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Thursday, 8 August 1946

Mr HUTCHINSON (Deakin) (4:10 AM) . - Having been engaged in the perusal of another measure, I have not had an opportunity to study the bill in detail. However, as a listener, I am interested in this proposal, and I have no doubt the majority of listeners throughout Australia also are interested in it. As an ordinary listener I am anxious to know about anything that happens pertaining- to the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The speech made by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) struck me as the speech of a suspicious individual. He is a journalist, and, undeniably, during his career he has lent some colour to news. As he spoke I wondered how one could expect him to give the clear, factual interpretation of news . which people desire. He seemed to have & grudge against Mr. Henderson. The Sydney Morning Herald means nothing to me. Probably the majority of my constituents know little about that newspaper. But I have travelled around the world, and from my experiences I can say that the Sydney Morning Herald is so much better than the worst, and so little worse than the best, as to make it one of the finest papers in the world. The honorable member for Parkes seems to approach this debate from the point of - view of self interest.

Mr HAYLEN - I rise to order. The honorable member has made an implication which is offensive to me. He is attempting to build up on the libellous allegation made by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) that a certain position is waiting for me should I lose my seat in this House.-

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - The honorable member has not raised a point or order.

Mr HUTCHINSON - The' honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Eraser) declared that the newspapers carry on campaigns. That is so; but an independent Australian Broadcasting Commission news service could do the same. Recently, suspicions have arisen because -it has been alleged that the commission's news has been coloured in favour of the Government. A government news service, like some 'high public servants, would tend to lean towards the Government in power. But that practice cuts both ways. The allegation made against the commission in this respect may not be correct; but I have seen something of the working of this Parliament, and I believe that the allegation contains a grain of truth.

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - I ask the honorable member to connect his remarks with the bill.

Mr White - I rise to order. Is not an honorable member entitled to discuss what newspapers may, or may not report, or what news the commission may collect?

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - The honorable member has not raised a point of order.

Mr HUTCHINSON - I thought that we were discussing what could take place under a government-controlled news service.

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - The bill is. to amend the Australian Broadcasting Act, and not with the newspapers.

Mr HUTCHINSON - It can be inferred from the bill that the commission will.. set up .an independent news service. It has been said that the newspapers play up certain news. I submit that the commission's service also -could play up certain news. I understand that, under the proposed agreement between the commission and the Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association, the commission was to be allowed to place men in newspaper -offices where they would be' enabled, to collect factual news. Under that arrangement, the commission's representatives could place their own interpretation upon the news which would subsequently be broadcast. I should like the Minister in charge of the bill to say whether that was the proposal made to -the commission by the Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association. As 'an ordinary listener I do not want to hear -news which is coloured in the interests of any political party. I want to hear factual news. The newspapers' representatives throughout the world- to-day collect news which at base is factual. I do not believe, for instance, that the news which Mr. Massey Stanley sends from Japan is coloured- to serve the interests of Sir Keith Murdoch. I refuse to believe that were - that .gentleman employed by the commission to send news from Tokyo he would .send news which was not basic news. The expenditure involved in this proposal cannot be justified.

Mr Fraser - The commission's representatives obtaining news from newspaper offices would only be able to read proofs.

Mr HUTCHINSON - They would be given the factual news coming in from all parts of the world, and 'they could then interpret the news in their own way. I believe that the offer made by the newspaper proprietors to the commission was that they would supply factual news to "the commission's representatives who were to be placed in certain newspaper -offices. In effect, the newspapers would say to such officers, "-If you like to colour that news, you can do so; but we will not colour it ".

Mr Calwell - It would' be a case of the commission representatives being given news after the newspapers had coloured it.

Mr HUTCHINSON - That is nonsense. I have no need to worry myself about the press. However, I know some of the leading newspaper men in this country, and I know that they are as genuine and decent as is any honorable member. The next point I wish to make is this: How much of the bill is party political, and how much of it .is based on business principles? Of course, honorable members opposite are pledged to a policy of socialization. They are out to take control of everything. But 'this proposal means that the commission will simply duplicate existing news services throughout the world, and waste public money in doing so. Is .that political philosophy, or good business? If the commission can place its own men in the newspaper offices, and thus obtain factual news and interpret it for themselves, the expenditure df £250,000 on this proposal cannot be justified. The cost may not be so high, but it is significant that the Minister has not given any estimate of the cost. The -members of this Parliament can be likened to the directors of the nation, the firm of Australia; and, in this instance, it may be .said that our manager asks .us to do certain things, but does not place before us the cost involved in his proposal: .Such ,a procedure would not be tolerated for a moment by a strong and efficient board of directors. Apparently, that is what is. placed before the House by the Government, with . a complete absence of any business instinct. The Government is asking the people to sign a blank cheque. I, representing 70,000 people, the.great bulk of whom are wireless .listeners, am not prepared to sign a blank cheque. That may be the Government's way of doing .business. It is not mine. If the Government's way, sooner or later it will push this country over .the precipice. It is heading in that direction. The sooner the people realize that .madmen are at the helm so far as the finances of this country are concerned, the better will it be. Probably, they will then elect a new board of directors to govern this country. If this independent news service- cost? £250,000, that sum must come out of the revenue contributed by listeners. It stands to reason that if the standard of programmes is to be maintained, the listeners must pay a higher charge. If they do not, the standard must drop, unless the Australian Broadcasting Commission enters the commercial field, and thus becomes other than a .completely independent body, financed by the people and giving to them the class of entertainment it considers will elevate their minds. I have studied the operations of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the American Broadcasting Corporation. The - Australian system, under which an entirely independent service, run by the people through the agency of a commission, operates side by side with commercial stations', is a good one. I am not inclined to have duplication which will depreciate the value of the service that listeners have the right to expect from the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Apparently, tho newspaper proprietors have offered to supply a news service for £20,000 a year. That is not a very big amount, and the difference between it and the £250,000 is considerable. In many respects the newspaper proprietors have acted foolishly. The Sydney journals did so when they declined to make space available free of charge for the printing' of the programmes of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. That service would have a news value. Newspaper proprietors would be foolish were they to demand a high price for their news. I do not say that £20,000 a year is not a fair amount to ask the Australian Broadcasting Commission to pay for the right to select in the newspaper offices the news that it shall broadcast, and to interpret it according to its own ideas. I do not regard myself as competent to determine the amount that should be paid. All that I can. say is that I do not think that those controlling the newspapers would be put to greater expense in the collection of the news supplied to the Australian Broadcasting Commission. On the other hand, it is only right that they should make some charge for that news. I do not believe that the broadcasting of news has a detrimental effect on the circulation of newspapers. On the contrary, I believe that most people like to hear the news broadcast, and then to read it in the press. I do, and I regard myself as typical of the majority. If I hear over the air any news that excites my interest, I like to read the details in a newspaper. Therefore, I believe that the broadcasting of news reacts to the interests of the newspapers. In my view, the step that the Government i3 now taking savours more of political philosophy than of anything else. It is bad business to spend £250,000 on what can be obtained for about £20,000, especially to-day, when the people are overtaxed and badly need to have their taxes reduced in order that they may have a- greater incentive to increase production.

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