SBS managing director Michael Ebeid and his partner Roland Hewlett attended Eurovision in Denmark and the World Cup in Brazil at taxpayers’ expense last year, Guardian Australia can reveal.
Both are attending the Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna, Austria, this year, but SBS said Hewlett was paying for himself this time.
The federally-funded SBS is the official Australian broadcaster for both high-profile events.
Last year the Coalition cut ABC and SBS funding by $308m over five years, leading to programming and staff cuts at both public broadcasters.
A spokeswoman for Ebeid defended the managing director’s need to travel overseas for SBS business and said it was commonplace for spouses to accompany busy executives.
“SBS covers the cost of the managing director’s business travel,” the spokeswoman said. “Mr Ebeid’s travel arrangements are entirely in keeping with his role and his contract, and with the knowledge and consent of the board.
“In a busy position where travel is required, it is not unusual for spouses or partners to travel from time to time and [for] this [to] be reflected as part of the employment contract of the executive.
“This is not uncommon for senior executives in the public and private sectors ... Senior executives undertake key business trips as necessary, as is indeed commonplace in the broadcast sector,” the SBS spokeswoman said.
“This is particularly necessary for a network such as SBS. Unlike other networks a significant portion of our content – around 85% – comes from acquiring unique programs from across the world.
“Such trips have been instrumental in securing major, unprecedented deals for SBS including the Tour de France for a ten year rights deal, the Fifa World Cup rights through to 2022 and securing the guest performance last year and the participation this year of an Australian artist at the Eurovision Song Contes,” the spokeswoman added.
After the Abbott government confirmed the cuts to public broadcasting last year, Ebeid said SBS was already extremely lean and the Coalition’s “sizeable” cut of $53.7m would “naturally be felt by our organisation”.
“The government will provide $287m to SBS in 2014-15 which represents 75% of our organisation’s total funding, with 25% generated from our own commercial revenues,” Ebeid said. “SBS operates on one-fifth of the average budget of the other free-to-air broadcasters.”
Legislation introduced to parliament in March would allow SBS to increase its hourly advertisement limit to 10 minutes instead of five, but with the daily cap remaining at 120 minutes.
Ebeid has not ruled out cutting programming further if the legislation to increase the amount of advertising on SBS is not passed into law.
“It would be very difficult for me to make any guarantees around that,” he said.
“Things like the World Cup, the Tour de France are big pieces for us. They are expensive content programming. Needless to say it is a significant amount of money every four years.
“Obviously if there are deep cuts, we would need to look at everything, whether it be news, current affairs, language programs or sporting events.”
Last year he told a Senate estimates committee it was important he attend events such as the World Cup in order to look after advertisers who booked commercials on SBS during the games.
“It’s very important, from a relationship perspective, to be able to host them as any commercial business would,” he told parliament on 30 May 2014.
Roland Hewlett, Ebeid’s long-term partner, is the director of the Frontier Travel Management, a boutique travel company in North Sydney, and is a former Qantas pilot.
“Roland has over 10 years experience in airlines and retail travel,” his website says.
“As a long haul pilot, he travelled extensively and understands first hand the needs of busy travellers. Spending up to 220 nights a year in hotel rooms, Roland has the experience you need.”
• The caption to this article was amended on 23 May 2015. The original caption incorrectly stated that the photo was taken at Eurovision rather than TEDxSydney.