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SBS - Radio rescheduling

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MEDIA RELEASE WARWICK SMITH M.R Shadow Minister for Communications

15 August 1991


Following two very large public meetings, one in Melbourne on 11 August and one in Sydney on 13 August, it is apparent that Minister Beazley must intervene in the current furore over the rescheduling of SBS radio programming.

At the outset it should be pointed out that this issue had been raised by the

Opposition with the Minister as early as 20 May this year, firstly to seek an extension of the consultation period (which SBS agreed to) and secondly to seek details of the prospects and costs of a Second Frequency on FM for both Melbourne and Sydney. The Minister has yet to respond to the Opposition.

It is the Opposition's view that the following should now take place;

1. That the Minister receive a delegation from the ethnic communities to hear first hand the concerns they legitimately hold.

2. Request SBS to review the proposed schedule to accommodate some of the constructive suggestions put forward by the public meetings , to address in the short term the demonstrated needs of small language . groups.

3. Recognise that SBS radio has a strong and supportive constituency and that the proposal for a Second Frequency must be accelerated and a full costing and the technical aspects of its adoption be made available to the Opposition and the community.

4. A recommitment by the Government to an equity and access policy aimed at support for the maintenance of ethnic culture and language and not permitting the rescheduling proposal to be a positive

discrimination against small language groups.

It is the Opposition's view that a Second Frequency should be viewed sympathetically and this was our policy at the last election. We have no costing or technical advice, however, on which to base a firm decision. We set up SBS in 1978 and in 1986 we committed the Opposition to its continuation as a separate entity from the ABC. Our

current Communications Policy continues this support. ....2

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It is most important that this issue not become divisive in the ethnic community. The issue is one not between ethnic communities but one of trying to offer a service within the confines of resources available and to a diverse market (140 language groups) with a capacity to seek more than can be provided.

Any hint of preference for one group over another just on racial grounds is unfair, unjust and unhelpful. Greater consultation over a longer period and for the proposed schedules to be aired as a proposal rather than a "fait accompli" would have avoided the intensity of feeling this matter has raised.

Legitimate concerns from many ethnic groups — Ukrainians, Maltese, Turkish, Estonian, Assyrian, etc — must be answered.

It must be recognised that SBS management has done a good job with limited resources. They enjoy my respect and continue to do so. The resources and structure provided to them by the community via Parliament and the Government is what they must work with. It is not constructive to denigrate those who do the best they can within the imposed confines of policy. It is the policy which must be addressed.

The community is limited in its capacity to meet all needs due to economic constraints and this must be recognised. It is a matter of priorities. We believe that the SBS over 13 years has demonstrated a capacity to serve well an ever increasing ethnic community rich in its diversity. Change has been apparent and it must be met — to wait 12 years for programme review has clearly been an error. It is also an error to

now believe that the broad ethnic mix that is Australia no longer places store by its diverse cultural heritage — for it most assuredly does. Government must recognise this fact. Whether this manifests itself in more "public" funding of services or a greater mix of private and public funding to more ably meet the growing variety of needs is

the question.

I support providing greater opportunity for private involvement by provision for example in radio of "spectrum" space ( a public asset) and subscription radio for a greater variety of services. How this might be achieved is one of the challenges for policy makers in this area for the 1990's and beyond.

The sadness is that the Minister is bogged down in leadership tensions, economic policy decay and with a Ministry simply too large to cope, to be able to be aware in sufficient detail of emerging problems, let alone to have the capacity to seek solutions or dialogue with communities on how they might be addressed.

Contact (003) 314322 Launceston office (06) 2774512 Canberra office

Note: Mr Smith attended the Sydney meeting and Senator Short, Shadow Minister for Finance attended the Melbourne meeting.