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Thursday, 30 April 1942

Senator MCBRIDE (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Who reads the A.B.C. Weekly ?

Senator GIBSON - Anybody can buy it.

Senator McBRIDE (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - But who does?

Senator GIBSON - The newspapers that were responsible were the Sydney Morning Herald, the Sun, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily News. Three of those newspapers were represented at the conference of Australian newspaper proprietors. Had they not demanded payment from the commission for publishing its programmes, it is unlikely that, in these times, the A.B.C. Weekly would have been published. Compare what has happened in Australia with what happened in Great Britain! Some of the British newspapers adopted towards the British Broadcasting Corporation an attitude exactly similar to that adopted toward? the Australian Broadcasting Commission by the Sydney newspapers. However, one British journal continued to publish daily free of charge a full quarter-page of the British Broadcasting Corporation's programmes. It brought the other newspapers to heel immediately, because of the effect on their sales. The committee is not satisfied that the commission ha? made the best possible effort in regard to the publishing of the A.B.C. Weekly. It. could be presented in better form, and should publish for each State a supplement setting out the programmes for that State. The A.B.C. Weekly should 'be printed in New South Wales, and the appropriate supplements should be included in the issues for the different States. It is essential that Australia should have a journal similar to that published by the British Broadcasting Corporation. Many extraordinarily interesting talks are broadcast over our national stations, and when they are published in the A. B.C. Weekly they have a high literary value. The publication of the A.B.C. Weekly should be continued, except inWestern Australia, which has one of the finest radio journals in the Commonwealth. From my examination of that publication I imagine that it is conducted profitably. Of course, the newspapers considered that the A.B.C. Weekly was encroaching unfairly upon their publishing preserves, and they feared that they would lose some of their profits.

Senator McBride - What is the circulation of the A.B.C. Weekly?

Senator Ashley - Approximately 40,000 copies.

Senator GIBSON - Yes. That figure excludes Western Australia. The members of the committee maintain that publication of the journal should be continued because, if the commission had to pay for the printing of its programmes in the newspapers, the consequent expense would be much greater than the loss now sustained on the A.B.C. Weekly. Provision is made in the bill that, when the Australian Broadcasting Commission is forbidden to broadcast certain items, the instructions to this effect must be given in writing. The members of the committee also contend that, when instructions are given for the broadcasting of specific items, they also should be given in writing. It should not be sufficient for a Minister to say to the commission, " You shall not broadcast this ", or " You shall broadcast that ".

On page 10 of its report the committee has submitted a very interesting statement of the revenue and expenditure of both national and commercial radio stations. This should be an eye-opener to the public. The Australian Broadcast ing Commission's share of revenue from listeners' licence-fees in 1939-40 was £700,071. Its miscellaneous receipts amounted to £73,795, making a total revenue of £773,866. Commercial stations received from the public, not from licence-fees but from advertising charges, an amount of £1,100,000. Many people have demanded from time to time that a certain amount of the revenue from listeners' licence-fees should go to the commercial stations, but if they will examine these figures they will see that the commercial stations are taking from the public, not wrongly, but rightly, a large annual income. During 1939-40, the Postmaster-General's Department received a share of £531,450 from listeners' licence-fee revenue. The department's receipts from the leasing of certain telephone lines, &c, amounted to £16,489, making its revenue from broadcasting £547,939. Thus, the total revenue from broadcasting within Australia in that year was £2,421,805. The commission's expenditure was £726,611, and the Postal Department's expenditure on services to commercial and national stations was £516,874. The commercial stations expended an amount of £1,020,000. making a total expenditure by broadcasting services of £2,263,485. The Australian Broadcasting Commission had a surplus of revenue over expenditure of £47,255. and the Postal Department's surplus was £31,065, whilst the commercial stations showed a surplus of £80,000, making a total for all services of £158,320. Nobody is likely to say that a surplus of £158,320 from a total revenue of £2,421,000 is unreasonable. It seems to me to be fair and reasonable. When a former Postmaster-General, Mr. Thorby, brought down his bill in September, 1940, he proposed that onesixth of the revenue of the commission should be taken by his department. According to the statement yesterday by the present Postmaster-General, the1s. to be returned to the commission will give to it an extra £66,200, so Mr. Thorby in one fell swoop, took from the commission £132,400 without consulting it.

