SBS Television: Liz Jacka

SBS Television: Liz Jacka

In this clip, Liz Jacka discusses how the arrival of SBS TV in 1980 opened Australian television up to the world with the arrival of programming from a broad range of countries.

She characterises the first 10 years of SBS TV as focused on addressing particular ethnic communities. From about 1990 onwards, the character of SBS changed and it has since targeted a wider cosmopolitan audience more generally attracted to diversity and experimentation in TV content.

Between 1945 and 1975, nearly four million people migrated to Australia. The trigger for this large-scale migration was the end of the Second World War, and many were displaced people fleeing war-torn Europe.

As the number of new arrivals increased, Australia's ethnic communities criticised the Anglo-centricity of the broadcast media. Many migrants felt Australian radio and television did not cater to audiences from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

In 1975, two small radio stations – 2EA in Sydney and 3EA in Melbourne – began broadcasting for four hours a day in seven and eight languages respectively. Initially established to inform migrant communities about the newly-introduced Medibank health system, the service gradually expanded.

In 1977 the Broadcasting and Television Act was changed to provide for the establishment of a national Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) with mulitlingual radio and television services.

SBS Television went to air on Friday 24 October 1980. The first program screened by SBS was a documentary by Peter Luck about the history of Australian immigration. In its early days SBS was available only in Sydney and Melbourne, cities with large numbers of non-English-speaking migrants. Since then, SBS has extended its service nationally.

SBS policy dictated that half the scheduled programs should be conducted in a language other than English. SBS Radio broadcasts in English and 67 other languages, the major languages spoken at home by millions of Australians. These languages include, for example, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Vietnamese, Romanian, Slovenian, Tongan, Welsh, Yiddish, Urdu, Bosnian, Bengali and Assyrian, as well as Australian Indigenous languages.

Liz Jacka researches in the areas of broadcasting history and policy and is Emeritus Professor at University of Technology Sydney.

Image: detail of SBS logo, published under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0.