SBS radio review: what it means for us
George Zangalis, former SBS Board Member, discusses the recent decision made by SBS to conduct a review on their languages programming and what it means to the Greek community
The SBS decision to review its ethnic language radio programming - in the light of demographic changes - has implications right across all ethnic broadcasting and wider multicultural areas.
For a broadcaster, reviewing programming from time to time is of course essential to ensure as far as possible the most effective and efficient delivery of service, accommodating expanding and new community needs. For a publicly funded broadcaster like SBS, which has a clear mandate to cater for the linguistic and cultural needs and aspirations of multicultural Australia, this task is much more complex. It certainly requires more time for community responses than the mere four weeks announced by SBS management.
One gets the strong impression that minds have already been made up in this climate of cost cutting. An obvious bureaucratic solution is to cut services to established users to fulfil new demand - a sort of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Community consultation seems to be an afterthought. Unless more time and real opportunities are provided for communities and their organisations to respond, the integrity of the SBS review process is gravely compromised.
The need to provide adequate air time for an ever increasing demand both from established communities as well as and more urgently the new and emerging communities whether in the government and more so in the community sector invariably comes up against inadequate government funding and more critically allocation of frequencies.
No other commercial or government radio station in Australia has had to accommodate up to 70 different language programs on one frequency (or two in the case of SBS).
Many ethnic language programs get one hour a week with the upper limit for the largest communities being two hours a day (SBS). 'Packed like sardines' is no exaggeration.
Digital broadcasting, which has the capacity to overcome the frequency problem, will not be accessible or affordable to most people for many years to come, and certainly not without increased government funding.
Reprogramming therefore, within the current framework can only be limited.
SBS would do better to cut English language programs and give the time back to ethnic languages. Better language coordination of its AM and FM frequencies is another "economy area" as is that of utilising overnight down time.
In terms of access and equity, the real question is not whether new migrants need more air time.
This is obvious.
For those of us involved in this area over a long time recognise this only too well and never stop trying to make magic - but how to get there without reducing the already inadequate air time of other ethnic communities is like forcing executioner roles onto radio stations.
The real issue is what old and new communities, and indeed the nation do, to grow the pie and reject attempts by clever or brutal managements and departments to take the easy and lazy way out of thinning the slices.
In general SBS, apart from a formal submission to government has been absent from community efforts to increase air time for ethnic broadcasting.
The proposition that established communities have somehow fewer and less pressing needs and therefore can do with less air time in broadcasting or other social services, and especially when these needs are most inadequately provided for, is dangerously flawed and discriminatory.
Commitment to multiculturalism requires policies and programs that provide well funded services to Australia's linguistically and culturally diverse population.
Ethnic broadcasting in both the community and government sectors broadcast ethnic programs in over 100 languages, through 100 Radio Stations across Australia and involves hundreds of communities and millions of listeners.
It is clearly a major national broadcaster and a unique and highly significant multicultural institution, reflecting and shaping Australia's development as a multicultural nation. It is an active language and culture practitioner, which in terms of multicultural funding has a great and broad reach and impact on both new and established communities. As such, it cannot and should not have or be made to have access criteria that value one community's rights above another.
Newer communities have specific needs that are clearly pressing and are in fact being addressed, most certainly in the community sector, through understanding and cooperation with older communities.
Older communities are in the best position to assist, having gone through the experiences of settlement a generation or two earlier.
But no community is ever static, whether new or established. The new and the young of today are the older and the old of tomorrow. But they are all citizens of this country. In the cycle of life and movement of immigration all people have a right to a decent life, to continue to connect with their culture and first language.
Newcomers require and deserve generous care and support especially in accessing vital information, and relieving feelings of alienation to assist them in successful settlement.
In older communities the needs of the ethnic ageing for instance, demand ethno-specific language and culture services . Alongside this humanitarian and just support to the elderly, there is also a strong need and desire to maintain culture and language for subsequent generations which is shared by all communities. There are also new migrants who come to add to the numbers of an older community.
The principal issue in the SBS Ethnic Radio Review is that of social justice in the distribution of the nations "people produced" wealth and a fair share for ethnic communities and the country's first citizens, the Aborigines.
* George Zangalis is the Honorary Executive Director, National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasters Council and is also a former board member of SBS.
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