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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 2274

Senator CARRICK (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I address my question to the Minister for the Media and ask: Is the Australian Broadcasting Commission an independent statutory authority? Is independence in that sense a virtue only if the Commission achieves objectivity and balance in its reporting and programming? Is not the best assurance of objectivity and balance achieved by the encouragement of the widest .possible constructive criticism of the ABC both by the public and within this Parliament? If the Minister agrees with these principles, which are freely used by the Government in regard to commercial stations, will he- and I say this without offence- accept criticisms as constructive and helpful and not react defensively or in a protective fashion? Has the Government given thought to a suggestion made earlier this year by me that a complaints commission similar to that set up by the United Kingdom in regard to the BBC might be instituted in Australia?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -The answer to the first part of the honourable senator's question is yes. It is true that the Australian Broadcasting Commission is by Act of Parliament an independent statutory body. This is certainly the case so far as I am concerned and, I understand, so far as the Commission is concerned. I have had discussions with the Chairman and all members of the Commission and I am satisfied that the Commission does encourage, as does this Government, fair and constructive criticism of the Commission's programs. However, I lay emphasis on my use of the words fair and constructive criticism'. The suggestion made by Senator Carrick about the establishment of a complaints commission has received my consideration and it is certainly being discussed with members of the Commission. I understand that Senator Carrick raised his suggestion at a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts which is inquiring into all aspects of radio and broadcasting. Perhaps this matter might be looked at when the Committee finally presents its report to the Senate. Whilst I am answering this question I would like to give Senator Greenwood some further information in reply to the question which he asked this morning about ABC news programming. I have since been able to have inquiries made of the ABC and an answer has been provided to me by the Assistant General Manager of the ABC. I have been informed that this morning's news broadcast was a matter of overall balance between last night's news bulletins and the bulletins this morning. The situation is that in the main bulletin at 7 p.m. last night the comments made by Mr Snedden on the education issue were featured and in the 9 p.m. bulletin last night the comments of Senator Rae, the Liberal Party spokesman on education, also were featured. Therefore in this morning's 7.45 bulletin the comments on the education Bill were mainly those of the Prime Minister, with a shorter reference to comments by Mr Snedden. Therefore over a space of 12 hours the news division of the ABC balanced its approach to this subject.

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