Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 24 May 1965

Senator HANNAN (Victoria) . - I congratulate the Government on the principles enshrined in this Bill even though some of the mechanical methods used to bring about the happy state of affairs contemplated by the Government may be perhaps a little difficult to discern. This Bill is in line with the Trade Practices Bill 1965, directed against monopolies and restrictive trade practices, which was introduced in another place recently by the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Snedden).I think we can sum up this Bill in a few words by saying that the intention of the legislation is to ensure that the control of mass media of communication shall not pass into too few hands. It is a truism to say that in Australia today most people believe that the impact of mass media is determined by three men - two in Sydney and one in Melbourne. This legislation has been introduced with a view to improving and broadening the shareholdings in television stations.

I support strongly the remarks of Senator Webster who has given a detailed and careful analysis of the problems presented by this legislation and, God forgive me, I find myself in agreement with wide areas of what has been said by Senator McClelland and even with some areas of what Senator Cohen said. However, when I refer to what Senator Cohen said, I know that he, as an erudite practising Queen's Counsel, was not serious when suggesting retrospective legislation in this context. As a good Socialist, he knows that retrospective legislation is anathema to the Socialist mind. The honorable senator took some umbrage at the fact that the ATV shares were not compulsorily to be discarded. I find some difficulty on that point myself but at the time the transaction was made, it was lawful. I put it to Senator Cohen: If the shares had been purchased by the Trades Hall Benevolent Society in Melbourne or the All Union Centre of Sport and Machinery or something of that kind rather than a wicked capitalist enterprise, would he have been so keen to see the Socialist enterprise deprived of shares which h:d been acquired lawfully and under the provisions of the legislation existing at the lime?

Senator Cohen - It would be interesting to know what the Government would have done about it.

Senator HANNAN - I am posing the problem in relation to what the honorable senator would think. I cannot help but feel that in this case his legal training and his political background are having a tug of war with one another and for the moment the political background appears to have won. Before we leave that aspect I want to say that if the Government had taken action against the All Union Centre of Sport and Machinery or the Trades Hall Benevolent Fund under section 86 of the legislation, we would have heard a scream right around Australia. Probably there would have been a protest meeting at the Richmond Town Hall with 2,000 assembled and all sorts of violent outbursts would have been made against this reactionary, Fascist, Nazi, dictatorial government. I know that, the honorable senator is not serious and that he has only put this up as a sort of humorous gesture. A man of his training and knowledge could not possibly be serious about it. However, I think that the problem of control of mass media of communication is of such significance and importance that the Senate should devote considerable time and attention to it. Unfortunately because of the time element it is not possible to subject this legislation to the analysis it deserves.

Senator Dittmer - Because of the Government's complete disregard of the rights of the people and of the nation.

Senator HANNAN - We will come to Senator Dittmer later. I want to deal with the Bill.

Senator Dittmer - I will deal with you after 1st July. You will not deal with me at all.

Senator HANNAN - You should not be so happy. You know what General MacArthur said - " I shall return." I want to refer briefly to a report of great significance to those who believe that the control of television in Australia is important. This is a report of the Senate of the United States of America on television programmes submitted in 1964. I refer to this because control of television stations is tremendously important having regard to the type of programme matter which is transmitted. It is true that under the present setup in Australia, a licensee has complete and absolute control of transmitted material. Not only does he have the right to select what material is transmitted at any time but corollaratively, of course, he must bear responsibility for the material which is transmitted at any time and in any circumstances.

I shall refer to this Committee at soma length, but at the outset I want to point out that some of the people who control commercial television stations in Australia suggest, first, that they are only giving the people what they want - and I shall deal with that later - and, secondly, that they are only transmitting the best of imported American programmes. I propose to say something about these imported programmes in relation to American criticisms of them. The United States Senate inquiry initiated in 1964 led to an analysis of the impact of television on juvenile delinquency. The committee went through two of the major reformatories in the United States and found that there was a certain common factor in the viewing habits of many inmates. There were six programmes - and nearly all of them are being shown in Australia now - which, in the opinion of the committee, had contributed to the delinquency of the people in the reformatories at the time.

