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Thursday, 8 August 1946

Mr BRYSON (Bourke) (2:17 AM) .I. support the bill. I, too, am a member of the Broadcasting -Committee, and I have been surprised at some of the statements made by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis). Apparently the honorable gentleman was incapable of understanding the evidence -tendered to the committee. He has the effrontery to say that Mr. Hanlon, of the commission's staff, supported the acceptance of the draft agreement. He is well aware that the whole of Mr. Hanlon's evidence indicated that he was strongly opposed to it. Not only did he express his opposition to it ; he also made alternative suggestions as to how the Australian Broadcasting Commission might obtain its news. Among the amendments of the principal act proposed by this bill are many that were recommended by the Broadcasting Committee, including those relating to the establishment of appeal boards to deal with promotions and disciplinary offences. The Broadcasting Committee was under the impression that provisions governing such matters could be made by regulations issued by the commission. It was found, however, that section 17 of the Australian Broadcasting Commission Act precluded the commission from making regulations governing those matters. I do not believe that those proposed amendments of the principal act will be opposed, because similar provisions have been embodied in other legislation recently dealt with by this Parliament, including the overseas Telecommunications Bill and the Commonwealth Bank Bill. Like provision is incorporated in the Commonwealth Public Service Act also. The principle governing these amendments having been accepted by the Parliament", there is no necessity to discuss them at this juncture. One matter that I must deal with is the supply of news and the proposal that the commission shall set up its own independent news service. To that the honorable member for Moreton devoted most of his attention. I do not want to traverse all the history of the collection of news by the commission. Several reports on the subject have been presented to the Parliament, and I know that the commission has been in difficulty on a number of occasions in regard to the collection of news. I know too that, on the recommendations,-first, of the Gibson Committee and afterwards of the Broadcasting Committee, the commission has endeavoured to make an agreement with the newspaper proprietors for the supply of news to be- broadcast over the national service. A report was presented to the Parliament in 1944 .on a proposed agreement between the commission and the newspaper proprietors and ; that agreement was not accepted by the majority of the committee. I refer to that now because it has a bearing on the present position, particularly in regard to the supply of news, which, J;he honorable member tells us, under the proposed agreement was to be factual, notslanted in any way, and perfectly objective. The agreement proposed in 1944 provided for the removal of the commission's federal news service from Canberra, and for placing in the pres3 gallery a newsagency to supply factual news of the Parliament. . We were told then that it would be a great service that would supply almost a .verbatim report, factual, objective and not " slanted ". Chat newsagency was set up, and it is a remarkable fact that although it has operated for two years, most newspapers still depend on their own reporters in the Press Gallery, and this newsagency, which was to have served the commission, is reporting for only four metropolitan newspapers, two- in Sydney, one in Melbourne, and one in Adelaide. So the much vaunted newsagency of 1944 has not developed as the committee was told it would. But a new agreement was negotiated. On a first reading, it seemed really good, but, when it was investigated by the committee, we found a number of pitfalls, particularly that it was a very expensive proposition. Whereas in 1944 the commission had been offered both overseas and local news for a total cost of £7,500, the total cost of the new agreement had been jumped to £20,000. The carrying out of the agreement, we were informed by the commission's director of news, Mr. Dixon, would necessitate the employment of nineteen more journalists in the newspaper offices of Australia. He said that the additional cost of the news, service to the commission would increase its expenditure on" news from £53,000 a year to £87,000, which was a very, big rise, but if the news service was to be perfect the expenditure would not be excessive. Mr. Dixon has been an official of the commission for about ten years and has been in journalism all -his life. Before joining the commission's staff he had been editor of a country newspaper and earlier sub-editor of a Sydney newspaper, experience that should make him an expert in the presentation of news for broadcasting purposes. He told us that for the cost of £S3,000 or £87,000- - I am not quite sure of the amount - he could provide an. independent news service for the commission. The matter of an independent service was also discussed by Mr. R. A.. Henderson, who represented the Australian Newspaper ProprietorsAssociation and the Australian Associated Press Proprietary Limited before the committee. He is an expert on the .collection of news for a daily newspaper, which differs greatly from the broadcasting of news, and he made an estimate of about £110,000 as the cost of an independent service. There we have two conflicting opinions, one from ah. expert on the broadcasting of news and one an expert on newspapers. -When we want an opinion in regard to broadcasting of news, I am prepared to take that of the broadcasting expert rather than that Of the newspaper expert. Mr. Henderson, said that in discussions with the chair- man of the commission it was made clear that the newspapers preferred to have nodealings with the commission, that they preferred that the commission should establish its own service. In another part of his evidence he said that the present attitude of the Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association to the idea of the commission having an independent news-gathering service was. one of supreme indifference. In effect, he informed us that the Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association and the Australian Associated Tress Proprietary Limited were not interested in negotiating an agreement. He said, "We prefer the Australian Broadcasting Commission to collect its own news. We prefer to be out of it, because if we supplied news there would always be complaints about what we provide, and we prefer you to collect your own; but if you want our service, here is an agreement, and you will make a token payment for what you take ". What he called a token payment was £20,000. To the newspaper proprietors such an amount is as a drop. in .the ocean. It is remarkable