A fifth Australian television channel began broadcasting on Channel 0 in Sydney and Melbourne on Friday 24 October 1980 – United Nations Day.
Bruce Gyngell, whose face was the first to appear on television in Australia when it debuted on 16 September 1956, was the first person to be seen on the new Channel 0 Network.
The new network was funded by the Commonwealth Government and aimed to provide multi-cultural television. Bruce Gyngell – who was the managing director-designate of the Independent and Multi-Cultural Broadcasting Corporation which ran Channel 0 – described it as “mainstream television” with appeal to all Australians, not just the ethnic communities.
The new television network was the subject of a great deal of controversy with both Labor and Liberal politicians saying it should be cancelled and the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) demanding that it should be running the fifth Sydney-Melbourne channel and not an independent body.
In hitting back at his critics, Mr Gyngell said, “To say that the current television services from the ABC and the commercial stations provide all that is necessary is to ignore an entire range of creative input that at least 34% of the population would enjoy”.
He described the ABC’s attempt to get control of the fifth channel as “a deathbed repentance”. “If you look at the ABC’s submission to the Senate, they lumped multi-cultural television along with, and I quote, ‘rural science and other minority interests'”.
Gyngell also defended his own decision to introduce the new channel in a special opening programme at 6.30 pm on Friday 24 October: “There was a great deal of difficulty in deciding who was going to be first. We faced being accused of making a political decision if we had chosen one of the multifarious range of communities to be first. I think if I go on first, all I can be accused of being is an egotist, rather than a racist”.
A 60-minute special tracing the history of Australia’s multicultural background launched Channel 0 following Gyngell’s opening address.
Called Who Are We? the broadcast examined Australia’s multi-cultural origins from the migration of Aboriginals more than 50,000 years ago to the present influx of refugees from Thailand.
The first foreign-language programme, Chromakey Follies (from Italy) was followed by a telemovie called The Three Sea Wolves, an Australian production starring Chantal Contouri (Number 96, The Sullivans) and featuring dialogue in both Greek and English.
The night ended with a Yugoslav movie, Don’t Lean Out.
The new multi-cultural TV service was also broadcast on Channel 28 on the UHF band in Melbourne and Sydney. Thousands of viewers who had inadequate TV reception got a boost through the new service.
All programmes that were not in English were aired with English subtitles.
In October/November 1983, the service expanded to service Canberra, Cooma and Goulburn, subsequently changing its name to Network 0-28. The following year, the service expanded to Brisbane, Adelaide, Newcastle, Wollongong and the Gold Coast.
By 1985, the service was renamed SBS (Special Broadcasting Service).