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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 12558

Senator CHERRY (4:53 PM) —I might respond to that. What constitutes a low level and what constitutes a high level is obviously in the eyes of the beholder. I am not trying to say that there is a crisis in the area of complaints to the ABA or that we have some dramatic movement; I am saying that the powers of the ABA to deal with a breach finding when it actually gets one are simply inadequate. I think it is perfectly reasonable that, if there has been a breach report and it has been found that a broadcaster has breached a code of practice, its viewers find out about it. At the moment the only place that these things are published is on the Internet, which means that, as has been shown by some of the repeat offenders, that is of only marginal concern to broadcasters. I think that to allow a notice for retractions or apologies—and, if a broadcaster does not do that, to have that reported to this place—is a reasonable request.

As I said earlier, it is in the act for public broadcasters, and we are only proposing to extend it to private broadcasters. I am not saying that there is a crisis here; I am saying that, where there is a breach of a code of practice—and I think that a breach of a code of practice is a serious matter—the ABA should have adequate powers to deal with that. The proposals I put up last year were much more radical, based on the British model. They were to make codes of practice into licence conditions, as they were probably—and someone can correct me if I am wrong—pre 1991. In the UK, a breach of a code of practice is a much more serious matter. The Broadcasting Standards Commission has much more power than our ABA has to ensure that a broadcaster is pinged on it. There are significant fines and penalties, as well as much more power to require apologies, retractions and rights of reply.

In this instance, I am suggesting only that it be a power of the ABA to issue a notice and, if a broadcaster ignores it, following the current structure of the act, that it be reported to the parliament. I do not think that is a radical reform, as the minister is suggesting, but it does pick up what I think is a serious matter, which is repeated breaches of a code of practice. I am looking at the figures here for the last few years. The figures for breaches—the fair comment and broadcasting figures—are not huge but they are repeated. That is something which I think this parliament should be concerned about.

Question agreed to.