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Third Annual Noel Griffiths Lecture in Public Relations Delivered by Ian Sinclair



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THIRD ANNUAL NOEL GRIFFITHS LECTURE IN PUBLIC RELATIONS DELIVERED BY THE RT. HON. IAN SINCLAIR, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS, WENTWORTH HOTEL, 22 APRIL, 1.15 PM

As communicators you meet at this function to commemorate the contribution of your foundation President to public relations. That you invite a politician to present the lecture is an extra­ ordinary compliment. Indeed, whatever politicians might be

renowned for, it is rarely public relations as I guess one of my colleagues has demonstrated fairly effectively this last week.

But perhaps private perception and public presence can be separated and certainly the public presence is an essential part of the election and maintaince of Government in a democratic society.

In his letter to me Mr Bill Sherman, your President, suggested that I should address you on the communications revolution. He mentioned that you might be interested in the problems, opportunities and challenges for management, employees, professional communicators and the public relations practitioner

in the techniques of communication, and that I might .address myself to all aspects of this subject.

To take up one part of the invitation: the effect of technological change in the communications industry; is to identify a far wider subject with ramifications for employment and education as much as the dimension of your market place.

In this respect so much of the public debate, particularly in the industrial sector, has been concentrated on the negative consequences of change such as job redundancy rather than the positive opportunities that change will bring, including the demand for labour with new skills.

The widening of the electronic market will require both new techniques in presentation as well as providing access to significantly wider sections of the public in one presentation than have ever previously been contactable.

Public relations essentially is at the front end of the electronics revolution. Without doubt the success stories of your industry in the future will be written around the ability to exploit the new technology. Of course some of this technology will not be universally available, at least for a while, in part

for economic reasons and in part because of the sheer physical constraints that Australia's geography imposes.

It seemed to me therefore that it would be worthwhile examining the parameters of some of the new techniques in t communications and their suitability for your public relations task.

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It was Samuel Taylor Coleridge who said in about 1818 that the "three ends to which a statesman ought to propose . to himself in the government of a nation, are (1) security to possessors; (2) facility to acquirers; and (3) hope to all."

This was said in a time in England when not inconsiderable privilege and sweeping rights of ownership to land and in many ways, to people, still existed.

Yet, in spite of its slightly cynical undertone, it is an aphorism that can be used to define our non-socialist style of government.

Governments should not be in the business of regulating, ordering or controlling to a point where those successful in business, commerce or farming are put to the wheel by such government action. Yet there are justifiable legal parameters within which proprietary rights should be set, not just to provide rights to property or to personal possessions but to

facilitate the concepts which are the lifeblood of your profession the copyrights needed to facilitate the protection of a slogan or the manner of presentation of a product.

There are plenty who would see many sinister motives in the second part of the saying, that is, offering "facility to acquirers".

They perceive conspiracy theories in everything government does to assist in the expansion of investment or development, whether it be in the mining or media or manufacturing fields.

Yet no government properly motivated should feel that the freeing and opening of avenues that creates jobs and offers a wider variety of goods and services, is other than a worthwhile endeavour.

There is also a view that great and powerful groups conspire with government at a high level for all sorts of sinister motives.

This seems particularly true of the three major families involved in the Australian media business: the Fairfaxes, the Murdochs and the Packers, you will note very carefully arranged in alphabetical order.

Certainly these three names are immensely important in the industry in Australia. Yet their role needs to be put in perspective and not necessarily viewed with apprehension.

As the Sydney Morning Herald Chairman, Mr James Fairfax, said at the 150th Anniversary Dinner last week, "people from one end of the political spectrum to the other said the Fairfaxes had some particular axe to grind ... and that they (the Fairfaxes) were only giving people what the Fairfaxes wanted them to know";

that "particular views were being forced down the throats of the unsuspecting public".

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He said the attacks had come recently from an eminent novelist, a trade union leader and sundry political colleagues of mine from both sides at both State and Federal levels. As a member of the Fairfax family, he commented that his own reaction was "Can this really be a Fairfax they are talking about?" He went on to say that in trying to see himself and his organization

as some of these critics saw them,he sought his recollection in vain for secret deals done with Cabinet Ministers.

In fact he said he could recall only two discussions with Government Ministers in the past four years, one on televising the Moscow Olympic Games and the other on the film called "Death of a Princess". In both cases Mr James Fairfax said he had rejected the Government's advice.

He commented that through the 150 years of the Sydney Morning Herald he and his forbears constantly asserted that "they (Governments) were just as entitled to press their view as we were to reject it."

I believe Mr Rupert Murdoch and Mr Kerry Packer would espouse exactly the same philosophy. This does not mean that the three families do not exercise an extraordinary significant influence in the development of communications in the modern trilogy of television, radio and print.

