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Tuesday, 2 June 1942

Mr CALWELL - Up to and including the microphone.

Sir CHARLES MARR - Although sound arguments could be advanced in favour of the commission having its own technical service, it was thought that the opportunities for the promotion of talented men. would be small, and that there would be too great a proportion of deadend jobs. On the other hand, as the Post Office controls telephonic, telegraphic, and other technical services, not only are men able to receive good training in technical matters, but also opportunities for advancement exist. Prom the Post.masterGeneral's Department, trained men are frequently sent to various commercial broadcasting stations, as well as to national stations. These men are not debarred from rising to higher positions in the Postmaster-General's Department. In this connexion, I quote paragraphs 183 and 184 of the report -

The Post Office is a Commonwealth-wide organization. It has highly trained professional officers in all the main centres and it possesses a large staff of competent technicians who are also widely distributed. Because of the size and similarity of other technical work which has to be done by the Post Office, there is a resorvoir of personnel on which to draw to meet all sorts of emergency conditions, providing also for holiday and sick relief.

In addition, the Post Office lias an extensive research organization in which problems presenting special difficulty are examined to find a solution, and a large proportion of these necessarily have a groat similarity to those which have to be dealt with in the other technical brandies of the department.

The committee paid several visits to the laboratory of the Postmaster-General's Department, and met the department's experts. Some day, this Parliament and the public of Australia may learn a little of the wonderful work that these men are doing in connexion with the Empire's war effort. Some of their achievements have been outstanding; they are of great value to the Empire- and its allies. The activities of the department are not confined to Australia. If I were to single out one officer from, a body of men who greatly impressed every member of the committee, I should say that the officer in charge of the research laboratory, Mr. S. H. Witt, is a man of outstanding ability. In saying that, I have no desire to do a wrong to other capable officers. The department contains men who know their jobs and are able to impart their knowledge to others.

The report is not correct when it states that these various services are rendered free to the commission. I do not think that the Postmaster-General's Department supplies anything free. The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly), when giving evidence before the committee, emphasized the importance of the PostmasterGeneral's Department presenting to Parliament each year a financial statement which can be understood by honorable members. The listening public pays £1 a year for a broadcast listener's licence. A portion of the revenue so obtained is placed in a trust fund, from which the Australian Broadcasting Commission, draws month by month. The balance of the fund - about 50 per cent. - is paid into Consolidated Revenue. Each year the Postmaster-General's Department prepares estimates of expenditure for the ensuing year. Those estimates, which have to be passed by the Parliament, include payment for services rendered to the Australian Broadcasting Commission. From all the investigations that were made by me personally and by my colleagues on the committee, I have come to the conclusion that the whole of the cost has been borne by the listening public. It has paid the amount required to continue the extraordinarily efficient and, indeed, brilliant work that is carried on by the research laboratory of the Postmaster-General's Department to which I have already referred, for the examination of ships' licences at sea, for the examination of the operators, and for the general administration of the Radio Telegraphy Act under the department. Having discharged the whole of these obligations, the Consolidated Revenue has an unexpended balance of approximately £70,000. If the payment by the public be for a specific purpose, the expenditure should be devoted to that purpose. If it be unnecessary to charge £1 Is. for the payment of these services or programmes, the fee ought to be reduced, and the charge should be merely sufficient to meet the required expenditure. The PostmasterGeneral's Department charges the commercial stations a flat rate a mile for the use of land-lines. That, too, is in some degree a charge against the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The commercial stations themselves have to meet the payment, whereas the Australian Broadcasting Commission makes it out of the proportion of the listeners' fees which it derives from Consolidated Revenue. I agree with the evidence given by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly), and hope that he will amplify it during the passage of the bill. Experts of the Postmaster-General's Department said in evidence that the accountancy staff would have no difficulty in. preparing a financial statement showing clearly what had been received and expended, and the manner in which the expenditure had been made. If that could be achieved, it would be a step in the right direction. I blame not the department so much as all governments for the rotten system that is associated with the presentation of, not only the accounts of that department, but also all other accounts that are presented to Parliament, and are frequently camouflaged in order that honorable members and the public may not understand them. Our accounts should be set out in a business-like way, so that the taxpayer may be able to understand how the money has been expended. This should be done also in regard to listeners' fees. Rightly or wrongly, the practice of having Commonwealth trust funds has grown up. In the old days, when Parliament voted money for expenditure on the erection of buildings or lines of railway, any amount unexpended at the 30th June reverted to the Treasury, and a fresh appropriation had to be made for the continuance of the work, with the result that frequently six months of the ensuing financial year had elapsed before further funds were available. That was overcome by the payment into trust funds of the unexpended balances of funds voted by Parliament. In relation to broadcasting, trust funds should be established into which money could be paid and from which it could be drawn for whatever services were required.