Senator E B Johnston - Did that go into revenue?

Senator GIBSON - That is the point. The commission was deprived of1s., which went to the Postal .Department. A huge concern of this kind had naturally budgeted for a certain expenditure, and knew nothing about this cut, with the result that, at the end of this year, it may have a deficit of £20,000. An extraordinary position arose. The commission had built up certain reserves which I consider should have been provided. When Senator A. J. McLachlan was PostmasterGeneral, he laid down definitely that the commission should put aside from 10 per cent, to 12 per cent, of its revenue for a building programme; but Mr. Thorby used that as an argument as to why the reserve fund should be wiped out! He said the commission did not deserve the revenue it was getting, and the result to-day is that the broadcasting stations and buildings generally cannot be compared favorably with those of the commercial stations. I am glad that it is now proposed to give that ls. back to the commission. The committee thought that it should be returned by the increase of the licence fee to 21s. There is no doubt that the present broadcasting service is the cheapest service that anybody can get to-day.

A great deal of misunderstanding has occurred with regard to the broadcasting service and the Postal Department. The whole of the revenue from listeners' licences is collected by the Postal Department, and this amounts to a large sum.. The share belonging to the commission is paid into a trust fund and, in accordance with the law, the share of the Postal Department is paid directly into Consolidated Revenue, instead of being appropriated by Parliament annually. Payments from the trust fund are made from month to month to the commission for its share; but the proportion that the Postal Department gets by parliamentary appropriation has no connexion whatever with the listeners' licence-fees. It has been said that £1,000,000 more has been paid into Consolidated Revenue than has been paid out; but, if we examine paragraph 54 on page 14 of the report, we find that that is not the case. The actual sum paid into the Consolidated Revenue of the Postal Department and not paid out is £958,000, but that does not take into account the fact that £744,000 was paid for the technical services, stations, &c, provided, and the huge sum that the department has had to expend on telephone lines of a high standard throughout the country, in order to provide the services required by the commission. As a matter of fact, I believe that more money has been paid by the Postal Department than has been received by it in connexion with broadcasting services. The position is even worse when we have regard to future needs. To-day, we have not completed the whole chain of stations throughout Australia. When these have been completed, it will be found that the Postal Department will expend about £24,000 a year more than it will get in revenue. When we consider the finances of the commission, we find that the position is clearly set out in the balance-sheet of 1940-41, and also on page 15 of the report.

The committee is of the opinion - and I think that honorable senators will hold a similar view - that the technical services should remain with the Postal Department. That is not the opinion of every body, for, in Great Britain, the technical services are conducted by the British Broadcasting Corporation. However, comparing Australia with Great Britain, we find that the British Broadcasting Corporation can afford to put in the whole of the telephone lines required by it. If we asked the commission here to provide its own telephone services, which it now receives free, I do not know what the cost would he. There must he a line of demarcation to show where the responsibility of the Postal Department commences and ends, and I contend that that responsibility should begin at the microphone and extend throughout the length and breadth of the country. We should then know that, if the technical services fail, the fault lies with the Postal Department. The interior of the broadcasting studios would have to be fitted up in conjunction with the Postal Department, so that the acoustic properties and so forth would bc suitable for broadcasting purposes. I consider that the Postal Department has done remarkably good work. Many of the telephone lines throughout Australia are not suitable for broadcasting, and the Postal Department has been confronted with the cost of providing improved trunk lines throughout the Commonwealth. What that cost has been is hard for me to say. The committee has made a recommendation that the cost of wireless broadcasting, as far as the Postal Department is concerned, shall be kept separate from the other accounts of the department. Personally, I do not think it can be done; but the postal authorities consider that it can. It will be difficult to discriminate between the duties of a man in charge of a section, say at Ararat or Ballarat', of a trunk line system, when one part of his duties is connected with broadcasting and the other with the telephonic services. On a trunk line broadcast for which the whole of the lines are linked up, it requires a staff of 150 men, besides those engaged on ordinary postal duties. I think that the Postal Department is doing good work in providing the present technical services in connexion with the broadcasting system and most harmonious relations have existed between the commission's employees and those of the Postal Department. There is a big reservoir of technical officers in the department whose services can be drawn on. When a linkup is made for the purpose of broadcasting a speech by the Prime Minister of Australia throughout the Commonwealth, 26,000 miles of telephone wire is used, showing what a heavy responsibility rests on the Postal Department.

