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Cultural and technological developments alter focus of Australia's multicultural broadcaster

28 Feb 2013

The Managing Director of SBS, Michael Ebeid, says the nation's multicultural broadcaster is changing its focus in response to shifts in Australia's demography and rapidly evolving technology.

Mr Ebeid was speaking at the annual dinner of the University of Sydney Business School's Business and Professional Ethics Group.

When SBS was founded 30 years ago, Mr Ebeid said its primary role was to help migrants to "stay connected" to their country of origin and give them a way of feeling a part of the broader Australian community. "In the 1970's it had to focus on safeguarding culture and countering racism," he said. "Multiculturalism was about nationality and it was about being anti-racist."

Now, Mr Ebeid told his audience, that multiculturalism is about integration with the world's diversity. Audience research, he said, "shows that it's about being open minded and feelings of connection to the world. It shows that Australians live in quite a cosmopolitan society and we are comfortable with being part of multiple cultures."

The head of SBS said that technological developments were influencing the network's direction. "Because its increasingly possible to rely on country of origin media for news, information and entertainment, SBS's role is changing to be more focused on ensuring migrants can access Australian news and information in a language with which they are familiar to help them participate in Australian society."

Mr Ebeid also said that technological advances and shrinking advertising revenue were forcing broadcasters to rethink their delivery systems. "The fact is that the sheer number of channels and services available means that our audiences have fragmented and have much more choice," he said. "For broadcasters, grabbing audience attention is harder than it ever has been."

Mr Ebeid talked about SBS's diversification into a number of radio channels, pay TV, "catch up" programming, websites, smart phone apps, CD and DVD production and publishing. SBS now operates five television channels - SBS ONE and TWO, National Indigenous Television (NITV), and two channels on Foxtel.

Despite the social and technological changes of the past 30 years, Mr Ebeid concluded by saying that SBS remained "an important part of national strategies to ensure the continued success of Australia as a migrant society".

The aim of the Business and Professional Ethics Group is to promote and develop high quality ethics focused research and teaching. It is involved in outreach activities within the University, business and the wider community.