I shall now deal briefly with the commercial stations. Evidence was placed before the committee of the excellent service provided for listeners by these stations. Their primary function is to provide entertainment as an alternative to the programmes broadcast by the national stations. Much information was received regarding the coverage of the programmes broadcast by the commercial stations, demonstrating their acceptability to the Australian public. Although no claim was made by representatives of the commercial stations, evidence given by impartial witnesses was to the effect that as many as 85 per cent, of the listeners regularly tune in to commercial stations. We had no means whatever of verifying that estimate, and it may be said to have been arrived at purely by guess work. It would be to the advantage of these stations to be able to say that they have the patronage of 85 per cent, of the listening public, because advertisers would naturally be inclined to do business with such a valuable advertising media.

Mr Scullin - Did the commercial stations advance anything in proof of that statement?

Sir CHARLES MARR - No. They had conducted polls, which did not convince us that the percentage was either right or wrong. The committee was given a great deal of information, apart from that in relation to lighter entertainment, of the varied nature of the programme matter which emanates from these stations. Many sessions are devoted to cultural music, drama, and the like. In addition, an extensive variety of programmes of educational value is broadcast. In the field of charity, the commercial stations of Australia have a highly creditable record. Statistics were .submitted showing the wide range of charities that have been assisted during recent years. These referred particularly to the aid given to the Red Cross and other war charities since the outbreak of war. The estimate of the amount raised directly during that period 'is £272,000, hut that does not include the many .appeals that have been assisted by these stations by means of free publicity. The national stations cannot appeal over the air for money except in connexion, with such national funds as war loans. The commercial stations are not similarly restricted, and they have assisted appeals on behalf of war loans and the Red Cross to a marked degree. It is difficult to assess the value of the help that they have rendered to such organizations. The evidence placed before us showed, as I have said, that the amount raised directly was approximately £272,000. The. Government has been assisted in many ways by the commercial stations, which have willingly offered to it their full cooperation. An estimate of the value of the free time voted to governmental services alone is £250,000 per annum. If the commercial stations were nationalized, a greater amount of time could not be devoted to these purposes than is already riven. Apart from this support, the commercial stations have at all times assisted public departments, such as the Police and Health Departments ; and they have also been used on many occasions for giving warnings of bush fires and floods. In all, their record of public service has been very high. They have formed themselves into a voluntary organization with the title " The Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting 'Stations ". The value of this body is shown by the fact that, with the exception of two small stations, all commercial stations are members of it. The committee was greatly impressed with the work done by this body in devising standards of broadcasting practice and, in general voluntarily imposing a system of programme regulation in the general interests of listeners. It published for the guidance of its members a brochure which insisted upon the observance of a very high code in the procedure followed by the different stations. It was most helpful to the committee, not only in submitting evidence on its own behalf, but also in assisting to procure evidence from other sources. The commercial stations were just as keen as the commission to prevent anything of an objectionable nature from being put over the air. At the same time, they have endeavoured to raise the standard of B class programmes to that of the national stations, which is recognized to be very high, indeed. Members of the present Government as well as of the previous Government will recognize that the federation has always been prepared to give assistance whenever it has been asked to do so. Glowing tributes have been paid to the federation's co-operation in that respect.

The committee was very unfavorably impressed with the general class of commentator engaged by all classes of stations. The evidence was that very few commentators were worth their salt. Although the honorable member for Boothby (Dr. Price) is present, I recall that some witnesses said, in effect, " Since you left the Adelaide station, doctor, the whole service has gone to the dogs ". All members of the committee, representative of the three parties in the Parliament, worked in the greatest harmony with the one objective of examining the subject of broadcasting thoroughly and devising the best possible system in the interest of listeners. The opinion of the committee was that only experts should be engaged as commentators.

Mr Martens - AH of them think that they are experts.

Sir CHARLES MARR - While the committee was sitting it was impelled to recommend to the Government that certain classes of broadcasts by commentators should be rectified. I am glad to say that such action was taken immediately. For instance, we took records, for a certain period, of short-wave programmes, and found that portions of those programmes were very discreditable to the Commonwealth. They were not worth twopence One of these programmes, which are broadcast to overseas countries, including the United States of America, contained an item to the effect that Canberra was being overrun by hares; that there was a plague of hares in Canberra, and that the rich coastal areas were infested with rabbits. [Extension of time granted.] The committee took exception to such programmes, and on its recommendation the Government immediately took steps to improve them with a view to broadcasting only matter which would be of definite benefit to Australia. Generally, the committee was of opinion that the British Broadcasting 'Corporation's system of handling commentaries should be. followed, that is. that the matter broadcast be attributed not to any individual but to the particular government department concerned. For instance, such commentaries could be commenced with the statement that the Department of the Army, or the Department of the Navy, reported such and such a thing. I can see no benefit in Mr. Jones, or Mr. Smith, reporting something. Mr. Jones's opinion is not of interest to the nation in regard to matters of national concern. Therefore, we have suggested that commentators should be very carefully selected, and that names should be eliminated wherever possible. For instance, the views of the Department of the Army, or the Department of the Navy, in respect to the recent attack by the enemy in Sydney Harbour, is of much greater interest, and, certainly more authoritative, than those of any individual.

