Outgoing ABC managing director Mark Scott has called for a merger of Australian public broadcasters SBS and ABC. Though many count SBS as a unique multicultural network, Scott said a consolidation is justified as the differentiation between the two is fast disappearing.
Making his final appearance at the Senate estimates hearings, Scott cast doubts on the solo existence of SBS. He said SBS was more of an “analogue solution in a digital world.” He further aired his apprehension that the broadcaster will start losing its distinctiveness.
Scott will be retiring in April. He has been serving as ABC’s managing director for almost 10 years. The veteran will be succeeded by Google executive Michelle Guthrie, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.
Noting that the merger of two as “worthy of investigation,” in the context of heavy digitization in the media, Scott delved on its historical context to justify his views.
“SBS was created well before digitisation, well before digital television … it’s an analogue solution in a digital world,” he said. Scott added that if Foxtel wants to run new discrete channels they will not be creating new networks around it. SBS was set up in 1975 as a multicultural broadcaster. But, over the years it has become more similar to the ABC, Scott said.
According to Scott, today SBS is more like a general interest broadcasting network. The areas of differences between the two broadcasters have blurred. “There is far less subtitled content on SBS in prime time than would have been the case 20, 30 years ago,” Scott noted.
Scott’s suggestion on merger came up when Liberal senator Chris Back questioned the need for having two public broadcasters. Scott was also quizzed by Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie on the increasing overlap between charters of the two broadcasters in the 21st century, reports The Australian.
Earlier in the briefing, SBS managing director Michael Ebeid expressed disappointment at ABC’s decision to move its Foreign Correspondent program into the same timeslot as Dateline, run by SBS. The Senators also questioned Scott on ABC’s decision to bid for the Asian Cup football tournament when SBS was already in the fray. Scott shrugged off such issues as “broader policy questions.”
Reacting to Scott, a spokeswoman of SBS said: “SBS’s sole focus is on continuing to provide unique services to multicultural Australia at a time when inspiring a greater understanding of the value of multiculturalism has never been more important.”
She said SBS audiences are up 11 percent and it has been using digital technology in a way no other broadcaster has ever done in reaching multicultural communities.