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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 4894

Senator MINCHIN (2:43 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy.

Honourable senators interjecting—

Senator MINCHIN —My apologies for that but my question is a serious one. Is the minister aware of continuing concerns about the availability of al-Manar Television in Australia via satellite transmission from Indonesia? Does the minister agree with the findings of the ACMA that, despite supportive references in programs to the designated terrorist organisation Hezbollah, the content broadcast was not in breach of antiterrorism broadcasting standards?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I thank Senator Minchin for that question. The government appreciates that the availability in Australia of al-Manar TV via the Indosat satellite is a matter of significant concern in the community. It has been widely reported that al-Manar TV is funded at least in part by Hezbollah. Programming from another country transmitted into Australia via satellite must comply with the ACMA’s antiterrorism standards. These standards were first introduced by the ACMA in 2006. The antiterrorism standards prohibit programs that recruit or solicit funds for a listed terrorist organisation. Last year, the ACMA began an investigation of al-Manar TV. Contrary to media commentary on this issue, al-Manar has never been previously prohibited in Australia. ACMA’s investigation was commenced following media reports about al-Manar being received in the Asia-Pacific region. It did not stem from any specific complaint about program content.

In its investigation, ACMA analysed al-Manar broadcasts for a nine-day period in August and September last year. In its recently released report, ACMA found that al-Manar did not breach the antiterrorism standards, as the program content did not recruit people to join Hezbollah or solicit funds for them. Notwithstanding this finding, given the seriousness of this matter and the limited amount of content examined in the investigation, the government has asked ACMA to continue to keep this matter under close scrutiny and to ensure that programs broadcast in Australia do not breach our antiterrorism standards or other criminal codes. (Time expired)

Senator MINCHIN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for that revelation! But I ask him if he is not concerned with this finding of ACMA:

The mere promotion of the beliefs or opinions of a terrorist organisation—done in the instance cited above through an historical analysis of Hezbollah’s war with Israel in 2006—does not in itself constitute a breach of the Anti-terrorism Standard …

Isn’t the minister concerned about that finding? And can the minister inform the Senate whether or not al-Manar is in fact banned in the United States and several European countries?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I would certainly encourage people to complain to ACMA if they become aware of specific content that they are concerned would breach the antiterrorism standards. Contrary to media reports, the antiterrorism standards have not been diluted or weakened. ACMA amended the standards in December 2008 to replace the term ‘terrorist organisation’ with ‘listed terrorist’. This change ensures the standards align with wider Commonwealth laws dealing with terrorist organisations. Claims that this change affected the findings of the recent ACMA investigation of al-Manar are completely false. The recently completed investigation applied the 2006 standards—(Time expired)

Senator MINCHIN —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I ask the minister whether he thinks that the case reveals that indeed the standards urgently need reviewing for fear that they are inadequate; and will the minister assure the Senate that the government and relevant agencies will take all necessary steps to ensure that viewers in Australia are not exposed to content that in any way promotes radicalism, including terrorism and racism?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Thank you. As I was just saying in my previous answer, the recently completed investigation applied the 2006 standards, those introduced under the former government—the former government’s standards. The amendments that are spuriously being referred to commenced after the al-Manar content was broadcast in 2008, so the test was done on the previous standards, introduced under the former government. The antiterrorism standards were designed to prohibit a specific type of terrorist related content and not content relating to racial vilification and racism per se. Matters relating to hate speech and vilification are covered by an industry code of practice and are not part of the antiterrorism standards. The Open Narrowcast Television Codes of Practice impose specific obligations on service providers. (Time expired)