The SBS slogan “6 Billion stories and counting” suggests that all personal stories are of equal valuable and worth listening to.
This may be so, but the recent support that marginal groups having been receiving from SBS (and indeed the ABC) suggests otherwise.
SBS has been increasingly alienating its ethnic constituency to the extent where many of its core viewers have been turning to stories from “back home”.
Take the programs that my parents and their friends tune into these days through their Foxtel feed.
You won’t find too many stories from the margins on their ‘must see’ list.
And you certainly won’t encounter an Albanian or Russian migrant role model in the typically mono-cultural stories that appear on Greek television.
Immigrants and “non Greeks” are merely presented as interlopers, intruders, pests and social outcasts who are primarily responsible for Greece’ moral decline and rising crime rate.
The only story you’re likely to hear from an immigrant’s mouth is one of protest against persecution and social injustice.
You would like to think that Australian television gives voice to the voiceless. And you would think that this is the case in light of some Australian programs.
I recall an SBS program from a while back that had an interviewer roaming the streets of Australian towns and cities with microphone in hand and a camera operator in tow inviting strangers to share their stories.
The program was called Front Up and its presenter, Andrew Urban, encouraged ordinary folk from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds to relate their personal dramas, joys, and tragedies in an informal and frank manner.
The program worked well because it captured Australia’s polyphonic voice. Unfortunately, it was dropped around the time SBS was becoming increasingly preoccupied in tailoring stories for an Anglo-Celtic demographic.
Thankfully ABC’s Australian Story appeared on our screens around the time when Front Up disappeared.
I remember the first Australian Story. It was called ‘Something About Pauline” and it was televised on 18 February 1999, a few years after Pauline Hanson was elected to Federal Parliament. And just like the ‘please explain’ interview with Tracey Curro on Nine’s “60 Minutes” in 1996, it told an ugly Australian tale.
The following week, Australian Story screened “Brown Skin Baby’, which was essentially the story that launched the issue of the “stolen generation”.
Although its content was unpleasant, the story highlighted our preparedness to face up and deal with our shameful past.
By mid March of that year, Australian Story gave us “All Souls Day”; a distressing account of the grieving Halvakis family. In this horrific account of a family’s attempt to come to grips with their daughter’s murder, we gained an insight into the quest for justice in a country that this family called home.
This was followed by a story on Dame Elizabeth Murdoch, and then an episode on Australian television actress, Chantal Contouri.
Not a bad beginning for a program dedicated to telling the Australian story.
Australian Story is very different these days. Consider the personalities in recent years. Sir Jack Brabham, Keith Miller, Nick D’Arcy, Susie O’Neill, Kevin Sheedy, Peter Brock and Steve Irwin.
Australian Story has become so monotonous and predictable that it is morphing into a cross between Nine’s This Is Your Life and Seven’s Find My Family.
A story that assumes a singular tone, pitch, style and perspective will inevitably end up sounding more like a self-help CD that one plays repeatedly in the hope that its message seeps deep into the one’s consciousness.
If the ABC wishes to be as bold as to call one of its flagship programs Australian Story, then it must to be prepared to include voices from the margins.
If it is happy with the current melodramatic and mono-cultural formula, then it should consider renaming the program White Australian Story. It is a title that the program’s inaugural guest would endorse.
Chris Fotinopoulos is a Melbourne based writer who has taught ethics and philosophy at the University of Melbourne and Monash.