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Wednesday, 29 June 1938

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) . - I bring up a matter which warrants the consideration of this Parliament. There were in 1934 in Perth three main commercial broadcasting stations, 6PR, 6IX and 6ML. Station 6PR was operated on a power of 500 watts and stations 6IX and 6ML were on 300 watts. Stations 6IX and 6ML are associated with a newspaper organization and I ask the Minister in Charge of the House (Mr. Thorby) to refer to the reply which the Attorney-General gave to me regarding hiswillingness to see that a return was again furnished to this Parliament to bring up to date the information which was tabled some time ago showing the ownership and interlocked control of all B class stations in Australia; also who own them and what are the associations which are able to have definite linksso that they constitute, at any rate, a nascent monopoly in commercial broadcasting. Station 6PR, by reason of its greater power, had a decided commercial advantage over stations 6IX and 6ML, which are either directly or indirectly associated with a great newspaper. Those stations were able to persuade the PostmasterGeneral's Department that this competitive disadvantage should be removed, and the two stations were given a 500-watt power. That seems to be fair and square, although they had quite gladly accepted a licence for less power. Finding that they were at a disadvantage in transmitting service, they sought to be placed on an equality with the other stations and they were successful in their efforts. I agree that the department did the right thing. After the lapse of time the department decided that it would allow a licence to be given to another station 6PM, at Fremantle, but it would not give this station the same power that it had given to the other three B class broadcasting stations which are licensed and which operate from Perth. The distance between the two cities is twelve miles. I have a great deal of documentation which shows that the department regards Perth and Fre- mantle as being one area as far as broadcasting services are concerned. That being the case, having agreed to license a station at Fremantle, I submit that the Postmaster-General's Department should have granted that licence on the same basis as the licences which had been granted to the three stations at Perth.

Mr Thorby - Would that interferewith the wave-lengths?

Mr CURTIN - No ; there is no technical difficulty. The departmental attitude is that in proportion to population Perth already had sufficient B class stations. It is not the business of the Postmaster-General's Department to be concerned with whether stations can operate successfully from a commercial point of view. It is its business to give to Perth and Fremantle the same range of selectivity in programmes as it has given to Melbourne and Sydney, because each, wireless listener in Perth or Fremantle pays exactly the same licence-fee as is. paid by the listeners in those cities. Technically, the problem of wave-lengths is not greater in the metropolitan area of Perth than it is in the metropolitan areas of Sydney and Melbourne, which cities possess many more wireless broadcasting stations than there are in Perth. I repeat that the attitude of the department is that Perth is adequately served. That is said by a department which up to the present has provided only one national broadcasting station in Perth, although in every other capital city, even including Hobart, there are two national stations. Perth has been promised two for a long while, but there has been no fulfilment of that promise. The people of Western Australia are entitled to have a choice of programmes and to have alternative national stations as well as a reasonable number of commercial stations. The commercial stations 6IX and 6ML are controlled by the one organization which has succeeded in obtaining a licence for a new. station 6WB at Katanning on a power of 2,000 watts. The two stations which have had their power increased from 300 to 500 watts have issued brochures to the advertising community pointing out how unsatisfactory it is to advertise on a station which operates on less than 500 watts. They are going out of their way to take commercial advantage of a licence granted them by an instrumentality of this nation. No person in. the Commonwealth should be given such advantages in respect to privileges which this Parliament gives. Commercial stations should be on a basis of commercial equality. Each station has to obtain business by way of advertisements to defray its expenses and is entitled to the same resources as are available to others. The cost of conducting a station with a power of 100 watts may be as great as in the case of those with a power of 300 or 500 watts except, of course, in the matter of the cost of equipment. The expenditure in respect of artists, announcers and running costs would be almost the same. It appears to me to be monstrous that listeners who pay the same licence-fee should be induced to disregard the programme of a certain station merely because that station has a poor signal which is attributable to the fact that the department will not provide it with a signal equal to other licensed stations. Only a few commercial stations can be licensed, and in the very nature of things, this service .lends itself to monopolization. Because of that inherent quality of this service it is of the utmost importance that the department shall, so far as is possible, see that those stations which are licensed are at least placed on the same commercial footing, and that no station, having obtained a licence for itself, shall proceed to issue publicity to the detriment of another station which has, admittedly, a licence for a power less than it now seeks. I can quite understand the department saying that station 6PM was glad to get a licence for a station of 100 watts. The Postmaster-General signed a letter - I do not suggest that he was responsible for its contents- saying that if the station was dissatisfied with the powe'r granted to it the department would gladly accept the surrender of the licence. But the licensees had been put to the expense of installing plant. The answer given to 6PM was that it was glad to start on the low power, but that is not the answer given to the stations controlled by the great newspapers. They started on 300 watts, but are now operating on 500 watts and the increase of power was granted, not to one station only but to both of them. I ask for an inquiry into this subject. I admit that I have written repeatedly to the department and have not received any satisfaction. The Minister's final reply contains a phrase which I regard as bordering on impertinence. In dealing with the application of 6PM the PostmasterGeneral said -

Although in the circumstances tho power of stations 6IX, CML and 6 PR has no bearing on the matter we are considering, I am glad to supply tlie information 3*011 seek concerning those stations. In regard to 6IX and CML the increase to .500 watts was made to bring them into line with other metropolitan stations, and in conformity with increases it has been found possible to make throughout the Commonwealth as a result of improvements which had been effected in transmitting and receiving equipments.

Obviously that which was done in other States" is used to justify what has been done in Perth. What were the conditions upon which these stations were granted an increase of power? The information has not been given, although it has been said that one of the reasons why the department was unable to increase the power of 6 PM was because other applicants had been refused licences. A number of persons and organizations in Western Australia had been seeking licences, including the Western Australian Worker, and great difficulty has been experienced on account of the technical objections which have been raised. Labour newspapers that are definite entities cannot obtain licences with the ease that the Melbourne Herald, the Sim, or other newspapers which support the Government can do so. The Advertiser, published in Adelaide, also has broadcasting stations, and I contend that the newspaper control over broadcasting transmission in Australia borders upon a public scandal, because I know that other legitimate organizations have been prevented from obtaining licences. I asls the Government to undertake a complete review of the whole of the broadcasting operations in Australia, so that there shall be some co-ordination of programmes between the " P> " class stations who carry on under licence from the Crown, and national stations. I do not suggest that there should be only national stations. It -would be wrong for the Australian public to have to depend solely upon government-owned broadcasting stations; just as it would be dangerous for public opinion to be dependent upon government-owned newspapers. I believe in the free expression - of. opinion. At this stage I do not advocate a complete governmental monopoly over those things which are instrumental in forming public opinion. It appears to me that the newspapers are becoming more powerful than governments and that these two agencies - broadcasting services and' newspapers - are exercising too much power in forming public opinion. I ask for a definite reply stating why the power of a certain broadcasting station in Perth has been increased and why a similar request in respect of another station at Fremantle has been refused.'-

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