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Once upon a time SBS was a wonderful thing - bringing news and television programs in different languages to Australia, allowing speakers of languages other than English to access information and entertainment on TV, and introducing Australian English speakers to other languages. They ran Australia's main subtitling service.

But worldly powers in Australia are profoundly monolingual, and now multilingual television is under threat. I quote from a message I just received today:

Last week, the Managing Director, Shaun Brown, of SBS Television announced that more than one-third of the staff of the SBS Subtitling Unit will be made redundant. On top of the marginalisation of unique multicultural content, the introduction of mid-program advertising, and the programming of the station to render it thoroughly mainstream, we are now left fighting for the survival of a distinctively Australian resource.

The Subtitling Unit was at the very heart of SBS when it was set up, and is the one part of SBS that has remained as a centre of excellence and regarded as producing the highest quality subtitled programs in the world. Yet the desire to maximise advertising revenue from English-language broadcasting has pushed all foreign language content to the margins of the SBS schedule and made SBS a pale imitator of other TV broadcasters. For what little non-English content remains on the station, the Managing Director has said he will buy programs with inferior subtitles overseas, because they are cheaper.

The SBS Subtitling Unit has been acknowledged for decades to be the best in the world. If it were a football team, it would be regarded as a national treasure and promoted, marketed and funded accordingly. Instead, it will now be the victim of a rationalisation to save a few dollars, and in the process, the jobs of a team of specially skilled Australians will go offshore.

If you valued what SBS once was and believe that it is important to retain this unique and best subtitling unit that Australia is proud of as part of its multicultural heritage, please take a couple of minutes to email Senator Conroy, the responsible minister, senator.conroy AT aph.gov.au and copy in your local MP (their email address can be found here ) to protest at the latest attack on what was once a unique and valued cultural institution.


Update: 16/6/2010
Here's an SMH article, and tomorrow there should be a radio program on it, podcast up later.

Alas, this is happening all over the world with the BBC's foreign language monitoring/translation service also facing the axe.
Let's hope the petition encourages a change of mind, we must keep the public service ethos in some areas of broadcasting.

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