In his final appearance at Senate Estimates yesterday, outgoing ABC Managing Director Mark Scott raised the question as to whether Australia still needs two public broadcasters.
Mr Scott believes it may be time for the Government to consider a merger of the ABC with SBS, saying that combining the two public broadcasters is, at the very least, “worthy of investigation”. He also claimed that it’s a “matter for government” as to whether SBS would still be able to serve multicultural needs if it was no longer an independent network.
“I suspect that the SBS of today which is more ‘general interest broadcasting’ means the distinction between the two broadcasters is not as distinct as it once was,” he said. “For example, I think it’s true to say on any reckoning that there is far less subtitled content on its main channel than 20 or 30 years ago.”
Earlier in the day, SBS Managing Director Michael Ebeid expressed his disappointment at the ABC’s airing of Foreign Correspondent at 9.30pm on Tuesdays – the same timeslot as SBS’ Dateline. Mr Scott’s statement may have been a retaliatory response to Mr Ebeid’s complaints.
Even though there has been a long-standing public debate over whether or not the two should merge, SBS has staunchly resisted calls to be absorbed into the larger ABC.
In 2014, Malcolm Turnbull, who was the communications minister at the time, called for the ABC and SBS to share offices to save taxpayer money as part of an efficiency review he commissioned. The ABC was in favour of the move – SBS was not.
Mr Scott served as ABC’s managing director for almost 10 years. He will be succeeded by Google executive Michelle Guthrie in April. He may throw more fuel on what could be a fiery debate when he delivers his farewell speech to the National Press Club later this month.
Do you think the SBS and ABC should merge? What do you feel we would lose as a result of such a merger? Is SBS still serving the needs of the multicultural masses?