Senator E B Johnston - Would the commission pay the Postal Department?

Senator GIBSON - The commission does not pay the Postal Department anything whatever. But if a station wishes to make a broadcast from some particular place the station would be charged if it did not make the broadcast from its studio. The Postal Department believes that the station should go to a studio rather than that it should bring the studio to the station.

The 29 national stations now in operation throughout the Commonwealth do not give complete coverage of the continent. Complete coverage can only be provided when all of the proposed regional stations are erected. That will take considerable time and will cost a considerable sum of money. The existing stations, however, are supplemented by two short-wave stations, which reach areas which are not covered by the national stations, and give a service to people in certain districts who would not otherwise receive a service. However, that shortwave service is not satisfactory in Western Australia and in many other parts of the Commonwealth, particularly in the north-eastern areas of Queensland. We are hopeful that when all of the stations which are now plotted are erected, complete coverage will be given to the whole of the continent.

I pay a tribute to the work which is being done by the Postal Department. That great organization maintains a research section which is proving of eminent value to broadcasting. In this work, 77 officers are now employed. They occupy a fairly large building, and the value of the laboratory equipment is estimated at about £45,000. As honorable senators are aware, that section is now doing very secret work for the Defence Department. I go so far as to say that it has a staff of experts who are capable of doing anything in their sphere of research. I think that they have done something that no other country in the world has done in that they have plotted the whole of Australia in order to find the areas which can best be served by A class stations and commercial stations respectively. That work has not cost the commercial stations anything, although the total expenditure on it to date is nearly £9,000. The whole of Australia is plotted in this respect. Honorable senators will obtain complete information on this matter in one of the appendices to the committee's report.

The committee has also made particular reference to the work of the commercial stations. Those stations have done remarkably well in this country. They have organized themselves in a body known as the Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations, which is elected by the holders of commercial licences. That body lays down a code of ethics under which its members work, and that code is fairly closely observed. I have no doubt that now and again a station may make a slip just as a national station might do; but such lapses are not frequent, with the result that complaints to the Postal Department are few and far between.

The committee examined the balancesheets of most of the 99 commercial stations and has recommended the preparation of the accounts of these stations in uniform balance-sheets, and that balances be struck as at the 30th June each year. I am sorry to note that the Postmaster-General has allowed to slip into this measure a provision which will enable commercial stations to close their balance-sheets at a date other than the 30th June each year. I urge him to apply that date to all stations. One advantage will be that in respect of any investigation which may be conducted into the accounts of stations by the PostmasterGeneral's Department or any other authority, all stations will be on the same footing. I repeat that the commercial stations have given very good service to Australia. I have no doubt that many people are of the opinion that they are giving just as good a service as the national stations.

Senator McBride - Some people say that their service is better than that of the national stations.

Senator GIBSON - That is so. Complaints have been made with respect to the multiple ownership of commercial stations. Provision is made in the existing regulations to prevent multiple ownership. I do not think that any reasonable person will complain about the organization of several stations in a chain solely for the purpose of certain broadcasts. That system is very advantageous to the listening public in that it enables many stations to give a first-class programme which they could not possibly provide were they left to their own resources. We must remember that all of the revenue of commercial stations is derived from advertising. I can see no reason for interfering with this system of networks. Multiple ownership is a different matter entirely, and is provided for in the existing regulations which are now incorporated in the bill.

In regard to Sunday broadcasting, the committee has recommended that only sponsored programmes should be permitted on Sundays. The best English dictionaries give no definition of the word " sponsored ". Consequently, it is not possible legally to make provision of this kind. We learn from the Minister, however, that provision will be made that, whilst commercial stations will not be able to advertise any particular item on Sundays, they will be able to broadcast what are now known as sponsored programmes on Sunday. That arrangement is sound. Further, any company which might think that it is being unfairly treated in this respect has a right of appeal to the Minister.