It does mean that the influence of the families needs to be presented in a balanced way and with due consideration to today's extraordinarily complex financial market wherein each still preserves in a remarkable way a very stron family connection.

Which takes me to the third part of Coleridge's aphorism that at all stages and for all men, politicians or whatever, there must be "... hope to all".

It is on the subject of hope that a great deal of the communications revolution on which you have asked me to speak is based. Just as the Sydney Morning Herald brought printed communication in 1831 to the then tiny penal colony of Sydney, so the expanded electronic and printed media bring promise of greater and wider communications to Australians of the 80's.

Mass communications today is the product of the application - of electronics and the silicon chip.

Electronics gives a universally available, efficient power source while the silicon chip reflects the miniaturisation of the means for data presentation and the computers within which this knowledge can be stored, selected and presented.

In the area of communications, the current debate on technological advances principally concerns: * the domestic satellite; * cable and subscription television;

* videotex.

You, as professional communicators., are no doubt developing a knowledge and understanding of these advances.

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The electronic revolution has brought with it not only an increased awareness of the potential of these new services but also increased expectations of the social and financial benefits to be derived from the current communications technologies. In the past it has been accepted that, as the broadcasting spectrum was a scarce resource, regulation of broadcasting services was

required in order to avoid monopolisation of the limited number of frequencies available. With the electronic revolution,_it is therefore often thought that along with the expectation of an increased range of services, there will be less need for regulation.

The electronic media is recognised as an extremely important disseminator of social values and an agent of social change. It was acceptance of the social, political and cultural impact of these services which led to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal,

in its Report "Self-regulation for broadcasters?" to recommend that, while the broadcasting industry should be self-regulating in most areas, there was a need for ABT regulation in the three areas of Australian content, children's television and advertising.

The inclusion of Australian content in the ABT1s Report as an area requiring regulation came from the recognition of the role of the electronic media in the transmission of cultural values.

Of course nothing that government can say can replace the essentially commercial judgement that follows from the necessity to attract a viewing audience. Advertising revenues are reflected on the spread of coverage. It is essential that in the programming of a commercial station therefore an assessment be made of the audience to be covered, the time at which a programme is to be presented, reflecting whether the bulk of those likely to be in that audience are womenfolk, children or mixed adults.

An illustration of this is the decision to replace the Australian show "Catch Us If You Can", by a replay of "The Muppets" on Channel 7 this week. I make no comment about the pros and cons of either programme but mention that it is management's interpretation of the market place which determines under our system ultimately the form of cultural shock to which we should be subjected. In this instance, seeing the mainly

replay of an imported programme as attracting more audience support than a relatively untested new format by an Australian production team.

In other words,“one of the essential elements of the task which you must set yourselves is not just to determine "excellence" (if that is a word appropriate to either programme) - or cultural value - in some absolute fashion, but to determine whether having

established that "excellence" or cultural content it will be seen as worth listening to, reading or viewing by sufficient people to justify advertisers paying to display it.

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This does not always mean that your commercial judgement prevails as industry and Government also have a role. You will recall the embargoes or attempted embargoes of "Death of a Princess", the Lady Di lookalikes and "Taxi Driver", each for a different reason and with a different history.

In these days of greater freedom different community reactions exist to even a few years ago. However the difficulties of achieving that objective set down by the Green Report remain. You will recall it stated the broadcasting system should "enrich

the social, cultural and moral values of the Australian people by fostering an Australian identity". The electronic revolution will have a profound effect on the development and transmission of these values.

Services such as cable and subscription television (and the continued expansion of present radiated services) will make a broader range of programming available to people in both urban and country areas.

A wider range of programming has already been provided by the establishment of multilingual and multicultural radio and television services, which are intended to assist ethnic communities to maintain their cultural traditions and pass them on to their descendants and other Australians. Apart^from offering alternatives, these new services, especially'multicultural television, are helping to break down national barriers while at the same time broadening people's perceptions of the world. They are thus contributing to an evolving sense of national

identity.

The other side of the electronic revolution is the introduction of communications services to those areas which at present do not receive them: for example the proposed domestic satellite will enable remote areas in Australia to receive direct television transmission which will enable them

for the first time to share in major events as they occur. This will foster a stronger sense of national identity and unity among those members of the community.

On the one hand, if regional stations transmit into the major city markets it will bring both a wider audience to those stations and an impact of the wider Australia which most citysiders see but briefly, if at all, during their holidays.

On the other hand, if it permits the city stations to present their programmes throughout Australia it will impose the views and attitudes of our major metropolises on those many Australians who live outside suburbia. In either event, hopefully, it will bring a greater recognition of the role each plays towards a homogenous society.

