Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has gone to great pains to avoid saying whether he believes “in program” advertising on SBS is in accordance with its obligations under its Act, Senator Simon Birmingham said today.
“Senator Conroy has become remarkably coy on this matter as Minister, given his past comments as Shadow Minister when SBS began in program advertising,” Senator Birmingham said.
“Senator Conroy made his views very clear in Senate Additional Estimates hearings in 2006, when questioning SBS managing director Shaun Brown.
“Do you seriously believe that the SBS’s interpretation is consistent with the intent of parliament? … It just seems to me that with the way the act was written – and I have spoken to some of the people who were involved in drafting it – it was not open slather. Clearly, it does not say: ‘Just have ads wherever you want;’ it says: ‘You can have ads in only a couple of places,’ and yet, as you have testified, there is now open slather in every single program. That just seems to me to be inconsistent with the intent of the limits that the legislation attempted to set. You have now defined those limits as being unlimited.”
                                    Senator Conroy, Hansard, 30 October 2006
“Senator Conroy has been much more circumspect when repeatedly questioned in this Senate Estimates as to his view on the matter, having now considered SBS’s legal advice, refusing to even offer an opinion on the advice himself or indicate whether he has sought legal opinion within his own department.
“I repeat that the SBS Board believe that they are acting consistent with their obligations, their legal advice is consistent with that and the first opportunity for us to review these matters is now the triennial funding round but the issue of whether or not the SBS legal advice is contestable … short of taking it to court to test it, which is not something I think even you’re suggesting… the first opportunity to address this matter now is in the SBS triennial funding review which is where we’re now considering this matter.”
                                    Senator Conroy, Senate Budget Estimates, 26 May 2008
“Having made the legality of SBS in program advertising an issue when in Opposition, Senator Conroy has been surprisingly reticent now that he is Minister.”
“We all await the next triennial funding round with bated breath to see if the Minister was at all serious in his past criticisms of in program advertising or if he was simply scoring cheap political points at the expense of SBS.”