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Thursday, 28 April 1932

Mr E J HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - It is very gratifying to observe the interest which honorable members have taken in this measure. They realize its importance, and understand the powerful influence exercised by broadcasting upon the national well-being. It is necessary that this matter be dealt with from a national point of view. I am not concerned with the detailed operations of the Performing Right Association, nor do I think that its activities can interfere seriously with the scheme now before us. The commission which is to be appointed will, I am convinced, be able to handle these matters satisfactorily, if, as I hope, men of outstanding ability are appointed to it.

The honorable member who has just sat down complained that the bill did not provide for a sufficiency of ministerial control. I, on the contrary, believe that, in some respects, at any rate, it provides for too much ministerial control. I refer particularly to clause 52 of the bill, which states -

52.   - (1.) The Minister may, from time to time, by notice in writing, prohibit the commission from broadcasting any matter, or matter of any class or character, specified in the notice, or may require the commission to refrain from broadcasting any such matter.

I realize that, having regard to the importance of this subject, the prospect of further development in the direction of television, &c, and the fact that broadcasting is carried into the very homes of the people, some form of censorship is required, and this involves some measure of government control. We must not, however, allow too great a measure of government control. The bill, as at present drafted, provides that the commission shall control only ' programmes, and it will have little control over the business activities of broadcasting. In ray opinion, a greater measure of control should be allowed to the commission. This body should be composed of men possessing a sound business training, and I believe that Parliament should be informed whom the Government proposes to appoint. I agree with the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), who said that he would prefer to see the commission appointed as is a board of directors, acting for nominal fees, and exercising a controlling influence over the general manager. This official should be a man of outstanding ability, and should be suitably recompensed.

Mr Thompson - What salary would the honorable member suggest?

Mr E J HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I should be prepared to leave that to the Minister, who would pay due regard to the revenue available, and to the importance of the position.

I should also like to have the position cleared up in respect to clause 17, which provides for a measure of competition by the department with private enterprise. I am against government competition with private enterprise in any form, and clause 17 would permit of such competition in regard to handling of wireless accessories.

The bill provides that, under certain conditions, sponsored programmes may be transmitted from A class stations. This is a direct interference with the B class stations which, in the past, have relied upon such programmes, and upon advertising generally for their revenue. The royal commission which recently inquired into broadcasting, specifically reported against the proposal that A class stations should engage in advertising in any form. If sponsored programmes are permitted the matter will not end there, and from that the A class stations will probably embark upon all forms of advertising. The B class stations have built up a sound business on this form of advertising, and no government should enter into competition with them. The majority of listeners are now interested in the programmes broadcast by B class stations, and if the A class stations begin competing in the advertising field, the B class stations will collapse from want of revenue. Moreover, there is this aspect of the matter to consider: Licence-holders who pay their fees to listen to A class stations do not wish to be compelled to listen to advertising broadcast from such stations. The proposal for sponsored programmes is an interference with the rights of listeners. The A class stations should cater for the aesthetic and educational requirements of the public. The average listener, after hearing a fine piece of music from an A class station, is not prepared to listen to a programme, the real object of which is to bring before the public the merits of Blogg's pills. He prefers to meditate on the music he has heard. At the present time, the B class stations are growing in popularity, at the expense of the A class stations. Recently two B class stations were licensed in New South Wales, and immediately 3,000 new listeners obtained licences. This proves that the B class stations are filling a want in the community, and are being supported by the public.

I do not believe that any great success would attend the inauguration of a national orchestra as a means of competing, on behalf of the A class stations, with the programmes now broadcast by the B class stations. The cost of establishingand maintaining such an orchestra would be very heavy, and the orchestra would probably have to practise for days in order to broadcast one or two programmes. Under those conditions the orchestra could not successfully compete with the B class stations which are at present broadcasting the choicest productions of thePhiladelphia, Berlin and other orchestras.

I suggest, that the Minister should seriously consider the request of the B class stations for a revision of their wave lengths. At the present time these stations are all jammed together on the lower wave-lengths. They are separated, for the most part, by only twelve degrees, whereas the A class stations are separated by approximately 100 degrees. This tends to prejudice the B class stations in the minds of listeners. Many protests have been made by the B class stations in this regard, and the royal commission, to which I have previously referred, recommended that redress should be given to them.

I suggest that, in developing our broadcasting system, we should, as far as possible, give preference when purchasing equipment and accessories to Australianmade goods. This would be helpful to Australian industry and to the nation as a whole.We have been told that the bill has been modelled on the lines of the British Broadcasting Corporation charter. This is not strictly correct, as a number of honorable members told the House this afternoon. The framers of the measure have taken certain provisions from the British measure and have added other clauses which they deemed necessary. For example, the British Broadcasting Corporation is authorized - to do all such other things as the Corporation may deem incidental or conducive to the attainment of or the exercise of any of the powers of the Corporation.

The bill goes a little further and provides, in clause 17 -

Subject to this act, the Commission may do such acts and things as it deems incidental or conducive to the proper exploitation of those things which may be beneficial to broadcast programmes, but shall not engage in any subsidiary business which, in the opinion of the Minister, is not desirable or necessary for the purpose for which the Commission was established.

This gives the Minister wide control. The bill may have been founded on the charter of the British Broadcasting Corporation, but, in some directions, it goes a little bit too far, and in others, not far enough. I should like further enlightenment upon the Government's proposals to ensure ministerial control. Undue interference by governments with private enterprise is not likely to be beneficial to the nation as a whole. I should also like to be further enlightened with regard to other clauses of the bill, and when the measure is in committee I may have something to say about them. Meanwhile I await the Minister's reply.

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