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Friday, 6 March 1942

Senator FOLL (QUEENSLAND) .- In the course of my recent speech on international affairs, I referred to the Australian Broadcasting Commission's news sessions and the Minister for Information (Senator Ashley) informed me that the news sessions from Canberra were entirely the responsibility of the commission. I think he also stated quite clearly that neither he nor the Government of which he is a member gave any direction to the Australian Broadcasting Commission in regard to these broadcasts. I accept the Minister's assurance that all the responsibility lies with the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Consequently, any criticism which I may voice in regard to these sessions must necessarily be directed to the commission and not to the Minister either as PostmasterGeneral or Minister for Information. I have received a number of communications in regard to these sessions. One of them was from Miss B. A. Leeper, of SouthYarra, Melbourne. The letter states -

I note in to-day's press that in answer to a question from you, the Postmaster-General is reported tohave declared that the broadcasting commission was given an entirely free hand in the presentation of its news services and commentaries. The letter of which I enclose a copyis aflat denial of this statement. The matter to which I had taken particular exception in my letter of the 21st January (to which the commission had taken a fortnight to reply ) was the interpolation into the midday session of oversells news of comment from two newspapers (apparently of Sydney, though this was not stated) violently attacking the British Government and Mr. Churchill in particular. I stated in my letter that this was the first timeI had ever heard local comment interpolated in overseas news and that this could notbut give rise to the suspicion that we were being given coloured, rather than objective, news, and that we were being told what the Government wishes us to hear, while English comment was withheld from us as far as possible. I am sure that I speak for a great many who resent the changed presentationof news and suspect the motives behind it, and I sincerely hope that it may be possible for you to bring to the attention of the Minister the flat contradiction between the reply stated to have been given by him in the Senate and the letter from the manager of the broadcasting commission.

The following reply was sent by the Australian Broadcasting Commission to Miss Leeper: -

Thank you for your letter of the 21st January in which you offer further comments on certain of the news sessions.

From its terms it is evident that you assume that the commission is entirely responsible for all broadcasts that are made from its stations. That is not so. The act under which the commission works gives an overriding authority to the Government through the Minister. In these circumstances I am sure you will understand that it would be improper for me either to indicate whether, and, if so, to what extent such authority is exercised, or to express an opinion on the merits of the broadcasts to which you take exception.

In that letter Mr. Bcarup, the acting general manager of the commission, shifts the responsibility from his own shoulders on to the shoulders of the Government. On the other hand, the Government says that the entire responsibility rests with the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I consider that the commission should be held responsible for its own utterances. 1 realize that governments have a perfect right to give to people, through the medium of all broadcasting stations, any information which is likely to be of value to them, but no government has the right to use the Australian Broadcasting Commission for the purpose of disseminating coloured political propaganda. There is a great difference between the statements made by the Minister for Information on this subject and those made by the acting general manager of the commission in the letter which I have read. This is a very live question, and many people are concerned at the change that has been made in some ofthe alleged news broadcast in the Canberra news session. The following is a letter written by a resident of Randwick, and it is typical of many letters thatI have received : -

Will you bring before the House or before the Prime Minister personally, as seems best to yourself, the use of the Australian Broadcasting Commission to foster a feeling of disunity within the Empire? I and others have noticed the following features of recent Australian Broadcasting Commission policy:-

(a)   British Broadcasting Corporation commentaries have been discontinued.

(b)   In the news sessions, unimportant items which reflect unfavorably on the British Government are given prominence and important items are omitted. The news is all out of proportion and has at times an antiBritish bias. (c) The Canberra sessions (news) consist largely of unimportant statements by Ministers. It is put on in place of commentaries by Wickham Steed and others.

(d)   Some Australian commentators whose talks display independence of judgment are heard less frequently than they used to be. Others show a tendency to blame Churchill and the British people for all our troubles.

(e)   Nothing which appears to suggest that the Australian Government could do better is allowed to appear.

Such letters show that there is a great deal of concern in the minds of the public at the change that has occurred in our national news broadcasts. At this time, the entire radio system of both A class and B class stations should be used to the very best advantage for the stimulation of public morale. I was glad to notice recently that the Minister for Information stepped in and prevented a continuance of broadcasts such as those in which prominence was given for fifteen minutes in one session to a wrangle between an ex-Minister and a Minister of the present Government. The honorable gentleman is to be commended for stopping that sort of thing. Many of the statements that have been broadcast in the Canberra session have not been of sufficient importance to warrant their publication. I agree that important matters, such as statements in connexion with air raid precautions and announcements of government policy, have news value, but I have frequently heard long, rambling statements made by one Minister or another, which had no real news value, whilst commentaries by competent men have been almost discontinued.Never before in the history of Australia has it been more desirable to create in the public mind confidence in our governmental institutions and to maintain moraleby giving to the people plain statements of fact that have real news value.

Reference has already been made in this Parliament to drunkenness caused by sly grog selling which, according to press reports, is on the increase in a number of our cities to-day. Whilst I do not object to a man having a glass of beer when he wants one, I consider that the Government must take action to prevent this sort of disorderliness.

Senator Collings - We shall take action. The shutting down of our own bar at Parliament House would be a good start.

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