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Tuesday, 2 June 1942

Mr RIORDAN (Kennedy) .- It was my privilege to be a member of the joint committee which made to Parliament a report that subsequently formed the basis of the legislation now before this House. It is very gratifying to the members of the committee to have had its recommendations accepted in the main by the Government and embodied in this measure. It is not my intention to trace the history of broadcasting, beyond saying that it has definitely passed the novelty stage, and the stage where a piece of galena was tickled with a cat's whisker. It has now become not only a powerful medium of entertainment, but also a powerful weapon for propaganda purposes. It has been said that the motor car has brought the country man to the city. Radio broadcasting has brought the city to the country. As an instrument of entertainment it has proved a boon to the people as a whole, but more particularly to residents in the country. In times of peace, it has enabled people living in isolated areas to hear descriptions of im portant events, including the running of the Melbourne Cup, which, in most cases, for economic reasons, the average country resident could never hope to witness.

Broadcasting has also proved a valuable educational instrument. Many witnesses who gave evidence before the committee testified to the value of educational broadcasts, particularly those designed to aid the studies of children in outback areas where no schools exist, including principally correspondence students. Voluminous evidence was given to the committee on behalf of the Australian Broadcasting Commission by leading educationalists on that aspect of its work. Booklets were furnished to the committee indicating the kind of literature distributed by the commission in order to enable children to participate intelligently in educational broadcasts arranged for their benefit. These broadcasts are now used extensively in Victoria and South Australia, and are being expanded in the other States. In Melbourne the members of the committee attended an orchestral concert for school children, typical of the concerts arranged by the commission in pursuance of its policy of improving the musical taste of the community.

Broadcasting to-day is one of the most powerful instruments which any nation can handle. Prior to the outbreak of the war, the Government then in control of Germany used broadcasting in order to create a psychology which enabled it to regiment the minds of the German people and thus build up, with the tacit consent, at any rate, of that nation, a war machine the like of which the world had not previously known. Since the outbreak of the war, broadcasting has been proved to be a powerful instrument of propaganda. We take full advantage of it in that respect in shortwave broadcasting to other countries; whilst Australian listeners with shortwave sets are able to receive entertainment, news and propaganda from overseas. Indeed, some honorable members have queried the wisdom of permitting Australians to listen in to such broadcasts from Tokio.

Dealing with broadcasting generally, I believe that when the war is over we shall witness revolutionary changes in respect of both reception and transmission. Mention has already been made of likely developments in the use of frequency modulation and ultra short-wave broadcasting. Unless a genius arises to invent an adapter for use on present receiving sets, completely new receivers must be designed for the reception of ultra short-wave broadcasts. Evidence was given before the committee that several stations had been erected in the United States of America for the purpose of experimenting with ultra short-wave broadcasting. Undoubtedly, when the war is over, attempts will be made to apply in this country the experience thus gained in the United States of America. "We may also see great developments in television, although, as one honorable member has said, it is difficult to conceive that television will become very popular because in many respects it compares unfavorably with radio broadcasting. Televised pictures are reproduced on a screen no larger than ten inches by five or six inches. Therefore, a person must concentrate on the picture; whereas today with ordinary radio broadcasts, a person may move from room to room and still hear all that is coming over the air. Evidence was given to the committee that great developments will most certainly take place in facsimile broadcasting. I believe that it was the fear of developments in that field that produced the pessimism of newspaper organizations and, perhaps, the overoptimism of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in dealing with the problem of the broadcasting of news. Station 3UZ Melbourne was granted a licence to experiment with facsimile broadcasting; but as this method did not prove popular, that station abandoned such experiments, and returned its licence to the department. Facsimile broadcasting also involves the attachment of special apparatus to the present radio broadcasting receiver. It is really a development of radio picturegrams which are published frequently in our daily newspapers. By this means, it is possible to receive in printed form on an ordinary radio wireless broadcasting set fitted with a special attachment the printed news broadcast from the transmit ting station. Thus, facsimile broadcasting is a potential competitor with newspaper organizations in the dissemination of news. For this reason, those organizations fear that radio broadcasting might very well become a serious competitor in the news field.

