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Thursday, 8 August 1946

Mr BRYSON - He did not.

Mr Menzies - Assuming honorable gentlemen opposite to be right, Mr. Hanlon has overruled the other members of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Mr Calwell - Mr. Hanlon was right, and the others were wrong.

Mr FRANCIS - Mr. Hanlonsaid definitely, " I support this agreement, and recommend its adoption ". I am having the evidence turned up, and shall read it to the House. Regarding the feasibility of having this alleged independent .news service I propose to quote the evidence given by Sir Walter Layton, the leader of the British press delegation which came to this country some time ago. The Broadcasting Committee discussed with him a whole series of matters, including the possibility of establishing an independent news service. This is what he said, and his opinion was- based on his extensive experience -

It would be fantastic for the Australian Broadcasting Commission to set up a complete world-wide .system of news gathering and duplicate all that is being done.

I remind the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Bryson) that Mr. Hanlon said this -

I do support the agreement. I do so as democrat.

Mr Bryson - He was referring to the acceptance of the price recommended by an arbitrator.

Mr FRANCIS -I can only give the honorable member the information. 1 cannot give him the intelligence to understand it. The former director-general of the British Broadcasting Corporation gave the following evidence before the Broadcasting Committee : -

The British Broadcasting Corporation had access to the same news as was available to the newspapers. In addition, it had its own observers and news gatherers of a sort. The practice was not so much to send a man to gather news as to send a microphone to broadcast news events as they occurred - for instance, a running account of a football match. But eye-witness accounts were also given from the studio of interesting events earlier" in the day - and that if a form of news gathering

The British Broadcasting Corporation thought that it should not set up an independent news agency, partly because it would have been too expensive.

This Government has no regard for expense, or' for the needs of industry. According to the Broadcasting Act, the Australian Broadcasting Commission must refer to the Minister, for approval, all proposed expenditure of more than £5,000.

Mr Calwell - A most salutory provision.

Mr FRANCIS - I agree, provided the Minister exercises common sense and fair play, and has regard to the proper functions of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, but the Government is using this provision to force the commission, into doing what it wishes. Under the Broadcasting Act, the commission was allotted lis. out of every listener'* licence-fee of £1, to enable it to perform its function. The commission found the amount insufficient, and was granted another ls. and later a further 3s. was granted. However, the act still provides that it shall receive only Ils., and this amendment does not provide for payment to the commission of 15s. from each licence. The extra 4s. is being paid on sufferance, and the Government is using this fact as a stick with which to flog the commission into submission. I submit that the act should be amended now to provide for the payment of 15s.

I object to clause 13 of the bill which prohibits the broadcasting in Australia of programmes from other countries, except with the approval of the Minister. All during the war, the Australian Broadcasting Commission picked up British Broadcasting Corporation programmes which, when re-broadcast, formed an important part of local programmes. "Now it is proposed to whittle down the power of the commission, which has done such good work. It is also proposed to set up a promotions and appeals tribunal, which will take away from the commission control over its own staff. The Broadcasting Committee, of which I am a member and deputy chairman, is becoming more and more political, despite the restraining influence of myself and my colleagues. The commission was set up with the idea that it would be independent" of political control, but its work has been handicapped more and more by Government restrictions.

Mr Menzies - Did the Broadcasting Committee make any estimate of the cost of establishing a news service

Mr FRANCIS - A suggestion was made by Mr. Henderson that £110,000 a year would be the least that would be needed to collect news in Australia. No other evidence was submitted, yet in the absence of evidence the Government is prepared to institute a so-called independent news service. Nevertheless, it proposes to use news supplied by overseas agencies, and how the service can then be called independent, I fail to understand. The agreement with the newspapers was unanimously approved by the Broadcasting Committee.

Mr Calwell - And unamimously turned down by Cabinet.

Mr FRANCIS - Mr. Hendersonwas . in favour of it. The only evidence given against the agreement came from Mr. Dixon, employed by the* Australian Broadcasting Commission as news editor. The commission considered his evidence and rejected it, and unanimously recommended that the agreement should be accepted for one year. I propose now to deal with the. Broadcasting Committee's report. Section 85 of the Australian Broadcasting Act provides - (1.) The Committee shall, subject to the provisions of this act, consider and report to the Parliament upon every matter affecting' broadcasting in Australia or the territories of the Commonwealth which either House of the Parliament, by resolution, refers to the Committee and upon every other such matter referred to the Committee by the Minister. (2.) The Minister shall refer to the Committee any such matter which the Commission or the body known, at the commencement of this act, as the Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations, requests him to refer to the Committee.

Under that section there was referred to the committee the question of whether or not the draft agreement with the newspaper proprietors should be accepted. That was the only subject referred to the committee . and accordingly should have been the only matter upon which the committee reported to the Parliament under its terms of reference. The majority of the members, of the committee, however, consisting of supporters of the Government, entirely ignored the terms of reference and included, in the report a recommendation for the establishment of this, so-called independent news service. The whole of. the evidence heard by the committee, with the exception of that given by Mr. Dixon, an employee of the Commission, favoured the acceptance of the draft agreement. The Commission and the Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association were in favour of the acceptance of the agreement and its continuance for one year. After hearing Mr. Dixon's views on the agreement the commission rejected them, and its representative gave evidence before the Broadcasting Committee that it was prepared to accept the draft agreement. The Australian Broadcasting Commission is a statutory body, yet its recommendations were rejected by the Government which is now seeking still further to hamstring it. During the debate on this bill in the Senate it was alleged that -there was a definite "slant" in news items - broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Such an allegation is unwarranted. The agreement contains a special clause authorizing officers and servants of the Australian Broadcasting Commission to go into the offices of any of the newspapers and to sight " copy " before it is sub-edited by the editorial staff. The national broadcastingservice in every English-speaking country obtains its basic news items from newspaper sources.

Clause 18 of the bill empowers the Governor-General to make regulations -

(o)   for varying or adding to the conditions governing the erection or operation of commercial broadcasting stations or an appliance for which a broadcast listener's licence is re- quiried to be held; and

(6)   for prescribing matters relating to the making of agreements or arrangements by licencees of commercial broadcasting stations for. the provision of programmes, or the broadcasting of advertisements, or relating to such agreements or arrangements so made.

I regard that as the thin edge of the wedge of nationalization of broadcasting. It is nationalization by stealth. Under this clause the B class stations could be gradually eliminated. Many of the provisions of this bill are opposed to the interests of broadcasting and of listeners generally. The Government has steadily and persistently reduced the power and authority of the commission. It has destroyed the responsibility of the commission, and is gradually increasing political control of the commission's activities. I trust that the Government will yet withdraw many of the proposals contained in the bill.

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