Mr Spender - Is the committee of opinion that a statement should be broadcast not as a statement made by an individual who is named., but as that of a member of the Government party, or the Opposition party?

Sir Frederick Stewart - Where a member of this Parliament speaks, say, at an afternoon gathering which is broadcast, and his speech is referred to that evening in the Australian Broadcasting Commission's news session, the gentleman is referred to as a member of the Opposition. Surely, it was never intended to extend anonymity so far?

Sir CHARLES MARR - No. It appeared to the committee that at one time members of the present Government were vieing with each other to get on the air. I am not blaming only members of this Government in that respect.

Mr George Lawson - Did not members' of the previous Government also do the same thing?

Sir CHARLES MARR - Not to the same degree. Our idea is that important statements dealing with government activities should be broadcast as official statements; and that comment made by any honorable member in this House should be .given as that of -a member of the Commonwealth Parliament. Does the particular party to which an honorable member belongs really matter in this .respect?

Mr Archie Cameron - Does not the honorable member think that every member's statement should be copyright? . Mr. Spender. - Was any consideration given by the committee to the nasal intonation of certain speakers in children's broadcasts from both the A and B class stations ? Any one who o .has regard, for the purity of our language must be amazed at the class of speaker who is employed to amuse the children in the sessions.

Mr Baker - Are they Australians?

Mr Spender - They are decent Australians; but there are also extremes of decent Australians. Some disgusting voices are heard in those broadcasts.

Sir CHARLES MARR - As a matter of fact, the .committee was concerned more about the child listener than any other class of listener. It gave very careful consideration to the character of children's broadcasts, not only from the educational aspect, but also from many other aspects.. As- will be- seen from the committee's report, the committee takes a very serious view of the broadcasting of doubtful jokes and stories. Such passages should be entirely prohibited; because broadcasts generally go right into the home. I agree with the. honorablemember for Warringah (Mr.. Spender). Even up to as late as yesterday, I heard a children's broadcast, portion of which was to be deplored. Some doubtful jokes which are put over the air are, to say the least of them, discreditable to the stations concerned.

The committee heard evidence from representatives of all church organizations throughout, the Commonwealth. It fan be said to the credit of those bodies that not one witness who appeared on their behalf displayed bias of any kind. The churches, generally, took im extraordinarily liberal view of our system of broadcasting as a whole, and unanimously declared that they had received fair treatment at the hands of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in respect of religous broadcasts. The committee took a serious view of the broadcasting of advertisments on Sunday. It will be generally admitted that Sunday evening is the most popular time for listening in.

Mr Martens - And the worst programmes of the week are usually put over on Sunday evening.

Sir CHARLES MARR - The evidence submitted to- the committee was that all stations endeavour to put over their best programmes on Sunday evening. If good programmes are to be provided by commercial stations, they must be sponsored by some one, because advertising, revenue constitutes the only income which those stations receive. The committee was of opinion, however, thatdetailed advertising should not be permitted on Sunday. It should be sufficient to announce that the programme was sponsored by such and such a firm.

Mr Scullin - And there should not be too much- reference- to the sponsor, either.

Sir CHARLES MARR - That is so. It was- also felt that, in- deference to reli gious bodies, advertising should not take place on Sunday mornings and evenings during church hours. Of coursein a free democracy such as ours, it is right that the people should be allowed to select their own programmes, and in Australia there are plenty to choose- from. There were, until quite recently, 98 commercial stations, and 29 national stations. Although- I have no interest in horseracing or dog-racing, I realize that I am not compelled to listen to broadcasts dealing with those matters ; I can switch over to something else. The present choice is very wide, and it should be Billowed to remain as wide as possible. The committee did not spare itself, and travelled widely in order to hear witnesses from all parts of the Commonwealth. It sat mornings and afternoons, and very often in the evenings as well. The work was most interesting, and I am sure, that all members of the committee found it so. We were particularly well served by the officials of the Postmaster-General's Department and by the- secretary of the committee. Mr. Groves, a quiet and efficient officer, who got through an extraordinary amount of work. I take this opportunity to pay a tribute to him for the part which he played in the work of the .committee. We also received valuable assistance from officials of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and from the chairman, Mr. Cleary, who gave evidence for 32 hours. I do not think that we missed anything in our examination of him, and he had at- his finger-tips all the information which we required. He demonstrated that he was a man of outstanding ability,, who was filled with a desire to keep broadcasting on a high level. Mr. Dooley, secretary of the 'Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations.. accompanied the committee to the various States, and was very helpful in. supplying whatever information was required, particularly the balance-sheets of the commercial stations Some of these stations, I understand, are closing down- because they find it impossible to carry on with reduced advertising revenue.

I believe that the joint committee did a useful job, and I am certain that if Parliament approves of the appointment of the advisory committee recommended in. the report, that committee will also render useful service in connexion with this great national undertaking. We must remember that broadcasting touches the daily life of every man, woman and child in the country. No other development of recent times is charged with such power for good or evil as broadcasting, and we should consider very carefully before handing over all stations, both national and commercial, to the control of the State lest we bring about the position which now obtains in Germany.

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