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Tuesday, 2 June 1942

Mr HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No approval was given by Cabinet. In a statement to the House, I said that Cabinet would take no action to prevent the Australian Broadcasting Commission from exercising the powers that Parliament had conferred upon it. The honorable member for Melbourne was not a member of the House at that time, and did not know the circumstances that led up to the publication of the journal. Unfortunately, I was not one of those who gave evidence before the Joint Committee on Broadcasting, but the whole history of this journal is of such moment that it should be thoroughly discussed at this juncture. The first Minister to take any direct action in regard to the A.B.C. Weekly was the former Postmaster-General He took action because the Australian. Broadcasting Commission had been threatened by the press that advertising rates would be charged for the publication of the commission's programmes -on and after a certain date. The commission regarded that threat as a direct challenge, realizing that about £90,000 of listeners' fees would have to 'be paid to the press for a service which, until then, had been regarded as having a definite news value. The commission realized that there was something more in the matter than a mere request for the payment of advertising rates for the publication of programmes; it realized that the press had wide interests in the commercial stations and in other similar publications, and that it was to the advantage of the press to discount the national stations as much as possible and thereby increase their own advertising revenue. The object was to prevent the Australian Broadcasting Commission from using £90,000 of its funds on the improvements of programmes the importation of artists from overseas, and the holding of celebrity concerts which had proved so popular in the past. Ir was an opportunity which was too good to miss. Representatives of the commercial stations approached me as Postmaster-General and said that the A.B.C. Weekly must, not be published. I shall not recapitulate the threats that were made to me then, nor the action which was subsequently taken by the commercial stations in an endeavour to carry out those threats at election time. Neither 1" as Postmaster->General nor the Government of which I was a member, would take any action to prevent the Australian Broadcasting Commission from exercising its rights under the act, and I venture to- say that had I or the Government had the temerity to bow to these magnates, and to seek to prevent the commission from exercising the privilege -conferred upon it by Parliament, Parliament would not have tolerated it for a moment.

Mr Spender - The point made by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly) was that, regardless of the history of the matter, the A.B.C. Weekly was operating at a loss and not giving the service that ii; should give.

Mr HARRISON - I am coming to that point. I was merely endeavouring to put the honorable member for Lilley right because by saying that he did not criticize this Government he implied that he did criticize the previous Government in regard to the publication of this journal. Obviously no criticism can be levelled at any government for refraining from taking action; Parliament invested certain rights in the Australian Broadcasting Commission and no government would have taken those rights away. The responsibility rested solely with Parliament.

In my opinion, the A.B.C Weekly has not come up to expectations, due entirely to the commission's inability to produce ii journal of sufficiently high standard to command a ready sale. I recall that nt the time when the journal was first published, I had a talk with the chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and I told him that I would not countenance the use of licence-fees to finance any great loss sustained by the A.B.C. Weekly. I was just as emphatic in that regard as I was in my refusal to bow to the representations made to me by the commercial stations in regard to the publication of the journal. However, I was relieved of office before I could put my decision into operation. I say without hesitation that, in view of the fact that the A.B.C. Weekly continues to be conducted at a huge loss, its publication should be reviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I add, however, that although the journal loses £30,000 a year, that figure is considerably less than the £90,000 which the Commission would have been forced to pay had the A.B.C. Weekly not been brought into existence. What is required to place the journal on a sound foundation is somebody with a knowledge of publication values, a knowlodge of good articles, and a knowledge of all those things which are popular in the minds of readers. Incidentally, an important requisite also is a knowledge of the human approach to the reading public. If one goes to a news-stand to-day and asks for the A.B.C. Weekly, the person who is serving usually hunts around at the bottom of the stand amongst some dusty papers* and then produces a ropy of the journal, with dust clinging to the edges.' I realize that it is in the interests of news vendors to push the sales of the journals which provide their main business, but I emphasize that there is a human approach and a value approach which should be adopted immediately by the new Commission. There is a value in the publication, and unless that value can be realized I am afraid that Parliament will not tolerate it much longer.

In conclusion, I should like to refer lo the matter of objectionable broadcasts. Every honorable member of this chamber should register his disapproval at some of the items which are put over the air. Whilst I was Postmaster-General, this matter was brought home to me unexpectedly on one occasion. My youngsters were giving a- little party at home, and were listening to a broadcast by a certain gentleman who claimed to be a monarch in his domain. He broadcast an item which would, not have been put over in the smoke-room of a men's club.

It was a most shocking thing. These innocent youngsters were standing by, listening, and there was sufficient in the item to cause them to ask what it meant. Occasionally, when friends of both sexes are being entertained in one's home, items of an objectionable nature are broadcast, to the embarrassment of every one present. That sort of stuff may be all right for blase and sophisticated people, but it is not satisfactory for general consumption. I had a great deal of pleasure in putting the fellow to whom I have referred off the air. I insisted that his scripts be submitted for perusal before being broadcast, but he continued to make subtle insinuations and innuendoes, by adding remarks such as " Keep it clean, girls ". I suggest that the strongest possible action should be taken to keep broadcasts clean and preserve the sanctity of home life from the broadcasting of questionable jokes. To that end, I am strongly in favour of the clause in the bill which relates to that matter. These subtle and sinister stories with double meanings, these unclean jokes emanating like fumes from diseased minds, should not be permitted to find their way into the homes of the people. They should be expunged. The air should be kept clean and pure as God intended it to be.

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