that, after telling us that, he made a violent attack on Mr. Hanlon, a member of the commission, who gave evidence in opposition to the proposed news agreement, and in support of the independent service, and on. Mr. Dixon, the commission's news director, who recommended an independent service. Although he said, " We do not want your money or the agreement, and we do not want to supply news to you " when the two recommended that the commission should set up its own news-gathering service, he adopted a hostile attitude to them. I how refer briefly to the news service and what can be obtained. The honorable member, for Moreton has endeavoured to make it appear that under the agreement the commission could get all the factual news it requires. Mr. Henderson, on the last occasion, and Sir Keith Murdoch, on a previous occasion when the agreement was before the committee, laid great stress on the necessity for factual and objective reporting. They stressed that news should be factual and objective and entirely separated from views. I agree with them, but I shall show how far the newspaper with which Mr. Henderson is associated observes that principle. On a Tuesday afternoon in March, 1944, the Broadcasting Committee submitted to the Parliament a report on a proposed news agreement. The next morning the Sydney Morning Herald devoted more space to that report than did any other Australian newspaper; it gave three columns to the report. Apart from the headings, which the newspaper supplied, those three columns contained . reprints from the report. Any one unacquainted with the facts would say that if the actual words of the report were reprinted, the newspaper had complied with Mr. Henderson's dictum that a newspaper should . supply factual and objective reports, but a person who compared the committee's report with the statement in the Sydney Morning Herald would immediately have been disillusioned, because that newspaper reported the majority decision of the. committee and devoted the rest of the space allotted to the -subject to extracts from the report. Those extracts were entirely in support of the agreement; no extract in opposition to the agreement was published in the Sydney Morning Herald. It was one of the most biased reports that I have seenin any newspaper. On the Thursday morning the Sydney Morning Herald devoted a column to a leading article on the committee's report. It had the effrontery to say that the decision of the majority of the committee was not in accordance with the weight of evidence. I emphasize' that that leading article wa? written six months before the evidence was published. It was, therefore, a deliberate misstatement. Later, the committee's report was published, and the Sydney Morning Herald obtained a copy of it. Extracts from the evidence were published in three separate editions of the newspaper, which altogether devoted eight columns to the subject. All the evidence that was published was in support of the agreement; not one word of evidence against the agreement was published, notwithstanding that such evidence was given by some important gentleman, including members of the British press delegation, Sir Walter Layton and Mr. Storey, a member of the House of Commons. Because the Sydney Morning Herald adopted such a one-sided attitude the Chairman of the Broadcasting Committee challenged that newspaper to publish a statement which he forwarded with his letter. The statement, which was based on evidence given before the committee, would have filled three columns but so fair and factual is the Sydney Morning Herald that it gave les? than a column to it. That is an example of the way in which some sections of the press treat a subject of importance. Newspapers may give objective reports on matters that do not directly concern them, but when their own interests are at stake they do not hesitate to twist the truth, or to misrepresent the position, or to exclude statements opposed to their own views. Other examples could be given to show to what degree the press is sometimes prepared to go in departing from the high standards it professes to uphold-. We must ensure that any , national new* service provided by the Australian Broadcasting Commission shall be absolutely free from suspicion. The Broadcasting Committee was told by the Australian Broadcasting Commission's Director of News that practically all the overseas news which is broadcast over national stations in Australia is obtained without huy assistance from Australian Associated Press. -The commission does pay for Reuters' news, which it may or may not get through the British Broadcasting Commission, but all its cable news is obtained from supplies which are independent of newspapers'. Evidence was given to the committee that 99 per cent, of the Australian news which is broadcast over national stations is obtained by the commission's own staff of journalists, and that -40 per cent, of the State news is collected, by them. The recommendation that the Australian Broadcasting Commission should establish its own news-gathering service does not involve a big expansion of its activities. There is evidence that in both Sydney and Melbourne the Aus.tralian Broadcasting Commission's staff is obtaining practically the whole of the State news which is being broadcast in New South. Wales and Victoria. In order to give full effect to the agreement it would be necessary to employ at least nineteen additional journalists. They would be placed in newspaper offices to scan the news as it was received. According to Mr. Henderson, they would be given first sight of news items on some occasions, but at other times they would not see news items until after the sub-editor had dealt with them. But he could not guarantee that the news items which would be obtained were the actual reports written by the journalists. According to the News Director of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. the nineteen journalists who, under this arrangement would spend the whole of their time in the newspaper offices of the capital cities, could be utilized to gather news. He informed us also that those journalists could collect the additional news required - the State news, not the national or overseas news. If the agreement be not implemented, the cost according to Mr. Dixon, will he £83,000, and, according to Mr. Henderson, it may be further increased to £110,000. Compared with the cost of other activities of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, that expenditure would not .be excessive for a really factual and objective news service. Honorable members will recall- that the Broadcasting Committee, in its thirteenth report, recommended, to- the Par- ri4G] liament that an additional 3s. a licence should be given to the commission for the forthcoming year. If additional expenditure is to be incurred, the committee's recommendation will enable the Australian Broadcasting. Commission to find the money.

