Last Thursday evening the Maltese Community Council of Victoria held a Community Action Meeting at the Maltese Centre in Parkville to discuss what protest action the Maltese community residing in Victoria should take against the decision made by the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) to slash the Maltese language programs on SBS Radio from eight hours per week to a token two hours in its new Schedule with effect from April 2013.
The Maltese language programs were, in fact, the worst hit of the 68 languages that are currently broadcast on SBS Radio with a reduction of six hours per week. The next worst hit were Polish, reduced by four hours per week, and Spanish by three hours.
The Maltese community is incensed about the outcome of the SBS schedule review and the lack of community consultation on the new schedule before it was published in its final form.
Many of those present at yesterday’s meeting expressed their dismay at the severe cut in Maltese language programs. The following are the key points made at the meeting:
- In April 2012 SBS conducted consultations with ethnic communities on the criteria to be applied in the review of the radio schedule. However, there was no such consultation on the application of the criteria before the publication of the new schedule on 30 November 2012. It would have been the right and proper course of action for SBS to seek feedback from ethnic communities on a proposed new schedule, and in particular, from those communities that would be the hardest hit, providing them with an opportunity to put forward their case. At least, SBS should have had the courtesy to alert the Maltese community leaders of the seismic shift proposed in their allocated air-time rather than to suddenly and disrespectfully hit them with a dispiriting fait accompli. This would have ensured that the Maltese community’s specific radio broadcasting needs would have been truly taken into consideration.
- The Maltese community feels very hard done by, as SBS failed to adequately take into account the specific needs of the ageing members of the Maltese community in Australia. It would appear that SBS relied way too heavily, in fact almost exclusively, on the 2011 census data. Such an overwhelming reliance on census statistics to dole out hours of radio time is simply untenable. The other criteria set by SBS, which were intended to provide a guide for distribution of radio time, were given far less importance than they should have been.
- A more realistic criterion would have been an assessment of the use made of radio hours by any of the communities in question. Participation levels in ‘talk-backs’ and ‘radiothons’ by some of the smaller communities, including Maltese, have shown that they make far more use of their language radio programs than other much larger communities. This criterion would, therefore, have been a better indication of need than mere numbers of language speakers within a community.
- Six communities (Italian, Greek, Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese) now command over one-third (34%) of the total hours available, with the other 68 communities having to divide among themselves the other two-thirds. Such unjustifiable disproportionate allocation of radio time becomes more blatant when one bears in mind the fact that the large communities are very well supplied with their own ethnic newspapers, often available on a daily basis, and in some cases, also a 24-hour radio station and other media facilities in their language.
- The Maltese in Australia are one of a few national groupings that seem to have very limited means of language and culture maintenance. There is only one weekly Maltese paper in Australia (The Maltese Herald) with limited circulation and, apart from the weekly half hour news bulletin from Malta in Maltese, there are no other programs or movies in Maltese that are televised on SBS TV. By contrast, other larger language groups are able to regularly watch not just daily news bulletins, but also programs and movies in their language, all on SBS TV.
- While there are a couple of local community radio stations that broadcast a handful of programs in Maltese prepared and presented by volunteers, SBS radio has always been considered as the professional flag-bearer in this field. The quality of production of their programs has always been very high and the Australian content on SBS Radio has been given in a way that is digestible by the general Maltese community in Australia. However, placing an emphasis on Australian content only is contrary to the basic principle of multiculturalism, which extols the values of the background culture. It is wrong to undervalue the importance of home news. Those who listen to Maltese programs still want to keep in touch with events in the home country.
- There is a special relationship between age, culture and communications that does not appear to be particularly understood by SBS. Several ageing members of the Maltese community often suffer from social isolation due to their living long distances away from their relatives and their total reliance on their native language. Due to their age bracket, older members of our community listening to Maltese programs do not have access to modern electronic means of communication, including internet and email. For them, such a severe cut in their programs will deprive them of the one medium that keeps them connected to what is going on around them in their local community, in Australia, in Malta and in the world.
- To top it all, neither of the two hours allocated to Maltese is scheduled to broadcast in the most popular current weekend timeslots. Instead they are scheduled to air at a most inconvenient time of 12 noon on Tuesdays and Fridays, when people are either at work or, in the case of the aged, are resting after a meal.
The meeting resolved that the Maltese community should take the following action to strongly protest against the decision to severely reduce the Maltese language program hours on SBS Radio:
- Maltese community members are urged to sign, and encourage others to sign, the petition (click here to download form) which is being organised by the MCCV and will be presented to the relevant Minister at a public event to be held next month.
- The MCCV will engage with its community leaders in other states to co-ordinate the signing of the same petition by as many members of the Maltese community around Australia as possible.
- The MCCV will write to all federal and state MPs to enlist their support and make representations to the SBS Board and the Federal Government on behalf of the Maltese constituents in their electorate.
- Maltese associations affiliated to the MCCV and individual community members are urged to write letters and send emails to the SBS Board members and the SBS CEO protesting against the decision and emphasizing what the Maltese language programs mean to them personally.
- Maltese community members are urged to write letters and send emails to their local federal and state MPs and local Councillor enlisting their support and requesting them to make representations to the SBS Board and the Federal Government on their behalf.
- Maltese community members should also consider registering their protest by complaining directly to SBS about the new schedule by completing the form on the SBS website located at https://www.tfaforms.com/237408.
- Maltese community members with a Facebook account should post their complaints on the SBS Maltese page (search for SBS Radio Maltese in Facebook).
Signed petition forms should be forwarded to the Maltese Community Council,
477 Royal Parade, Parkville 3021 by not later than 31 December 2012.