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SBS subtitling

Senator Ludlam (Western Australia) asked the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, upon notice, on 2 July 2010:

(1) Which positions are being made redundant in the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) subtitling and news and current affairs areas.

(2) What are the reasons for these cuts.

(3) Will these cuts make a difference to the quality of SBS's news and current affairs coverage; if so, how.

(4) Will the need to purchase pre-subtitled content, rather than subtitling programs in-house, change SBS's selection of programming; if so, (a) how; and (b) will it result in some language groups being better served than others.

(5) Will the subtitles be different in any way to the subtitles SBS would have inserted in-house; if so, how.

(6) Are these changes the result of the ‘legacy of successive funding shortfalls' SBS mentioned in its 2009-2012 triennial funding submission to Government.

Senator Conroy (Victoria) (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) -The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) SBS has identified 21.67 full time equivalent positions for redundancy including subtitlers, video captioners, editors and journalist/producers.

(2) SBS advises it is now carrying more first-run multilingual content than at any time in the past. This has been achieved by maintaining the traditional 50-50 split of LOTE (languages other than English) and English content on SBS ONE while, in 2009, launching SBS TWO, which is carrying LOTE programming in excess of 70 per cent. Later this year SBS intends to lift both the level and range of first-run multilingual content on SBS TWO. This will include languages, particularly from the Asian region, for which SBS has limited in-house subtitling capacity. SBS commissioned the consulting firm Deloitte to conduct an independent review of its Subtitling Unit. This review included an assessment of the Unit's current levels of activity, and its ability to handle the future demand created by SBS TWO. The review concluded that among the languages that were staffed at SBS, there was considerable over-capacity, that is, it did not have the right mix of staff languages to meet the programming needs of SBS ONE and SBS TWO. It also found that many highly skilled staff were undertaking duties other than subtitling for the majority of their time (for example, closed captioning). The review also advised that it was not possible to fully align an in-house subtitling unit serving a limited number of languages with the requirements of the program schedule both in terms of varying volumes and additional languages. It identified a number of quality international subtitling companies, serving broadcasters such as the BBC, which could potentially service SBS. The recommendation of Deloitte was to introduce efficiencies, some of which had been identified by staff, before progressing to a fully outsourced subtitling service. SBS Management did not adopt the recommendation to fully outsource subtitling, deciding instead to retain a significant, albeit reduced, Subtitling Unit by reducing the excess capacity across all parts of the Unit (not just among subtitling staff). SBS will continue to use a mixed-model to source its subtitles including, as now, from the in-house unit and from freelance staff, when this is necessary, using SBS facilities. It will explore commissioning some subtitles from well-credentialed international subtitling companies and will increase, subject to quality, the use of subtitles which are supplied with some of the programs SBS buys from overseas. The resulting efficiencies and greater flexibility will produce some savings, all of which will be required to invest in purchasing more multilingual programs for SBS TWO. SBS is committed to expanding its multilingual offering and, to do that, it requires a flexible subtitling service that directly fits the requirements of the program schedule. The SBS News and Current Affairs 2010/11 budget planning process identified the need to reduce staff numbers in the Division.

(3) No. The cuts are relatively small and will be alleviated by more efficient rostering and new technology.

(4) No. SBS will continue to use a mixed-model to source its subtitles including, as now, from the in-house unit and freelance staff. It will explore commissioning some subtitles from well-credentialed international subtitling companies and will increase, subject to quality, the use of subtitles which are supplied with some of the programs SBS buys from overseas.

(5) Pre-subtitled content may use a different visual style to that used by SBS for its subtitles. For example, a different font style or colour may be used. SBS will assess all pre-subtitled content and will only use subtitles which it considers acceptable for its audience. In those cases where subtitles are not acceptable or beyond modification SBS will make use of in-house or freelance staff, as necessary, to subtitle the content.

(6) SBS routinely assesses all areas of its operations to see if improvements can be made and to ensure that it is performing its functions in a proper, efficient and economical manner, and with the maximum benefit to the people of Australia, as required under the Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991.

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