I think that the proposal to establish a parliamentary standing committee on broadcasting is one of the most important of the recommendations made by tin1 committee. As a result of our very complete investigation, I can say that broadcasting is only in its infancy. What the future holds for it no one can say. When the war is over, I have no doubt that many new devices will be introduced into this country and that scores of people will be clamouring for licences to introduce and exploit these new methods. Take, for instance, television. It would be unfair at present to license a few persons to control television because we should then exclude many others from this field in the future. To-day there is a waiting list of 600 applicants for broadcasting station licences. Consequently, the committeerecommended that no licences should be granted in respect of television until this matter has been thoroughly investigated by the proposed parliamentary standing committee on broadcasting, and through that committee considered by the Parliament. Our view is that not only the PostmasterGeneral's Department but also the Parliament should have a voice in this matter because it is so important. Personally, I have little faith in the future of television. If you can imagine witnessing a picture of the running of a Melbourne Cup in a space of, say. 5 inches by 5 inches, that is television. I do not think that television sets will be within the financial reach of people of moderate means. Something very different from television, however, appears to have an excellent future. I refer to facsimile reproduction. No doubt, Australian newspaper companies will be seriously concerned with this development. Facsimile reproduction means that by attaching an instrument to an ordinary wireless set and installing another instrument in a 'broadcasting station, a listener can turn on his wireless set in the home at night and the' next morning he will find the news portion of his morning newspaper reproduced for him in print. Thus instead of listening-in to the morning news, he will read his news in print. Obviously, we should be acting prematurely if we issued licences at present for the operation of facsimile reproduction. Such reproduction is actually in operation in other parts of the world, lt has passed the experimental stage. I recall that when I was PostmasterGeneral in 1927 it was in operation then. To-day, it is operating daily between Melbourne and Sydney, the United States of America and Australia, and between Great Britain and Australia. Daily the public see pictures in the press which have been transmitted in a flash from overseas by this means. People in the outback will some day be able to read their newspapers by pressing a button. I hope that the press of this country will not make the same effort to stifle these advances as they did to stifle broadcasting in its early stages. They might as well try to stop the tide as to stop the progress of civilization.

There is a broadcasting system known as high-frequency modulation. I know nothing of the technicalities of broadcasting, but high-frequency modulation operates throughout- America. Applications have been made here for broadcasting on that system, but we have said that licences shall not be issued for that, for facsimile work, or for television until the committee has thoroughly investigated the facts and Parliament has had a say. A sound foundation must be laid for these new devices, which will certainly come into operation after the war. It is said that high-frequency modulation will make available 600 or 700 new wave lengths in Australia, and it is supposed to have advantages not enjoyed by the present system. If for no other reason than to consider these questions, a parliamentary committee is essential, and I have no' doubt it will do good work.

These remarks notwithstanding, I intend to move an amendment to clause 93 of the hill. The recommendation was that the committee should deal only with matters submitted to it by a resolution of either House of Parliament, by the Minister, by the Australian Broadcasting Commission through the Minister, or by the Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations through the Minister. The Minister, or someone else, has excluded the last two recommendations, which I regard as absolutely necessary. We have safeguarded the proposed committee to the extent that no one can submit a complaint to it. The only matter* that can be submitted are those that must be submitted through the Minister or through Parliament, but the commission should have the right to say, "We are not satisfied with the decision of the Government unless Parliament endorses it". Take the Thorby incident, when £130,000 was struck off the revenues of the commission. Had the ' commission been able to say, "-Submit this to a committee of Parliament ", the revenue would not have suffered. The same argument applies to the Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations. If the federation - not individual stations - considers that a certain matter should come before Parliament or the proposed parliamentary committee, it should have the opportunity to submit it. The parliamentary committee should report to Parliament and the application should go before the Minister.

Senator Spicer - Why not before the committee ?

Senator GIBSON - The commission's request would go through the Minister to the committee.

Senator McBRIDE (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The federation should be allowed to go to the Minister. It could do so now.

Senator GIBSON - We say that the four bodies I have enumerated should :be the only ones permitted to take such action. We do not want to say that every broadcasting station should have the same right. We have suggested that the advisory committees for which provision was made in the act should he compulsory. There should be an obligation to appoint a committee in each State. In Western Australia there is an excellent committee which is working well and giving great assistance to the commission; in South Australia there is an excellent committee doing nothing; but in the other States I doubt whether there is a committee at all. There should be a committee in each State with a complete link with the commission. We suggested that the committees should be appointed by the Commission, but it. is provided that the responsibility should rest with the Minister, rather than with the commission. To that we have no objection.

