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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3242

Dr JENKINS (Scullin) - I also am conscious of the fact that this is the first time separate estimates for a Department of the Media have been presented. I think this is a most interesting development and it is worth while quoting, from the first annual report of the Department, the Secretary's comments on the presentation of the report. He says:

The Department of the Media is unique. It has no precedent in older countries overseas, for until now they have tended to ignore, or had scant knowledge of, the need or the appetite of the public for more information about their own country and about Government: about what Government is doing and why it is doing it, about rights and privileges.

Every democratic country has similar divisions to those embraced by the Department of Media. Coordinating these divisions for the public benefit is an Australian initiative.

I welcome this development for some of the reasons which the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) has advanced. I refer to the power of the media in the community today. The media is faced with a frightening responsibility in carrying out its duties. I think that the honourable member for Bradfield was rather unfair in saying that honourable members probably did not think about these matters. The problem is that we think about these matters but the guidelines are so difficult. On the media there must devolve a high ethical standard. And who decides what is an ethical standard? There must be accuracy of reporting because there can even be distortion of visual reporting, as occurs on television. There must be a responsibility of action in presenting cases. But as soon as one tries to lay down guidelines, the horrible ogre of censorship or the Goebbel's type propaganda rears its head in public discussion, and I believe that this is probably what deters a great deal of discussion and action in the field. So one trusts that the media itself will soundly think about this matter, and that many of the shocking examples of the media's irresponsibility that we have seen of late will not recur.

I wish to comment on the television and radio sections of the media, but not so much in the field of the national network of broadcasting and television stations, nor of the commercial network, both of which we trust will be able to preserve their high degree of autonomy. I think that these networks are essentially for entertainment and, to some extent, for the presentation of news. But I believe that we should give a lot more impetus to the introduction of a third system, both for radio and television, which might well cater to minority groups and which would serve a very useful purpose. It should be a system that serves the educational process. It could be integrated with the functioning of schools and with the concept of an open university. I know that educational programs are shown on the national network at the present time, but to me they are inappropriately placed there; they would be better in a separate system. A great deal of information could be given about government functioning and parliamentary functioning, whether it be in the Federal or State spheres.

My other criticism is of the traditional news and current affair services that are provided at the present time. There are many good programs in this field, but they occur at regular times; when they will be seen is preordained. Because of this they lack much in freshness and originality. One of my early impressions in this field was gained in 1968 in America. I happened to be there at the time when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. It was very interesting to see the news services that were given at that time. Regular programs were dropped and the television stations devoted themselves to giving the facts of what was happening and what was proceeding from it. Shortly after that time students at the Colombia University took over the administrative building. One of the television stations, instead of proceeding with its usual soap operas and so on, did a current affairs program on the spot at the time of the occupation of the building, with rebellious student leaders and conventional student leaders being interviewed there and then. The program was visible on the television screen to millions of people, and it really conveyed the sense of what was happening in what was a fairly ugly situation. This service could be provided in Australia through a third system. Many other features in cultural areas and so on could also be accommodated. I think there is room for a third system. I think that we have to look at this question, and perhaps the new Department of the Media might give added incentive in this regard.

One could go on and talk about the problems that we will face with frequency modulation and colour television. Undoubtedly other honourable members will speak on those subjects. Fairly recently there was introduced a points system which attracted a lot of hysterical reaction in the media. I think that position has settled down now. Reference to the system is contained in the first report of the Department of the Media. It is clear from the report that the system was introduced in a genuine attempt to ensure Australian content in programs on radio and television and increased use of Australian material as well as of artists. I think that the system is to be commended and not condemned in an hysterical manner.

One other area that comes under the Department of the Media is the Australian Information Service. The Australian Government Publishing Service does much in publishing many Government publications, some of which like Hansard are undoubtedly widely read, while others are of a more topical nature on Australian areas and Australian happenings. But the Australian Information Service has as one of its vital functions the job of conveying the Australian story in other countries. It does this in a variety of ways. I want to offer a word of commendation to the Australian Information Service for what it does overseas. Recently a member of my family was living in the United States for 12 months and he, as an Australian visitor, was expected to talk on and give a picture of what was happening in Australia. The Australian Information Service has regularly supplied material to him on current happenings in Australia and that material has been presented to the American people. It is presented in an excellent form, it is easy to understand and it tells the Australian story. In fact, the material so attracts the American people that they would like to be regular receivers of it. I think that we should look to expanding our Information Service overseas so that it is available to a much wider range of users.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drury) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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