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Friday, 1 May 1987
Page: 2187

Senator ELSTOB —My question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs refers to the possible loss of our $300m export trade with Iran as a result of a derisive skit on that country's Government shown on Australian Broadcasting Corporation television. Is the Minister satisfied that smug and gross caricatures of the governments of our trading partners represent responsible programming on the part of our national broadcaster? Does the Minister believe that there is a need for the media to formulate regulations built upon sensitivity to the particular histories and circumstances of other countries not nearly as trouble-free as our own?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I think honourable senators will be aware enough of the facts following the recent satirical skit on the ABC program The Dingo Principle not to require me to spell them out. In response to the action of the Iranian Government in expelling the two members of the Australian Embassy, the Government has reiterated its support for the important principles of freedom of expression and freedom of the Press. We have also stressed the political independence of the ABC. It is, of course, a matter of deep regret that an essentially inconsequential satirical program should have been taken so seriously by the Iranian authorities. We have made it clear to Iran that Australia has a long tradition of political satire which, as my colleagues in this chamber will know, has spared very few public figures. Similar points were made by the ABC Managing Director, David Hill, in his reaction to the actions of the Iranian Government when he said that the ABC does not deliberately set out to offend, that satire and comedy are part of our culture and, again, that few people in Australian public life escape satirical comment at some stage or another. The Managing Director did, however, express concern that the ABC has offended Iranians and upset Australian-Iranian relations while at the same time saying that the ABC cannot accept the abandonment of a long held tradition.

As to the last part of Senator Elstob's question, I would certainly be wary, on either Mr Hayden's behalf or my own, of getting into the area of regulation of the media by government.

Senator Elstob —I did not say that.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I appreciate that, but I am talking about self-regulation. Similar questions tend to arise. One of the consequences of the unfettered freedom of the Press as it exists in this country is that within the limits of the law it is for the media itself to take into account the sensitivities of others when deciding what kinds of stories to run. This is an area in which the Government firmly believes that it would be wrong to seek to become involved, even to the extent of encouraging specific kinds of self-regulation such as Senator Elstob proposes. Despite the embarrassments that arise from time to time, the reality is that programming issues are and must remain entirely matters for the Corporation. Finally, it is the Government's hope that we will see soon a return to a constructive and co-operative relationship with Iran, based on mutual respect for our two very different systems of government and social values.