J.   shall mention some of these programmes because I think it only right and proper to do so. One of them is "The Untouchables " in which brute force and violence are shown - in such a way as to appeal to the sadist. Another is " Bus Stop". A third is "Route 66" and that, Mr. Deputy President, it distresses me to say is shown by the Australian Broadcasting Commission and not by one of the commercial stations. I agree that the A.B.C. is not infallible, but one looks for higher things from the Commission. Another of the programmes referred to by the United States Senate committee was " Gunsmoke ". Another for obvious reasons was the Hitchcock Hour and the last was " Thriller ". It is all very well for people who have what Senator Cohen calls a vested interest in television licences-

Sena M Cohen. - 1 did not coin the phrase.

Senator HANNAN - The honorable senator used the phrase during the course of his remarks. It is all very well for people with vested interests in television licences to say that this type of violence has no effect on juvenile deliquency or young people. If that argument were true, it would also be (rue to say that good books, good television programmes and good literature have no good effect. I feel that we have to look at some of the programme matter which our allies and friends in the United States of America - who have had so much more experience of television than we have - are producing and also that we have to look at some of the findings of the American Senate Committee which inquired into television matters. I refer now to a report issued in the second session of the 88th Congress. It is the report of the Television and Juvenile Delinquency Committee. On page 2 the report states -

A fourth reason for the investigation was the development of new findings by qualified media research scholars which supported the thesis that televised crime and violence had adverse effects on the attitudes and behaviour of many young viewers. While some people, particularly those who spoke for the broadcasting industry, maintained that there was no relationship between televised crime and delinquency, it seemed clear to the sub-committee that the research evidence to the contrary was very substantial.

In support of that Committee's findings we have an article on May 20th in the " Daily Mirror ", where, under the heading " Crime and TV linked " the following appears -

London, Wednesday. - A dossier on suspected links between TV crime and real life crime has been sent to the Home Office by a police chief. Mr. John Barnett, Chief Constable of Lincolnshire, who next week becomes Chairman of the New National Viewers and Listeners Association, said thai 14 cases had been recorded last year where TV programmes had some adverse effect on the young persons' responsibility.

He said the cases, some involving housebreaking, bodily harm and arson, followed closely the pattern of crimes shown on TV.

The article concludes -

One object would be to get Parliament to set up a Viewers and Listeners' Council to act like the Press Council for newspapers.

For reasons beyond my control, I cannot do much about that, but I commend it to the inquiry of the Senate at a future date.

Senator Wright - Does not the Broadcasting Control Board discharge some such function?

Senator HANNAN - Yes, but I do not feel that this Parliament should abdicate all responsibility in this matter.

Senator Wright - I thought the honorable senator was shattering the responsibility that the Broadcasting Control Board had.

Senator HANNAN - Not at all. I will refer again to the American Senate Committee's interim report on television and juvenile delinquency. I think it is only fair to indicate that the impact of televised programmes is not wholly bad. It would be grossly unfair to give the impression that all crimes of violence, sex orgies and the like were a direct result of people viewing the little idiot box. That would be both to exaggerate its importance and to criticise it unfairly. At page 5 of its report the American Senate Committee says -

Television's impact on all aspects of American life has been a very significant one and its influence is likely to grow. This new medium has contributed much of lasting value to the well-being of the nation and will continue to do so. Its function in the field of public affairs programming has been particularly noteworthy and its use as an educational tool in the public schools and universities has been steadily expanding.

I have quoted that section of the report merely to be fair to the industry, because I am not one of those who believe that things are either entirely black or entirely white; there are obviously shades of grey.

Looking at the type of television programme material which is imported into this country at a cost of precious dollars, we find that much of the material comes from the American Broadcasting Corporation, one of the three big networks in the United States of America. One of the top executive producers of that Corporation is a man called Munn, who is known in the television industry as " Blood and Guts Producer Munn ". He has a reputation for regarding violence for the sake of violence as an essential ingredient of dramatic television programmes. He brought this out in a direction to one of his producers, who refused to follow the blood and guts formula. In one of his letters to this producer he said -

I wish we could come up with a different device than running a man down with a car. We have done this now in three different shows. I like the idea of sadism, but I hope we can come up with another approach to it.

Programme material produced by that man is being purchased for precious dollars and screened in this country.

Senator Wright - Is that due to monopoly control of Australian companies?

Senator HANNAN - I think the monopolies say they are giving us what we want. I have grave doubt as to whether the community as a whole wants tripe of that nature. We then come to material from the Columbia broadcasting system, which has a reputation in the United States of America for producing material that is less violent and has a lower blood and guts content than has that of other networks. At page 30 of the report of the Committee of the American Senate the following appears -

The evolution of " Route 66 " is particularly relevont both because of its focus on violence and sex and because of the network's role in developing that focus. Shortly before the series' inception, network officials became concerned because it was not " pulling " as effectively as it should. Mr. James T. Aubrey. Junior, C.B.S. network President, is reported to have issued what became known among producers as the Aubrey dictum of " broad, bosoms and fun ".

