Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Time To Shut Down SBS

Paul Sheehan, writing in the SMH, argues that

'The real question facing the Federal Government, and the overwhelming majority of taxpayers who pay for SBS but rarely watch it, is whether SBS should continue to exist at all.'

(For those outside Australia, the SBS is a state-owned and run free-to-air TV channel roughly equivalent to BBC2). Sheehan continues,

'The Special Broadcasting Service Act should be repealed, the corporation dismantled and sold and its valuable broadcasting spectrum auctioned off. SBS has outlived its charter, and the charter has always been of dubious social utility. (I quote, in part: "As far as practicable, inform, educate and entertain Australians in their preferred languages.")'

'According to SBS projections, during the next five years, the Federal Government will spend almost $1 billion to keep the corporation afloat. And then there's the opportunity costs of the digital spectrum given to SBS by the Howard Government.'

SBS was set up to provide Australians with a multicultural array of TV programs in an era of just two or three stations. Today, by subscribing to Foxtel, one can receive hundreds of such multicultural stations and foreign news 24/7. SBS averages a market share of just 5.4% of network TV viewers. It no longer serves any useful purpose.

The LDP believes that SBS, along with the ABC should be fully privatised.

Governments simply should not be in the business of owning and running TV stations. Their role is to regulate content to ensure standards are met and advertisers' claims are valid. The market is amply served and competition is rife, ensuring a large and diverse selection of TV channels to consumers at a good price.

Like SBS, the ABC has a small national share (now less than 15% of free-to-air channels) but still receives up to $1bn per annum of taxpayers money. This is an anachronistic situation that should be ended.

The money can be better utilised building a Australia's much-needed broadband network or simply handed back to taxpayers to spend on a Foxtel subscription if that is what they want.