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Thursday, 8 August 1946


Mr FRANCIS (Moreton) (1:40 AM) . - I regret that after .the House has sat for the last four weeks in the forenoon, afternoon, evening a'nd early morning hours, we should now be obliged to consider so important a measure at this very late hour. Broadcasting plays a very important part in the -life of the community, and it will play a still greater part in the future. The world generally is topsyturvey, and Australians as a whole are anxious to keep abreast of the latest trends in international and local . affairs. Under the principal act, the Broadcasting Commission was made absolutely free of political control and interference. The object of this measure is to bring the commission under political control and direction. I object strongly to that policy. The people have a high regard for the work performed by the commission. Under difficult war conditions, it did a wonderful job for which I commend it. However, in recent years, the commission has been, subject to all sorts of annoyances from the political powers that be. In those circumstances, the introduction of this measure is most disturbing, because under it the commission is to be shorn of more of its powers. The importance of broadcasting can he gauged from the fact that 84 per cent, of i Lie population hold listeners' licences.

Had it not been for the war, that number would now be even greater. The war impeded the production of receiving sets, because manufacturers transferred their activities to Avar production. [ welcome the provision for the issuance of listeners' licences at half the normal fee to service pensioners and invalid and old-age pensioners. For a long time I have urged the Government to make that concession. Although the hour is late, I am impelled to emphasize certain aspects of the measure. Clause 5 of the bill proposes to repeal section 25 of the principal act which provided -

The Commission may collect in such manner as it thinks fit views and information relating to current events iii any part of the world and may subscribe to news agencies.

That power was sufficient to enable the commission to provide an efficient news service. That is proved by the high standard of the news services which the commission provided during the war. Unfortunately, the Government- does not share that view. It now proposes that the commission shall provide what the Government calls an independent news service. Sub-section 1 of proposed new section 25 reads -

The Commission shall broadcast daily from all national broadcasting stations regular sessions of news and information relating to current events within the Commonwealth and other parts of the world.

The commission already possesses that power under the principal act. Subsection 2 reads -

The Commission shall employ an adequate staff, both in the Commonwealth and in overseas countries, for the purpose of collecting the news and information to be broadcast in pursuance of this section.

The commission now possesses that power also under the principal act. Subsection 3 is as follows -

The Commission may also procure hews mid information relating to current events in other parts of the world for such overseas news agencies and other overseas sources as it thinks fit.

Under this provision the commission is to be enabled to set up what the Govern ment calls an independent news service; yet this so-called independent news is still to be collected- through world new agencies, although the Government professes to be opposed to the commission collecting its news through existing agencies, such as, Reuters and the British Broadcasting Corporation, through which the commission now receives much of its overseas news. The first broadcasting committee, which is known as the Gibson Committee, was established by a previous Government.


Mr Calwell - ltwas a very good committee.-


Mr FRANCIS - -The Government i.not prepared to carry out the recommendations made by that committee. The Gibson Committee urged the Australian Broadcasting Commission, without delay, to enter into an agreement with the Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association for the supply of basic news. The Government has seen fit to repudiate the unanimous recommendation made by the Australian Broadcasting Commission that, it be permitted to enter into an agreement with the newspaper organizations of this country for the supply of basic news. The Gibson Committee originally recommended that the commission make such an agreement. I shall 1101V refer briefly to some of the evidence given by Mr. Boyer, the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, before the Broadcasting Committee. He said -

In this case we are making a short-term agreement with a currency of only one year terminable on either side at the end of that period. This short-term agreement allows the commission a period within which both to test the satisfactory nature of the agreement itself and to see its way more clearly both as tofinances and personnel of 'its news gathering staff.

