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Wednesday, 28 October 1964

Senator MCCLELLAND (New South Wales) . - I desire to speak on the estimates for the Broadcasting and Television Services. I relate my remarks in the first instance to Division No. 835. I was pleased to learn from the Minister, when he was replying to Senator Cohen, that the report of the Senate Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television was being considered by the Government. I hope that consideration of the report, which was presented almost 12 months ago to the day, will not be as long as the consideration of the proposed restrictive trade practices legislation, the report of the Constitutional Review Committee, amendments of the Copyright Act and the report of the Bankruptcy Law Review Committee.

The expenditure of £381,000 by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, which is a reduction of £1,000 on the expenditure last year, is something that has to be perused carefully. Frankly, after reading the Board's report, I doubt very much whether it is effectively carrying out its statutory obligations under the Broadcasting and Television Act in the best interests of the general public.

After reading the long report of the Board, I think it is fair to say that, on its own admissions, commercial broadcasting stations and commercial television stations are getting away, in some instances, with what might be called highway robbery. If this is not being done with the acquiescence of the Board, certainly it is being done with its quiescence. Throughout the report, on practically every other page we see, in reference to certain matters, the words, " the Board is concerned ", or " the Board has been concerned ", or " the Board continues to be concerned ". Whilst this expression of concern seems to be paramount throughout the whole of the report, be it in reference to past, present or future matters, nothing seems to have been done of a constructive or a tangible nature in regard to the statutory obligations of the Board under certain sections of the Broadcasting and Television Act.

I refer particularly to sub-sections (1.) (a) and (1.) (c) of section 16. Sub-section (1.) (c) states that the functions of the Board, amongst other things, are -

To ensure that adequate and comprehensive programmes are provided by commercial broadcasting stations and commercial television stations to serve the best interests of the general public.

What is the situation in regard to broadcasting? Having in mind that section of the Act, I refer to section 114, which states -

The Commission and licensees shall, as far as possible, use the services of Australians in the production and presentation of broadcasting and television programmes.

Let me refer to the problems of broadcasting. In June of this year, some four months ago, commercial broadcasting stations overnight ceased to present to the Australian public radio serials which had been entertaining Australians for many years. Doubtless, this action was taken from an economic point of view, so far as the broadcasting stations were concerned. But the fact is that all daytime radio serials were taken from the public by the commercial broadcasting stations, with the exception of radio station 2CH in Sydney which, I understand, because of this action by the other commercial broadcasting stations, began to replay serials which had been broadcast previously.

In place of the radio serials that were taken off the air there was substituted a continuous fare of hit tunes to cater for teenagers. Of course, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., the majority of the teenagers, for whom the stations were trying to cater, were either at school or at work. Therefore, the housewives, the sick and the elderly who looked forward to listening to their favorite radio dramas each morning or each evening found that tha latest pop tunes were substituted in their place. I suggest that because the Australian Broadcasting Control Board failed to take action in this regard, it failed to carry out its statutory obligations under section 16(1) (c) of the Broadcasting and Television Act. Unless steps are taken to overcome this state of affairs, a death blow will be dealt to an important Australian industry which, at the present time, is struggling to exist.

Actors who at times derived their bread and butter from this particular type of employment found that overnight they had lost that source of income. Up to that time most actors and artists engaged in this work had been able to continue at their profession. They were available to do television and stage work because radio gave them a basic income. Australian writers were in a similar position. The axe which was suspended over the heads of artists, writers and listeners by the commercial broadcasting stations - apparently with the acquiescence of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board because I can find nothing in its report on this matter - fell at a time when the commercial television stations also decided to reduce their transmission time. If radio drama is to be killed in this way and no action is to be taken by the Board to remedy the situation, the television industry should be able to make provision to absorb the writers and actors who have lost their livelihood.

What is the situation in regard to children's radio programmes? If we turn to paragraph 63 of the Board's report we find that-

Of 39 stations which indicated that television was affecting them, 33 have retained the greater part of their pre-television form of children's programme.

But the report of the Board continued -

A greater amount of informative and educational matter is broadcast by country stations than by city stations.

In paragraph 60 of the report the Board condemned itself when it said -

For several years the Board has been concerned about the trend of programmes broadcast for children.

This is an important matter because broadcasting still reaches a great number of Australian people, but it has been allowed to go on for years. 1 come now to the situation in regard to commercial television. I do not want to enter into a debate or controversy with Senator Buttfield who spoke on this matter during the debate. As I said earlier, the fact remains that commercial television stations reduced their transmission times earlier this year. Despite what has been said by Senator Buttfield about this action being due to the high cost of Australian programmes and of employing Australian artists, Mr. Oswin, the General Manager of ATN Channel 7, on 1st June of this year said that the Australian television industry's demand for feature films and series had doubled film programme costs during the past six months, and these expenses were involving the industry in hundreds of thousands of pounds in overheads which it had not previously faced. He continued -

This has meant a reassessment of the industry's cost structure to maintain the best quality service to the public as a first objective while maintaining a sound business operation.

From the point of view of business acumen, I suppose it is fair to say that that is a sound, reasonable and practical statement on the part of Mr. Oswin. He also said -

Stations have been maintaining service programmes at great expense to themselves, and now higher costs of overseas material have taken away the income margin which permitted it.

Film television programmes were made for three basic networks in the United States, all with huge viewing audiences.

Australia, with a comparatively small audience, now has four television networks competing to buy this material.

This had lifted prices so that Australian TV stations were now paying more for film programmes on a population basis than any other country in the world.

Mr. Oswin'sremarks are more than supported by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. In paragraph 167 of its report for the year ended 30th June 1964 the report has this to say -

The present reductions in hours have been variously attributed to the increased cost of imported programmes and to the requirement of the Minister that an increased proportion of Australian programmes should be presented. The cost of imported programmes is known to have risen very steeply as a result of competitive bids by Australian film buyers. A contributing factor was the licensing of additional commercial stations in mainland capital cities, and the consequent development of four independent buying groups in Australia which, for many of their purchases, are compelled to buy programmes which are produced to supply the needs of only three main American users.

Notwithstanding the eyewash that we hear about the high cost of Australian productions, the fact remains that the price of programmes being asked by the American monopoly is so great that the few Australian programmes produced by commercial television stations are suffering because the commercial stations have to pay a higher price for imported material.

It came to my notice only this week that within the next month or two a very popular programme on commercial television in Sydney, " Studio A ", will probably end because the amount of money previously allocated to the production of the show is now being expended on the purchase of overseas programmes. This is a shocking state of affairs when we appreciate that section 114 of the Act places an obligation on the Australian Broadcasting Commission - I commend the Commission for what it has done - and on the commercial broadcasting and television stations to use Australians, as far as possible, in the production and presentation of their programmes. The amount being spent on imported programmes rose from £275,000 in 1956 to nearly £5 million in 1962-63. Because of the Board's lethargy in facing up to its responsibilities in this regard, Australians and an important Australian industry are suffering. If one compares the Board's report with that of the Australian Broadcasting Commission it will be seen-

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