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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2495

Senator TEAGUE —My question is directed to the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs. What is the Government's response to the official protest by the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics over the lampooning of past and present leaders of that country on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation television program The Dingo Principle? Has there been any threat by the Soviet Government of retaliatory trade action? If so, will the Government support Australian exporters in any subsequent action to sue the ABC for damages? Does the Minister believe that the segment complained of is any more `vicious and outrageous'-to use the reported words of a Soviet diplomat in Canberra-than treatment of, for example, the President of the United States of America by similar ABC satirical programs? Is the Government reviewing existing ABC guidelines adequately to cover such situations?

Senator GARETH EVANS —All I can say is that glasnost is certainly having its impact on the wets, at least, in the Opposition if we have a situation in which manifest concern for the sensitivity of the Soviet Union apparently overrides, in Senator Teague's breast, his commitment to the basic principles of freedom of speech and media freedom. A quite extraordinary bias was implicit in his question. But these are troubled times and, as we watch, principles are changing visibly on the other side of the chamber. It is an extremely interesting state of affairs.

The situation is that the Soviet Embassy has lodged a formal protest with the Department of Foreign Affairs over the 4 May edition of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation program The Dingo Principle. It expressed a fundamental objection to the program, which it stated had insulted the Soviet leadership, ridiculed the values of Soviet society and made fun of the founder of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, V. I. Lenin. In response, the Department of Foreign Affairs reminded the Embassy of the long tradition of political satire and freedom of expression in Australia. By comparison, mention was also made of the sharply satirical treatment of Western societies, values and leaders by the Soviet media. I understand that the Soviet Embassy has agreed to pursue its complaints with the ABC. An ABC spokesman-this seems to be its only statement on the record at the moment-stated that the ABC is `not setting out to affront people'. If so, that is news to me and to most honourable senators in this chamber. But, again, I wish it well in its endeavours in this respect. I cannot believe that it is either serious or likely to be successful. But no doubt it is a worthy approach and is to be commended if it can pull it off.