That is all that the Australian Broadcasting Commission asked the Government to do; but the Government refused to have the agreement executed for one year, and. thus afford an opportunity for an examination of the proposal and the making of any variations that were considered necessary.. One would imagine it to be aheinous crime for the Australian Broadcasting Commission to obtain news from the Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association. There is not a broadcasting organization in any English-speaking country - Great Britain, Canada, .South Africa, or the United States of America - which, does not take its news from press agencies. I quote the evidence of the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission on the subject -

The British, Canadian and. 'South African national news services each draw the greater .part of their news from press sources under agreements much more comprehensive than that now before the committee. Canada, for example, follows the practice of leaving all news gathering, with the exception of special events, to the news agencies, even including Parliamentary news. South .Africa has no machinery for. the collection of news as such, ft has, however, a contract with the South African Press Association for the supply of all its basic .news. The British Broadcasting Corporation also has a firm agreement with British home news service for the supply of basic home news. It will be seen, therefore, that in general a news agreement for basic home news is current practice throughout the British Commonwealth. [ add, that that is the position in the United States of America also. The whole of the English-speaking people get their basic news from news agencies. Thousands of journalists throughout the British Empire are gathering news which is put over the air. Yet the Government repudiates the recommendations of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

In the matter of costs, I point out that the Australian Broadcasting Commission budgeted for an expenditure of £53,000 on the news service it is now conducting. The agreement would have cost it £20,000. -Mr. Henderson, the representative of the Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association, said that an independent Australian news service would cost at least £110,000. The arbitrator - Professor Copland, who at the time was Prices Commissioner - to whom the terms of the new agreement were referred, said that the cost of an independent overseas service would be at least £20,000. Therefore, in round figures, the cost of this socalled independent news service would probably be £150,000. I have no objection to an independent news service, and I am sure that my party has not. But talk of an independent news service is all *' hooey ", when the Government has not the vaguest idea of what the overseas news service is likely to cost. No evidence was given to the Broadcasting Committee in regard to the cost of an overseas news service. The Australian Broadcasting Commission will be dependent on Reuters and a like organization in the United States of America for its overseas news. No matter how many journalists were sent abroad, they could not cover the field that is covered by the men employed by Reuters, and if that service be not .used, there will be a lack of overseas news.


Mr Calwell - Does the honorable member argue that we should accept the tainted Henderson service?


Mr FRANCIS - Under the agreement, there could be no taint in the news service. If the Minister does not agree with that, he is not acquainted with the proposal which he has submitted to the Parliament. The agreement was acceptable to a minority of the members of the Broadcasting Committee. Its terms make it abundantly clear that there could be.no taint in the news ' supplied to the Australian Broadcasting Commission by the Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association. The statement that there would be one is a reflection on the Australian Journalists Association or on Australian journalists in that association.


Mr Calwell - No; only on the proprietors.


Mr FRANCIS - The Minister does not know what he is talking about.


Mr Menzies - The proprietors do not write the news provided by the service.


Mr FRANCIS - The Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association agreed that the original report obtained by members of the Australian Journalists Association and handed to the editor or the sub-editor of any newspaper would be made available - to the Australian Broadcasting Commission without being edited or sub-edited. The suggestion that that original copy would have a " slant " is a reflection on the journalists responsible for its preparation. On behalf of the journalists and the Australian Journalists Association, I say that that is an improper and a base innuendo. I shall read that portion of the agreement which makes provision for the supply of the news. These are its terms -

(1)   Australian Newspaper Proprietor? Association hereby bargains and sells to the broadcaster, the full and unrestricted right and privilege of broadcasting in the national broadcasting services radiating from Australia, the local news services supplied by Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association, in such form as the broadcaster deems fit, and shall make available to the broadcaster or its representatives from time to time as required by the broadcaster at the "offices of member newspapers Australian news in copy or proof as requested by the broadcaster or its representatives for which purpose the broadcaster or its representatives will be provided with suitable accommodation, telephone and other facilities in the newspaper offices aforesaid and full access at all time to Australian news in copy or proof which Australian news may be used by the broadcaster at any time without restriction as to amount or frequency of broadcast.

What more does the Government want?


Mr Calwell - Why are the newspaper proprietors so anxious -to make this agreement?


Mr FRANCIS - If there were any taint in the news offered under this agreement, the responsibility for it would rest on the journalists who prepared the copy and handed it in to the newspaper office.


Mr Menzies - Does the Australian Broadcasting Commission favour the making of the agreement?


Mr FRANCIS - The Australian Broadcasting Commission was unanimous in favouring it. Not one member of it did not recommend its adoption.


Mr Calwell - That is not true. Mr. Hanlon, the vice-chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, did not agree to the adoption of it.


Mr FRANCIS - Mr. Hanlondid agree to it. He said, "I support this agreement ".







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