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Dumbing down SBS

By Peter West - posted Wednesday, 5 September 2007


What is happening at SBS TV? We have had  a couple of weeks of drama heralded by the news that Mary Kostakidis is unhappy with her role and indeed, seems to be suing the station. But this is merely the end of a very long process. Gerald Stone (deputy Chairman of the SBS Board) and Shaun Brown (SBS managing director) have denied that SBS is being dumbed down and vigorously defended the station in a National Press Club discussion.

Now that’s interesting. How come these two are so outspoken in defending SBS? One seems to be an Anglo Australian. The other is an American resident in Australia. Where is the diversity that SBS is supposed to provide? And why haven’t the ethnic communities sprung to SBS’ defence?

Where, in this debate, are the voices of Italian, Greek, Lebanese, German, Turkish and all the other ethnic communities? The message from management has been that, no, SBS TV is not being dumbed-down. But I think they protest much too much.

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What is SBS supposed to do? And what does it do? To do this we have to look at the SBS Charter, which I have added to the bottom of this article as displayed on SBS’ own website.

In essence, SBS is supposed to be different from the commercial stations: and different again from the ABC, which has its own responsibilities across Australia and its own limitations.

SBS’ website encapsulates a responsibility to be different. Thus:

SBS celebrates difference and promotes understanding. It gives Australians access to other cultures and languages, and targets prejudice, racism and discrimination through creative and quality programming that is inclusive and diverse.

SBS is the voice and the vision of multicultural Australia.

This is a grand and laudable vision, and should give the station the licence and responsibility to broadcast a range of diverse and challenging programs with many perspectives and in many languages.

There have certainly been SBS programs which show us a window on the world. News is broadcast from a range of countries. There is Latin American news, news from Germany and Italy, and so on.

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There have been some excellent movies from Africa, Asia, France and a host of other countries. I have often watched them and had my Anglo-Australian eyes opened. I have frequently told my teacher education students to watch these programs, particularly Global Village.

There have been some engaging sports programs offering useful alternatives to the usual diet of Rugby League or AFL which dominate most stations, or the cricket presented so reverently by ABC.

All these programs are illuminating and a useful contrast to the high American content on commercial channels, and the weight of British programs on ABC TV.

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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