The committee has recommended that the dual system of national and commercial stations he retained. Its recommendations, as embodied in this measure, provide for the more rigid control of both classes of stations. Under this measure, objectionable broadcasts will be prohibited. Stricter control will also be exercised over certain classes of advertisements, such as those dealing with medicines and advertising broadcasts on Sundays. In future, only what are known as sponsored programmes will be permitted on Sundays. The reason for this innovation is. that Sunday is a day of rest, and on that day more people listen to broadcasts than on any other day. The proprietors of commercial stations have six days of the week on which to broadcast ordinary advertisements. The committee was of opinion that the name only of the sponsor should be announced. The Australian Broadcasting Commission is expected to foster musical appreciation in Australia, and I believe that it has done a good job in that regard. However, its power in this direction is governed by the amount of revenue at its disposal, and the committee, therefore, recommended that the licence-fee, or that the amount payable to the commission, be increased. The committee also recommended that the administrative staff of the commission should be appointed by competitive examination, and that the employees should be brought under the control of the Commonwealth Public Service Board. I am sure that those recommendations will meet with the approval of all honorable members.

There is a good deal of misunderstanding on the subject of copyright. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) will agree with me that there are in Australia very few experts on copyright. The committee heard evidence from one member of the legal profession who, because he had furnished opinions on copyright to various parties, was recognized as an authority. Most people seem to think that the Australasian Performing Right Association chooses to send overseas the money which it collects in royalties in Australia. It is true that most of the money is sent overseas, but the fault does not lie with the Australasian Performing Right Association; rather does it lie with those who choose the musical programmes which are performed in Australia. The association is really a kind of a trade union which watches the interests of musical composers. Because the broadcasting stations broadcast such a large proportion of music, the copyright of which is held overseas, the Australasian Performing Right Association necessarily sends overseas much of the revenue it collects. Therefore, the committee came to the conclusion that, in order to assist the Australian Broadcasting Commission in its efforts to encourage the performance of Australian music, at least 2^ per cent, of the time devoted to the broadcasting of music should be reserved for the broadcasting of Australian music. The committee was informed that the present proportion was less than one-half of 1 per cent. Australia's most prolific composer has been receiving less than £80 a year in royalties, whilst tens of thousands of pounds have been going overseas. There is one matter which has caused me some concern. The programmes of commercial stations consist mostly of recordings, and there is nothing in the bill to compel the firms which make gramophone records to produce recordings of Australian music. Perhaps provision can be made for this by an amendment of the Customs Act.

I am one of those who signed the minority report of the committee advocating the nationalization of commercial broadcasting stations in Australia. I did so, because it is in keeping with the platform of the Australian Labour party, to which I subscribe, and because I am convinced that it would be in the interests of the people, and of broadcasting generally. Most of the commercial stations are concentrated in the capital cities. I appreciate the good work done by commercial stations, which provided a service to the public at a time when the Commonwealth Government, be- cause of the limited amount of money which it was prepared to devote to this work, was unable to give a satisfactory service. The fact remains, however, that as soon as any one obtains a licence to operate a commercial station, his first thought is to establish it in one of the capital cities. His first consideration when granted a licence is not service to the public but where he can make the greatest profit. A wireless station is a commercial undertaking. The first consideration of broadcasting policy in this country with its large area and sparseness of settlement should be to give the best service possible to the people in the outback districts. These people are contributing materially by their labour to the development of Australia and it is the duty of the Government to ensure that high-class broadcasting programmes are provided for them. Many families in outlying districts depend on correspondence schools for the education of their children and they are denied the opportunity of receiving broadcast programmes that would supplement the correspondence course. I met recently in western Queensland a man whose home is 84 miles from a railway line and whose children are being educated by correspondence. Those children were denied the benefit of the school broadcasts by reason of the absence of a national station in western Queensland. The reception of educational items by such a family would be a valuable amenity. At Longreach, in western Queensland, there is a low-powered station which broadcasts intermittently because the revenue from advertising does not permit a more regular service being given. If that station were included in the national network it would be able to broadcast celebrity concerts and other educational items which are not now available to country people who cannot afford to buy a high-powered receiving set. Why should a resident of Sydney have the choice of seven or eight stations when families carrying on essential industries in the outback districts cannot obtain a reasonable service unless they possess high-powered sets? As the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) pointed out, 44 per cent, of the commercial stations are controlled by newspapers or have newspapers financially interested in them. The percentage of commercial stations in the hands of newspapers is larger in Australia than the corresponding percentage in the United States of America, where the stations are solely commercial. In that country the network has been developed to a high degree, but in Australia a number of commercial stations are bound together loosely for the purpose of buying expensive programmes. More of these programmes could be put on the air if the income of the Australian Broadcasting Commission were increased. I am in favour of the dual system of national and commercial broadcasting services being adopted in Australia, but I consider that it should be nationalized, as it is in New Zealand. The dual system would enable the commission to provide much better programmes, because, with the commercial service nationalized, more money would be available to the commission. Evidence was collected by the parliamentary committee which showed that in 1940 the. whole of the commercial stations made a profit of £81,384 on an actual capital of £860,000, or 9.4 per cent, of profit on capital invested. If the stations were nationalized the rate of profit would be increased because of consequent reduction of overhead expenses. Some commercial stations do not make a profit but most of them earn substantial profits. I shall now quote from a letter written on 16th February last by the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Mr. Fraser, to the chairman of the Joint Committee on Broadcasting -