Thanks to the phenomenal advances in electronics technology- over the last twenty years, it is now possible to watch events on the other side of the world, or in space, as they happen. This has been made possible by the growth in satellite communications technology in particular.

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Australia's participation in the International Telecommunicatio: Satellite Organization, INTELSAT, enabled us to watch the Olympic Games from Moscow and the landing of the space shuttle in California.

Australians can dial direct telephone calls to almost every country in the world which has a telephone system through Telecom's terrestrial telephone communications system linked to the international communications satellite system and an

intricate network of trans-oceanic cables.

Despite these sophisticated telecommunications and broadcasting facilities, there are still significant numbers of Australains-who cannot take advantage of them -* at least 40,000 people have no prospect of getting

access to the telephone system in the foreseable future by conventional means; * 500,000 Australians have no TV service at all; * another 220,000 get ABC TV only;-* a further 375,000 live beyond the reach of even ABC . and commercial radio stations.

Because of the peculiaratiesof geography and climate, satellite communications offer the only practicable solution to providing reasonable services to these people in a reasonable time scale.

The Government's decision to proceed towards a National Communications Satellite System (NCSS) will not only impact on the Australians who live in remote communities, but could bring major benefits to millions of Australians by -

* augmentation of the existing terrestrial network; * quick establishment of essential communications in times of emergency and natural disasters; * more flexible network for transport safety communications,

weather and other scientific data; * greater capacity for bulk high speed data communications vital to the expansion of business activities in Australia.

Already TV services are being provided to remote communities using capacity on the INTELSAT satellite system.

The first priority for Australians living in remote areas is a reliable telephone service. Planning for the NCSS has allowed for incorporation of an automatic Remote Telephony Satellite System (RTSS) which would give subscribers access to direct-dialled local, STD and ISD calls.

It is also planned to broadcast radio and television programmes direct via the satellite to remote communities and individual homesteads which are either outside the range of . existing stations or which have a marginal standard of reception.

Such improved communications in remote areas have important implications for remote communities in the areas of - * health care; * education;

* cultural programmes.

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Today's society is based on information from weather forecasts and airline schedules to stock exchange reports. The communications satellite has enormous potential for bringing such information to each household's TV set by means of videotext

systems such as Telidon, Prestel, Antiope and Teletext. Of course there are already available radiated systems while others are capable of being hooked into the domestic television set through use of the telephone network.

As the electronic revolution gains momentum the significance of other problems will increase. Concern has already been expressed at the detrimental impact of the new broadcasting technology on cultural and regional identity. One example is the use of satellites to transmit television services from

industrial countries to less developed neighbours, facilitating a breakdown of the traditional culture. The development of world television, which would utilise satellites and high technology, including programming for mass audiences, will require

a greater awareness of the relationship between these services and national identity, children and advertising.

With the technological revolution, the Australian consumer is on the boundary of a rapid transition from relative scarcity to abundance of choice in broadcasting services. While a too cautious approach may unnecessarily deprive the community of enjoyment of a public good, care must be taken to ensure that the postive and negative aspects of the introduction of new

services are balanced to achieve the greatest good for the country as a whole.

Another issue which should be addressed is that as the limitations of the broadcasting spectrum become less important in determining the range of broadcasting services, the trend in recent years has been for control of programme product to become more centralised. This could be at variance with the.aims of

the new technology, which are to provide a broader range of programming.

However, while speaking in the broadest terms, exciting changes are being provided for the communications revolution, there remains the very basic problem of providing Australia with the best in person to person contract through telephones and the mails.

The ordinary telephone system which we take so much for granted promises to offer many new services because technology is offering increasingly sophisticated equipment to hand on the end of a telephone line. '

One telephone expert with a flair for such things has coined the terms "POTS", or "plain old telephone system", for the services which we now get as a matter of course, and "PANS" , or "peculiar and novel services", for the increasing range of new uses we will be able to make of our national telephone system. While I want to draw your attention to "PANS" it should not be "

forgotten that the existence of the "POTS" is what will make the whole thing work.

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The technical parlance in Australia for terminal equipment which can be used on the telephone system is "permitted attachments" but this cold term disguises what will undoubtedly turn out to be a very hot market in the not-too-distant future. In the United

States, this is called the "inter-connect" market and it is one of the fastest growth areas of the Amercian economy.

The inter-connect market has long been with us in Australia, but in a subdued from. The private sector has long had a role in the provision of some types of terminal equipment in Australia, largely because Telecom and its predecessor, the old PMG, were unable to supply some types of equipment. Much of the equipment

now available thus .includes "old hat" items such as PABX systems, telephone answering machines, and radio paging devices - some provided by Telecom and some by the private sector. However, these are only the tip of the-iceberg.