It may be thought that the committee's recommendation regarding political broadcasts is drastic, but I do not think so. We have adopted the Canadian system, by providing that the broadcasting of political speeches should not be permitted after the Wednesday prior to an election. That is to prevent any one jumping in at the eleventh hour and buying up all the time of the stations. The committee made certain suggestions that are not included in the bill ; they have been omitted for special reasons to which I shall refer. Regarding medical talks, we had evidence given on behalf of the British Medical Association in Sydney, and we learned that excellent lectures were being given to the people. In our view those lectures should be continued, and :is far us possible extended, but we state that certain subjects,' which are taboo in the legislation of the different States, should not be referred to in them, iti the matter of the licence-fee, the Government has taken the alternative that we suggested and has reverted to 21s. by taking ls. from the Postal Department and giving it to the commission, that means that the commission will receive an extra £66,000 a year. We accept the alternative proposal. Another matter relates to licences at half rates for certain people, and we have also suggested that free licences should be given to schools where there are fewer than 50 scholars. The outback school should be given first consideration. Many educational broadcasts are of tremendous advantage to country children who are being educated by correspondence, and we wish to see that system extended. There should' be closer cooperation 'between the departments in the States, the Broadcasting Commission, and the commercial stations. I am glad to see that the Minister has accepted our recommendation regarding objectionable items. Many items broadcast were anything but satisfactory and the only penalty that could be imposed was to deprive the offending station of its licence. By doing so innocent people would be penalized. [Extension of time granted.} The present proposal is that the person who is responsible for broadcasting the objectionable item should be penalized, and not the station. I am glad to see that the Government has made provision for this.

I should like to refer to one or two matters -which, although not directly associated with the bill, will be the subject of regulations issued under the bill. The first matter concerns the Canberra news service. The committee was very much concerned about this matter, and representations were made- to it from various sources. We immediately wrote to the Prime Minister, and I am happy to say that in its new form, the Canberra news service is acceptable to most people. The committee pointed out to the Prime Minister that it was the practice of the British Broadcasting Corporation never to mention the name of a Minister, but merely to state the name of the department from which an item emanated. The announcement of the names of Ministers in. the Canberra news session created very bacl feeling in this country, because it appeared that Ministers were endeavouring to get as much publicity as possible. I. admit that one Minister refused to allow his name to be used in these broadcasts, and that is to his credit. The position has now been rectified and I need say no more on the subject.

I compliment the Postmaster-General upon the introduction of the present hours of local news broadcasts. The alteration has enabled tens of thousands of workers in factories to hear the midday news service. The position in South Australia and Western Australia is, however, somewhat difficult, and the committee has suggested that the disadvantage be overcome by recording the original news broadcasts, and rebroadcasting them to those States at the same hours, allowing for the difference in time. There should be no difficulty in doing that, and I trust that it will be done. lt is a sorry state of affairs that al though the Australian Broadcasting Commission Act has been in force since 1932, two representative bodies of citizens, the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the press, each a leader in its own sphere, have been unable to reach an agreement in regard to news broadcasts. The committee has suggested that there should be compulsory arbitration in regard to that matter, although personally, I do not think there is the slightest need for it, because I am certain that both parties will be willing to reach hh agreement immediately they meet again. The press of this country is entitled to payment for the news it collects, and although the committee has suggested that the payment of £200 should be continued, we do not necessarily believe that £200 is the fee that should be paid. We hold that a fee should be paid for the news that is supplied to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, but the bugbear has been that the commission has maintained the right to collect its own news. The press representatives say, in effect, "You must take all or none; we shall not give you any if you will not take the lot". That is the position to-day, but I am confident that a solution can be found. I trust that an agreement will be reached which will enable the national stations to carry on under the same conditions as the commercial sta.tions. The commercial stations have an agreement with the press but they do not keep it. As a matter of fact, I have heard commercial stations broadcast, extensively from newspapers, although they are supposed to be operating under exactly the same restrictions as the national stations. However, the principle involved is one that the commission has been fighting for all along, namely, tlie right to broadcast its own news. It would cost the Australian Broadcasting Commission approximately £60,000 a year to collect all its own news independently, and I do not consider that such expenditure would be warranted. However, I believe that the commission should have the right to collect whatever news it can. The appointment, of an Australian Broadcasting Commission roundsman at Canberra and at other centres was one of the difficulties which prevented an agreement with the newspapers. Difficulties also arose in connexion with the overseas news, but in a different form. The British Broadcasting Corporation was broadcasting to this country news which the national stations considered that they had a right to rebroadcast. On the other hand, the Australian Associated Press claimed that part of the British Broadcasting Corporation news was Reuter's copyright news for which the Australian Associated Press had a contract, and therefore it could not be used. However, an agreement was reached in that matter, but. unfortunately, it was never signed. The Australian Broadcasting Commission pays £3,000 a year for the use of that copyright news, but it recoups £1,500 a year of that expenditure from the commercial stations, so that the service is costing the Australian Broadcasting Commission about £1,500 a year. The Australian Broadcasting Commission obtains news from three sources, namely, the Australian Associated Press, the British Official Wireless, and its own representatives abroad.

