Vale: Marena Manzoufas

Former ABC & SBS programmer with a long commitment to public broadcasting, has died.

Former ABC & SBS programmer Marena Manzoufas, who was a founding member of SBS broadcasting, has died aged 68.

She died on July 5th after a battle with brain cancer, following a long commitment to public broadcasting, diversity and equality. She was also an early female television executive in an industry dominated by men.

In the late 1970s, Manzoufas was actively involved in the development of Australian multicultural and equal opportunity policies, including her work on the NSW Government’s Ethnic Affairs Commission Report and a subsequent inquiry into multicultural television.

This work prompted Bruce Gyngell to recruit her to the foundation team for SBS Television in 1980, where she established its first Subtitling Unit. In her role as SBS Deputy Program Director, she was instrumental in setting the programming policy and philosophy of the new multicultural television station.

Manzoufas later wrote,“The discussion that the fifth channel in Sydney and Melbourne should be a multicultural service, accessible to the community at large, and not an ethnic television service accessible only to particular language speakers at particular times, led directly to the need to establish a Subtitling capacity, a quite new and unique venture in Australian television. When the Unit was established there was virtually no existing expertise in Australia, no trained personnel and certainly no body of knowledge or experience on which to draw.”

She first joined the ABC in the late 1980s as Head of Acquisitions and ABC International. Under her guidance, Bananas in Pyjamas went international and the ABC purchased a huge catalogue of movies.

She left in the mid-1990s to work for production company Beyond as General Manager, where she developed and sold Australian content for audiences here and overseas, before returning to the ABC in 2001 as Head of Programming until retirement in 2010.

In 2009 Manzoufas told TV Tonight said of the importance of ABC ratings, “I think people are sometimes a bit glib about saying ‘I don’t care about ratings.’ I do care because ratings are a measure of audience. As a public broadcaster I think we have quite a complex role. If you’re being funded by the public purse to provide broad entertainment to people and nobody’s watching you then there’s something wrong.”

Michael Carrington, Acting Director Entertainment & Specialist today said, “Marena was an invaluable part of the ABC over many years and a leading advocate for the importance of public broadcasting, who I was fortunate to work with from the other side of the world while I was at the BBC.

“As ABC Head of Programming, from 2001 to 2010, Marena was integral to the television viewing habits of our audiences, helping determine what Australians would watch and when. She spearheaded our television output and oversaw long-term strategy for ABC1 and ABC2, including acquisitions of domestic and international programmes.”

ABC Channel Manager Natalie Edgar remembers an elegant, creative and inspirational leader. “She was one of those people who are always generous with their time and expertise,” she said. “She was an absolute powerhouse at a time when all the free-to-air channels were run by men. She spearheaded the output of the main channel – Spicks and Specks came out an idea she had about wanting to do a musical quiz show. She was not only really good at her job, she was someone you learnt so much from just by being around. On behalf of the ABC, I would like to extend my condolences to Marena’s family and her extensive network of friends around the globe.”

An SBS spokesperson said, “Marena Manzoufas made an immense contribution to Australian broadcasting over a career spanning more than three decades. She was a much loved member of the original SBS family and instrumental in the establishment of SBS Television in 1980, following her involvement in the development of Australia’s multicultural policy.

“As SBS’s first Deputy Program Director, Marena’s passion for Australia’s diverse communities significantly drove our early programming strategies, and also led her to develop SBS’s first ever subtitling unit, a legacy that still holds strong today. Our condolences go to Marena’s many close friends at this sad time.

“She will be greatly missed.”

4 Responses

  1. That’s a lovely tribute to my dear friend and former colleague, David. She would have been proud to read it! Marena and Sandra Levy (then Director of Television) were a force of nature. They worked tirelessly to revolutionise the schedule, as a team. Marena was passionate about her schedule and attending commissioning meetings to get projects made was a pleasure. She forced us all to think hard about our projects – always from the perspective of the ABC audience. As a friend, she was the best. I miss her terribly already.

  2. I did not know this lady….but I do know of her now…Thank you for a really well written piece David Knox….Respect! for the lady….and condolences to all who are missing her. ?

  3. I remember her more by name than face but a lovely tribute to her. Marena was a force behind the scenes at the ABC during my tenure. Way too young to depart this world though. My condolences to her loved ones.

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