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Monday, 30 May 1994
Page: 895

(Question No. 1216)


Senator Alston asked the Minister representing the Minister for Communications and the Arts, upon notice, on 14 March 1994:

  (1) What was the itemised expenditure involved in: (a) making a 3-hour live video to be available at ABC bookshops; and (b) making the documentary for televising on True Stories.

  (2) When and why was the decision taken to change the coverage from `PG' to `M' and who authorised the change.

  (3) (a) Does the ABC intend (or has it already taken place) to broadcast the Mardi Gras on ATI to Asia as was indicated by reporter Nell Schofield; (b) will, or was, this to be the 3-hour live version or what was aired on True Stores; (c) who authorised ATI to broadcasting this to Asia; and (d) what proportion of callers were seeking to have the program shown at a later hour.

  (4)(a) How many complaints were received on ABC's Mardi Gras complaints' hot-line; (b) what is the breakdown between each State; and (c) what is the breakdown between metropolitan, regional and rural areas.

  (5) Given that Senator Alston's office received calls from people who were unable to connect with the Mardi Gras complaints line, how will the ABC gauge a true reflection of community feelings on this issue.

  (6) Does the ABC consider it acceptable national television behaviour for ABC reporters to be kissing and cuddling participants of the Mardi Gras and to be openly advocating homosexuality and to be saying such things as `here's a float for the kiddies' when referring to a very phallic looking Thomas the Tank Engine, or should they be impartial reporters of the event.

  (7) Were any instructions given to the reporters and commentators to encourage them to be enthusiastic advocates of what they were covering or alternatively, if they made their own decision, did they seek approval from ABC management.

  (8) Did the ABC board of directors, the managing director or any, and what senior ABC management: (a) know in advance that the ethos of the program was to be an unequivocal celebration of gay pride; and (b) make any, and what, inquiries as to the approach to be taken by reporters and commentators in reporting the Mardi Gras; if not, why not.

  (9)(a) Does the ABC still maintain that its program on 6 March 1994 was one of a series of documentaries; and (b) have any, and what, programs other than the 1994 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras involved strong advocacy of one side of a very controversial social issue.


Senator McMullan —The Minister for Communications and the Arts has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question, based on information provided by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC):

  (1) (a)&(b) The total production and internal costs incurred in producing the show televised on the Sunday night following the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras were approximately $120,000.

  The video was produced by Village Roadshow utilising footage taken to produce the Sunday night program and the costs to the ABC were as follows:

  Hire of Outside Broadcast Camera—$447.61

  Overtime to compile video—$455.39

  Tape stock—$140.61

  1X80 minute one inch tape—$180.00

  10X180 minute VHS tapes—$42.00

  Artwork for sleeve design—$300.00

  Courier and miscellaneous—$50.00

    Total—$1615.61

  All other costs associated with the production of the video were borne by Village Roadshow. The ABC receives a percentage of the video sales.

  (2) In advising the public of the nature and content of the program the ABC decided the `M' classification would be used, although the content was considered to be more consistent with a PG classification.

  When the tape for sale in retail stores was classified by the Commonwealth Censor's Office, it was rated `PG'.

  (3) (a)-(c) It is not intended to broadcast any part of the Mardi Gras coverage on the Australia Television service.

  (d) All available information regarding telephone calls and correspondence concerning the 1994 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is shown at question (4) below. Requests to show the program at a later hour were not separately collated. This information is not readily available without diverting resources and facilities from program making activities.

  (4) (a)-(c) Pattern of early complaints

  The majority of early letters and phone calls were complaints. Many of these appeared to be part of an organised campaign. Identically worded form letters of complaint, all addressed to the "Executive Director" (rather than Managing Director) at GPO Box 3334 (rather than 9994) or faxed to the Managing Director's own fax machine, began arriving in early February.

  This campaign was apparently organised by a group called Tradition Family Property Australian Centre, based in Sydney.

  (i) Those writing letters or sending faxes

  Opposed to Telecast (mostly received before the broadcast):

  Total: 5163, including 3372 form letters of complaint, of which 2566 came from NSW.

  State/Territory breakdown (not counting form letters)

  NSW—1148

  Victoria—180

  Queensland—177

  South Australia—98

  Western Australia—80

  Tasmania—29

  ACT—9

  NT—6

  Letters/forms from a location that was not clear: 78

  Supporting the Telecast (mostly received after the telecast):

  Total: 349

  Identically worded form letters of support: None.

  State/Territory breakdown

  NSW—266

  Victoria—27

  Queensland—25

  South Australia—9

  Western Australia—14

  Tasmania—1

  ACT—4

  NT—3

  Letters from an unclear location: None

  (ii) Those making phone calls to the ABC

  Calls to ABC switchboards

  (a) Opposed to telecast: 2,378 calls.

  (b) Supporting telecast: 58 calls.

  In addition, 515 callers rang to enquire the time of the telecast or seeking information about purchasing the videotape of the parade. These callers were assumed to be favourable.

  Special Mardi Gras Call-line

  2,689 calls were recorded. Most of these calls did not leave their name or location. It is impossible to tell whether they were repeats of calls logged at the main switchboards. Those logging the calls noted the same voices ringing in regularly. Calls were 3 to 1 against the telecast proceeding and, as with the letters, the great majority of calls were made before the broadcast went to air.

  (5) The ABC believes there was an organised ring-in of complaints in an effort to stop the telecast. It is likely that the honourable senator's office received some of these calls. Considering the volume of phone calls recorded (over 6,000), the ABC believes it was able to gauge as accurately as possible the extent of community feelings reported by the calls.

  The ABC considers the most representative measure of public opinion is reflected in the audience size gained by this telecast. Two million people watched the telecast providing the ABC with its highest Sunday viewing audience for many years.

  (6) Within the limits of coverage of a live event the ABC considers the reporting to have been of a satisfactory standard.

  (7) No instructions were given to the reporters other than to report professionally.

  (8) (a)&(b) ABC Management advised the production team that the ABC's role was to cover the event in a way that made it appropriate for a wide audience at 8.30pm. Because the parade has been held many times the general nature of the event was known. The reporters were not given instructions other than to report in a professional manner and within `M' classification guidelines.

  (9) (a)&(b) The program on 6 March was one of a series of programs in an 8.30pm timeslot entitled the Big Picture. Programs scheduled in the Big Picture slot tend to be single programs rather than series. The coverage of events and current affairs encompasses the expression of one side or another of controversial issues. ABC TV has a strong commitment to information programming and broadcasts a wide range of programs covering a wide range of issues.