I should like to refer also to our overseas short-wave service. I contend that this service should be run by the Government; it should not be a charge on the Postal Department or on the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Actually, it is propaganda which is being sent out to counter propaganda from enemy nations. To that end, the Department of Information has established what is known as a " listening post ", which picks up overseas broadcasts, so that counter measures may be taken. .Unfortunately, so few people have short-wave sets that the service is of little use. As honorable senators will see from a perusal of the committee'.0 report, it had occasion to find fault with the matter which was coming from the Department of Information. If we trod on people's toes it was not with a desire to hurt, but with a desire to wake them up. I am sorry that one person connected with the Department of Information has seen fit to write to the Prime Minister and the Postmaster-General protesting against the committee's report, stating that the recommendations are inconsistent, and so on. I should like to point out that our authority was Sir

Keith Murdoch, who gave evidence upon his return from Great Britain. The committee looked upon Sir Keith's evidence as some of the best evidence that it received. Sir Keith made an investigation of the position in the United States of America, and came to the conclusion that Australian short-wave broadcasts in that country were not being received by a sufficient number of people, lie suggested that the Australian shortwave broadcasts should be recorded in the United States of America and then rebroadcast on their popular wavelengths. The committee considers that to he a very good suggestion. The cost of such a service should not be charged against the Postmaster-General's Department or the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The Department of Information has a staff in that country which is capable of handling the matter and arranging for rebroadcasts.

The committee's report sets out very clearly the position in regard to performing right in Australia. I hope that the Government will introduce a measure dealing with copyright so that there will be one performing right charge in the Commonwealth, as is the case in most other countries. An apportionment could then be made between the commercial stations and the national stations. The committee suggests that if an agreement cannot be reached the dispute should be the subject of arbitration. I hope that the Government will bring in another measure to give effect to this proposal. The law operating in Canada provides that the performing right companies shall submit a list of the items upon which their charges are based. These companies claimed to have a total of 2,000,000 items, but the largest number that they could show on a list was 160,000. A similar state of affairs might exist in Australia. However, that is a matter to be dealt with by the Government.

The committee has suggested that employees of the commission should be granted superannuation rights and placed in the same position as employees of the Repatriation Commission and other similar bodies. That also should be the subject of another bill. The committee considers that appointments to certain sections of the Australian Broadcasting Commission's staff should be subject to the same conditions as apply to appointments to the Commonwealth Public Service. I believe that every body will agree with that recommendation.

The committee's recommendations on the subject of the broadcasting of religious services should be acceptable to most denominations. We have suggested that the broadcasting of services at 9.30 a.m. should be discontinued and that religious broadcasts should be given at the regular hours of services, and we have received commendatory letters from representatives of many religious bodies for doing so. What was not recommended in our report, but what I had intended to include in it, was a recommendation that the principal churches of the Commonwealth should fit out their choir stalls as broadcasting studios so that broadcasts from those churches should be of the highest possible standard, the commission to bear a portion of the expense thus incurred. I. understand that this has been done in Great Britain. Having explained this measure as fully as I consider to be necessary, I commend it to the Senate.

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