Senator Cormack - Has he not been fired since then?

Senator HANNAN - He is no longer in that position, but much of the material he produced is still being shown in this country. The report of the Senate Committee continues -

In testimony in 1962, Mr. Aubrey admits to asking for more " glamor " and more " romantic interest " but denies authorship of the dictum in the specific sense.

At page 32 of the report there is criticism of material from the National Broadcasting Company. This is the third of the great networks whose programme material is flooding this country, and whose dramatic material makes up about 90 per cent, of the total dramatic television material on our screens. Dealing with National Broadcasting Company programmes the report says -

Insofar as " Whispering Smith " was concerned, an independent testing organisation conducted an advance audience reaction of what was known as the " Hemp Reeger " episode. The testing organisation exposed 262 men, women, and children to the episode in a home environment and then questioned them about it. Among the findings were the follow ing: The sexual implications of the show were disliked by men and children as well as by women. Nearly all (97 per cent.) of the people felt there was too much emphasis on sex. . . Threequarters of the people (men, women and children) felt that this show was unsuitable for children.

Despite this finding, the " Hemp Reeger " episode was televised. When asked about the network's decision to release the episode, Mr. Walter Scott, the N.B.C. TV network executive vice president, told the Subcommittee that the test had been " experimental " and that his staff had concluded that it was invalid. In the absence of any evidence of a second test under network auspices, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the network was simply disregarding survey findings which it had no desire to accept.

In other words these nabobs use ratings to confound us when it means putting over material which they are able to buy at a cheap price or which is in free supply, but they are prepared to disregard that form of inquiry - disregard ratings - when they happen to run against their preconceived notions either of what we should have or what it is convenient for them to provide. Further, regarding the N.B.C. programme, the Committee discussed the evidence of one of the witnesses who referred to an edict that there should be more sex and violence injected into the show " or we could not get the Saturday 8.30 time period ". In short, if the edict were disobeyed by the independent producers their show would not be in a choice time period geared to a substantial children's audience.

I have been referring at some length to these matters not because they are particularly germain to the question of shares in television companies but because they are particularly germane to the type of programme material which the ensconced television authorities in this country are giving to Australian viewers.

Senator Ormonde - What should we do about it?

Senator HANNAN - We may have time to get around to that later. At page 36 the Committee summarised some of its conclusions and found -

On the basis of expert testimony and impressive research evidence a relationship has been conclusively established between televised crime and violence and anti-social attitudes and behaviour among juvenile viewers. Television programs which feature excessive violence can and do adversely influence children. Further, such adverse effects may be experienced by normal as well as by emotionally disturbed viewers.

Finally, we come to the concluding recommendations of the Committee in America which, at page 45, said -

If and when we recommend specific legislation

The Committee was delivering an interim report - we will do so in full awareness of the fact that no Government agency has the right to control the content of specific programs and that freedom of speech and press are basic constitutional guarantees which must not be violated. However, we will also continue to bear in mind that the broadcasting industry operates over channels which belong to the people and which must, we insist, be used to serve the public interest.

One matter too frequently overlooked is that the people operating broadcasting licences either in radio or in television are, in truth, operating upon national frequencies which are as much part of the nation's resources as its resources of oil, gold, uranium or any other form of mineral wealth. In its conclusions the Committee quoted from the " Scientific American " of February 1964 as follows -

Experiments suggest that aggression depicted in television and motion picture dramas, or observed in actuality, can arouse certain members of the audience to violent action. 1 do not wish to take this matter any further at this time. I feel that Senator Webster has put the problem very forcibly and well. A strong responsibility rests upon the Australian Broadcasting Control Board which controls commercial channels that have - I should not say a monopoly of viewers, but by and large an audience of about 87 to 88 per cent, of viewers.

In these circumstances I am glad that the Government is to this extent rearming the Australian Broadcasting Control Board in order to prevent in the future this form of concentration of ownership of mass media. I express my personal hope that the Board will be vigilant in watching for this type of takeover, merger or quasimonopolistic control of mass media. Although I do not believe that the Bill is the last piece of legislation which the Government will find necessary to introduce in order to control these matters, I give this step in the right direction my blessing and hope that it has a speedy passage in the Senate.

Suggest corrections