues with Apple TV are user error and frustration with Apple TV rather than SBS.

Mr Ebeid : I'm happy to give you the VIP treatment, Senator, and help you with customer service.

Senator KENEALLY: I think Senator Lines needs help more than I do.

Mr Ebeid : I double up as head of customer service occasionally.

CHAIR: All right. On that very interesting note, I think we will leave the Special Broadcasting Service. Thank you very much for your appearance tonight and answers to questions. We will now move to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. Thank you very much.

Mr Mrdak : Chair, Senator O'Neill asked earlier about the NBN customer experience package. I can confirm that the short form RIS was prepared by the department in November last year. The Office of Best Practice Regulation assessed that a short form RIS was appropriate on the basis that the regulatory impacts were not expected to be significant. The RIS was completed on that basis.

Senator O'NEILL: That is not one of the three reasons that I've got as a guide from the Office of Best Practice Regulation. Do you claim minor modifications?

Mr Mrdak : Yes. Essentially, they were not expected to be a significant regulatory impost.

Senator O'NEILL: That's interesting to reflect on. Thank you.