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Wednesday, 3 July 1946
Page: 2159

Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) (Leader of the Opposition) (12:52 PM) . - The amendment falls into two parts, and I should like to vote' on them separately. Sub- clause 1 is, I think, a proper protection to give to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, assuming that we accept the principle of giving privilege to partial broadcasts. I have said what I wanted to say on that subject. If that principle is accepted, the amendment seems to be reasonable. But the second part of the amendment, which is designed to alter the privilege of members of Parliament in relation to debate, is not one that can command my support. I should perhaps add a word to what has been said on this question of privilege, which is very important. There has been some confusion about it in the .course of the consideration of this bill. The problem is not one of the privilege of the member of Parliament. As I pointed out in my second-reading speech, the privilege of the Parliament rests on an entirely different basis, one that this bill does not touch. Whether an honorable member, is reported in a newspaper or in Hansard or is broadcast, it is still true that what he says in the chamber cannot be made the subject-matter, or cause of action against him. So the privilege of a member of Parliament we can set on one side. It is not touched. All that the bill proposes to do under clause 14 is to give a new privilege to a new publishing medium, the broadcasting medium. I pointed out before that th basic distinction is a distinction between, on the one hand, the qualified privilege that we give to the newspaper, a privilege attaching to only a fair and accurate report, which, in the case of attack and counter-attack, must be balanced if it is to enjoy that protection, and, on the other hand, the absolute privilege now proposed to be conferred upon the partial broadcast of parliamentary debates. I take the greatest exception to conferring the latter form of privilege. This does not concern members, except insofar as the creation of this privilege may actually damage a- member. It may have the result of conferring on the Australian Broadcasting .Commission privilege for the transmission to the public of a defamatory statement which, in other circumstances, would enjoy no privilege at all.

Mr Rosevear - And any other broadcasting station could get a recording of the original broadcast for re-broadcasting.

Mr MENZIES - I was coming , to that." I am taking the matter in two steps. This requires a great deal of thought. "We are creating this new absolute privilege for the broadcasting of only a portion of a debate. The Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) has foreshadowed an amendment to insert the word " re-broadcasting " in clause 14 after the word "broadcasting". So absolute privilege will attach not only to the original broadcast but to a re-broadcast of a portion of a debate, and the re-broadcast, of course, need not be a reproduction of all the matter in the original broadcast. It may be a re-broadcast of one speech or a fraction of a speech, and we are attaching abso-lute privilege to that. That seems to me most unsound. The only protection would be that conferred in ' the foreshadowed new clause - 13a. - (1.) The committee shall have power to determine the conditions in accordance with which a re-broadcast may be made of any portion of the proceedings of .either House of the Parliament. (2.) No re-broadcast shall be made of any portion of the proceedings of either House of the Parliament otherwise than in accordance with the conditions so determined.

All that means is that we are putting into the hands of a committee the right to say under what circumstances a fragment of a debate broadcast to-morrow may be re-broadcast perhaps six months hence. I put it to this committee that there is no' occasion whatever for rebroadcasts except for the purpose of alinement of times on the interstate service. If the purpose is to provide, for example, that Western Australians shall be able to listen to the debates at a reasonable hour as if the State were an eastern State, that would be appropriate, but, apart from the need to meet the convenience of listeners in that way, I see no reason why anybody should be given permission to take a part of a partial broadcast and re-broadcast it. But whether that is done in whole or in part to-day or six months hence, it will still enjoy absolute privilege. I say, with great respect to everything that has been said, that that is something about which every honorable gentleman should think. It is not for ' the Parliament to whittle away the privileges of ' the Parliament, but it is for the Parliament to protect its rights, and one of those rights is that its members shall be reported, if reported at all, fairly and accurately. It is no answer to say that some newspapers do not do that. Of course they do not. It is no answer to that to say that the qualified privilege enjoyed by newspaper reporters has been abused; of course, it has. But privilege is well defined in point of law, and they lose their privilege unless they exercise it according to the law. And that exists for our protection and the protection of the Parliament just as much as for the protection of the public. What we- are doing here is abandoning that protection by saying, in a rather light-hearted way I am afraid, that there will be absolute protection for the original broadcast, or for any re-broadcasts, of whatever section of the parliamentary debate is broadcast, or any fragment of it that may then be selected and approved. For that reason whilst I would support the first portion of the amendment as a second line of defence, my first protection is that clause 14 itself should be omitted, or, at the very least, that the privilege created by' it should be confined to the broadcasting of Parliament and should not extend to any re-broadcast other than that broadcast within a few hours for the purpose of synchronizing interstate services.

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