So far as users of the broadcasting services arc concerned, there is ample evidence of the satisfactory operation of both services. So far as the national service is concerned, since its operations were brought under direct Government control in 1936, the number of registered licence-holders has increased from 183,830 to 306,079, while the last published accounts of the National Commercial Broadcasting Service show that for the year ended 31st March, 1941, that service derived a revenue of £207,764 from sales of station time, &c., and made a net profit of £52,084. In the annual report of that service for the year, it is stated that the service found difficulty in finding placement in its schedules for all the business offering, and a considerable volume of very desirable business had to be deferred or rejected in order to avoid overcrowding the programmes with advertisements.

The figures quoted show that with a revenue that was only one-fifth of that of the commercial stations in Australia the New Zealand service made a profit of £52,000. The number of licences for broadcasting stations in Australia is limited. At present there are 98 commercial stations and 29 national stations operating, and there are nearly 700 applications for licences. Unless frequency modulation is perfected, only a few of the applications can be granted. The number of licences that can be granted is limited by international agreement, and other factors. In other words, the present holders of B class broadcasting licences enjoy a monopoly.

Many of the witnesses who gave evidence before the Joint Committee on Broadcasting favoured the nationalization of commercial broadcasting services. The report refers to two of them. In my opinion, the Government should give this matter serious consideration because a vested interest is being created, and unless swift action be taken, the Government that ultimately attempts to nationalize the commercial services will be compelled to bear a considerable financial burden.

Some criticism has been levelled at the proposal to appoint a standing committee on broadcasting. As the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) stated, this proposal emanated from Professor Bland of the Sydney University, who is a recognized authority on public administration. After he had elaborated his idea when giving evidence, the joint committee took the opportunity to ascertain the views of subsequent witnesses, and almost without exception, they supported the proposal. As was explained in the report of the committee, the principal object in establishing a standing committee is to reconcile the independence of the Australian Broadcasting Commission with the political conception that all actions of quasigovernment authorities should, in the final analysis, be subject to parliamentary control. The standing committee would provide a safeguard against the introduction of hasty or ill-advised legislation or regulations by the political party in power, and would establish a means of ensuring that, before important changes are made in broadcasting policy, there will be a minute investigation of the proposal, and evidence will be taken from all interested parties by members of both Houses who represent all the States. The proposed standing committee will consist of nine members, who will be as familiar with all the major problems of broadcasting as a Minister. As a member of the Joint Committee on Broadcasting, I believe that the recommendation of Professor Bland is an excellent one, and that the proposed standing committee will prove very valuable to broadcasting. I am gratified that the bill has received such support from honorable members, and I am confident that broadcasting will benefit as a result of this legislation. My only regret is that the Government has not seen fit to nationalize the commercial broadcasting services.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time and committed pro forma progress reported.

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