It is most important that the commission shall give to listeners a thoroughly reliable news service. The Broadcasting Committee heard evidence from members of the Australian Journalists Association and other sources that newspapers iii Australia to-day are putting a " slant " on news, according to the views and interests of their proprietors. Reporters are expected, on occasions, to gather the type of news -that the newspaper requires, and to write it in the manner in which the newspaper desires to present it. If the correct " slant " is not given to the news, the reporter has to find another job. Such instances have occurred in recent months, involving some fine reporters. I am not putting up " Aunt Sallys " for the purpose of knocking them over, but I recall that lately several men in the forefront of journalism have severed their connexion with certain newspapers.

Mr Calwell - Eight of them left the Argus recently.

Mr BRYSON - Ohe newspaper, since certain reporters left it, places a different slant upon its reports - a slant which is in accordance with the policy of the proprietors. That newspaper is not endeavouring to give to the public factual or objective news. We must break away from .that, and I believe that in recommending to this Parliament that the news agreement be abolished and an independent news service be established by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Broadcasting Committee is ensuring that the commission shall present to the people a factual and objective report of happenings. The local and overseas news will be more reliable.

Australian Associated Press offered, under this agreement, to supply to the Australian Broadcasting Commission copies of every cable, received, so that its staff of journalists might make, a selection of the news for broadcasting. The point about- that- and this is where the first slant is given to the cable news of Australian Associated Press- is that the news is selected by the association's representatives in London and New York, and we do not know whether the news which reaches Australia is factuaand objective. The Australian Broadcasting Commission's employees will make the selection of" the news in London rather than in Sydney'. That will be a big improvement, because those employees will have access to more news, and factual news. Even the cable news will be more reliable than that which is being received to-day. It will not be " slanted " and selected to- suit the interests of various newspaper proprietors. The journalists employed by the commission will select it for its news value only. I believe that the Broadcasting Committee's recommendation will . improve the national news service, and make listeners throughout the Commonwealth satisfied that they are receiving factual news, and that the national news service will be one service upon which they may depend.'

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