Through the use of new hardware and new techniques, we can now do things with our telecommunications network that were only at the edge of our.imagination a decade or two ago, and here I am referring to the "PANS". There has been an explosion in value-added services in other parts of the world, and this is leading and rightly so - to pressures to introduce these

services to Australia.

In particular there is the opportunity of connecting the subscriber through multiple outlets to computer resources with infinite capacity and previously inconceivable reservoirs of information.

Videotext systems, for example, both of the radiated and cable type, will allow users and information suppliers alike to do all sorts of things by visual display. Those of you who may have witnessed recent demonstrations of Prestel and Telidon in Australia will have an idea of what is on our doorstep.-

The domestic television screen in effect becomes a visual display unit which, through a relatively cheap adaptor box attached to the set, connects that screen to a remote computer and assembles required data on request.

The range of equipment becoming available is staggering,. You only have to skim through sections of the popular press on "the electronic office" to gain a feeling for some of the new applications we can get even through our plain old "POTS".

The directions the inter-connect market will take and the enhanced benefits of telecommunications which will be available to the Australian public are of great importance. The extent to which standards can be maintained, technical progress

facilitated and the customer protected in this market is a matter of very close consideration by the Government at this time.

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Certainly it is our desire to maximise the opportunities for competitive private sector involvement in this area. It will require significant investment and the decision as to which type of supplementary add-ons the customer wants should be one which he can take rather than one imposed by the Government or by its agencies. However, policies are being developed with

regard to the inter-connect market to ensure that equipment connected to the network is safe, that it properly performs its intended functions, and that it will not cause harm to the network.

All policies will be designed so that Australia can gain maximum benefit from both its "POTS" and its "PANS".

In the glamour of the new, and recognising your prime requirement to satisfy your clients, you cannot afford to forget the old. Australia Post is still as critical in modern communications as it was_in the days of Cobb and Co. Private Courier services certainly supplement the parcel and package carrier facility. Yet Australia Post too, in its year on year escalation of required services, reflects the growth of our nation and our economy. The number of articles of mail handled reached 2600 million last year, an increase of 18% on the figure of three years ago. This figure is considerably higher also than when mail services were provided at a much cheaper

rate with losses being subsidised.

The critical factor of course in mail delivery is that articles are reliably delivered to the addressee and delivered within a reasonable time. This is Australia Post's main task. They report to me that with the closure of the Redfern Mail Exchange and the establishment of new decentralised exchanges

their objectives are significantly closer to realisation.

It is true that there have been some difficulties recently at North Sydney. Generally in improving the standard of service, Australia Post looks to mail being delivered "on time" if there is next day delivery of standard letters over the major intrastate mail paths and also between capital cities and their metropolitan areas when posted at appropriate clearance times.

Since the introduction of the decentralised mail network in New South Wales, 90% of mail is being delivered "on time" when posted in the Sydney Central business district. Overall, however, for the State the present level is around 80% "on time" with an initial objective to reach 90% throughout the State by

June this year and to push on towards the 95% level achieved in other States.

Of course the next task is to set higher criteria for all deliveries right across Australia. Australia Post also operates its own various express services both for letters and parcels " through the mail generally on standards of delivery at start of business interstate for articles posted before the close of business the previous night. There is also the Australia Post Courier Service offering door to door pick-up and delivery within metropolitan areas of capital cities and other major centres along with an inter-capital express service either same<.day or

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An important new dimension to the postal service is electronic post. Its principle advantage lies in facilitating instant delivery of letters, papers or documents across thousands of miles. Given the widening of market access which other forms of new communicatons will bring, this opportunity of confirming your presentation with your.client instantly will make your office, however far it might be removed from his, only

as far away as the office next door.

In each sector of communication there are then exciting new dimension around the corner. Each, however, represents the medium rather than the message. You in public relations are the interface between industry, commerce, government and the rest of the world. Whether we are politicians, press or members of the public, we know that the message gets the medium it deserves rather than always the medium_it desires.

It is this human side and the skill in creating the words, the styles and the symbols that lie at the heart of your . success in applying the techniques for the communications revolution.

There would not be aperson in this room who would not recall that cryptic message from Robert Crippen, the pilot of the space shuttle Columbia, on the descent to the Mojave Desert landing site with his colleague, John Young: "What a way to

come to California".

It was not the electronic revolution nor the enormously sophisticated communications system that conveyed that message but the circumstances of the dispatch which struck a chord in the hearts and minds of the listening world. The words may have lacked the elegance of a Churchill or a Shakespeare but

they enjoyed the simplicity of instant comprehension.

So should it be with good PR.