Monday, 31 May 2010


An interesting curio about living in Australia is the way cultural and geographical isolation can distort huge mainstream overseas events and reduce them to quasi-cult viewing. Half a day’s time difference and lousy programming decisions by television companies are often enough to reduce viewing of even the most commercial of cultural phenomena to a few dedicated souls.

I’ve written before about great television shows from around the world being buried in late night schedules or woefully under-publicised. Shows like Madmen, 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm may attract worldwide column inches but here bad scheduling has reduced them to niche viewing. Despite what Channel 7 would have us believe in their recent publicity of the Lost finale, in truth the show had been hidden away on their secondary digital channel for months. Hardly the attitude for must-see-TV.

Certainly time zones play a part in Australia’s participation in worldwide events. With no local event and no live feed on terrestrial television Live 8 was reduced to a 90 minute highlights show (with adverts, naturally) whilst as tennis fans will currently tell you, the drama of any European sporting event is a little reduced when relayed the next day by breakfast news presenters.

Credit then to SBS for their continued efforts to keep Australia connected to the rest of the world despite their mediocre budget. As well as being the only station we have whose evening news truly reflects the world we live in, Australia’s multicultural broadcaster is also unique in its commitment to celebrating the global cultural events and giving us down under a chance to join in.

In the coming weeks SBS will be showing every game of the 2010 FIFA World Cup across their two channels in defiance of the richer commercial stations and their general disinterest in supporting the world game. This is no opportunistic grab for ratings; SBS has been a lone champion of football in Australia for decades, from when it was a game for sheilas, wogs and poofters and John Aloisi’s 2005 penalty was just a nice idea. In truth the majority of Australians are unlikely to stay up and watch actual games at the Mundial, especially if the Socceroos are eliminated quickly, but the fact is that without SBS they wouldn’t even have that choice. Try to imagine that happening anywhere else in the world this month.

Craig Foster and Les Murray of SBS' The World Game

Similar kudos to SBS for their magnificent coverage of this weekends 55th Eurovision Song Contest. Growing up in Britain I had zero interest in Eurovision, probably because of the oversaturation, starting with weeks of televised auditions for a Song for Europe and the inevitable selection of something woeful to represent the UK, followed by the usual rounds of barely-disguised racism from the media, raised out of the gutter by some sarcastic levity courtesy of Terry Wogan.

In keeping with their remit, the SBS version – hosted by the gorgeously wonderful Julia Zemiro and Sam Pang - is a celebration of diversity. With no home country to barrack for the coverage is gloriously cosmopolitan, leaving lots of time to focus on terrible outfits, indoor fireworks, the SBS Eurovision Drinking Game and (hard to believe, but true) the songs.

In addition to the on-screen shenanigans (presented as a delayed telecast the night after the actual event, necessitating a huge Likely Lads-style avoidance of television, internet and wireless in the hours before) an annual highlight of the SBS coverage is their real time live chat where viewers can go online and share in a communal live bitch-fest about everything and anything they see on screen. There is something genuinely uplifting about Australians of all creeds and colours coming together to laugh at the pudgy beer belly of a balding white-clad crooner.

Notre chere Julia Zemiro. On t'aime Julia!

Whilst cyber-slagging there is the added distraction of watching the fiercely tribal and slightly bizarre online battle between Australia’s Greek and Turk communities battling for the number one spot in the unofficial SBS Australian vote (only one vote allowed every twenty seconds kids). Turkey won this year.

Government handling of issues relating to refugees, asylum seekers and the indigenous communities, immense stupidity by the people behind Hey Hey It’s Saturday and the disgusting attacks on Indian students have done great damage to Australia’s multicultural reputation in recent years. Still, whilst it would be unhelpful and dishonest to deny a racist element in Australia, it is nice to be able to report that there are also positive forces at work here.

SBS is often viewed dismissively as a kind of hippy, right on cousin of the ABC but the truth is that the national broadcaster is still more reflective of Australia’s anglo-centric past than its diverse multi-coloured future. SBS prides itself in being in and of the real world, connecting our island to everyone and everywhere else, in a two-way exchange. In an increasingly inter-connected world it’s something for the other networks to ponder long and hard over - perhapsd during the adverts for Hey Hey It’s Saturday?


Rani said...

I take your point about SBS being a good counterpoint to the ABCs anglo-centricity, however I love SBS because they broadcast The Fast Show, as well as the special with Ted and the squire. Also they gave us Fantasy World Cup, the chemistry between Frank Skinner and David Baddiel making it a must-see, even for people like me who don't give a shit about soccer. Also for showing movies like Un Couer En Hiver, one of my favourite films. Any single one of these things make it easily Oz's best channel.

Mint Custard said...

Agreed. Not suggesting SBS isn't supportive of UK programs - they ran with Mighty Boosh here and other Baby Cow productions when no one else would. It's more that they treat the UK like any other overseas country rather than somewhere whose culture is more important than anyone else's.

Rani said...

So you don't get the British coverage of Eurovision any more - Graham Norton has taken over from Terry Wogan, and he does a great job. Wogan left in disgust at the chronically bad treatment of the UK entries. But also of course he is quite old.

Mint Custard said...

Nope, we have Julia and Sam on Eurovision duty, but I think that's a good thing. As I said above they have no partisanship so are able to have a bit more fun with it. They do lots of dressing room interviews... Sam was (hilariously) disparaging of the UK lad to his face. There are those who miss Terry but Julia is a local hero here in Melbourne (with flawless French) so is well received