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Thursday, 21 May 1970

Mr BRYANT (Wills) - 1 support the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin) in his remarks. I believe the whole community and both sides of the Parliament - all political parties - have in large measure neglected what would be their duty to people who are disabled by some form such as deafness and blindness and nearly any other physical disability. These are handicaps for which the state accepts very little responsibility.

This morning I want to say something about the Australian Press and the need, I believe, for a new ethic to be established in respect of the Press - a new attitude towards the ownership of the Press and the need for a different sense of responsibility, so far as the Press is concerned, to the Australian public. This is a very important medium, and the folk who control the Press also control to a large measure radio and television.

I am moved to speak on this subject today by the fact that the British Press Council has been in existence for some years and it is time that Australia had something similar. The British Press Council is a voluntary body and it has these functions: To consider complaints about the conduct of the Press or the conduct of persons and organisations towards the Press. It works both ways - both to preserve the freedom of the British Press and to maintain the character of the British Press in accordance with the highest professional and commercial standards. I am moved to this because at this stage there are 2 very important State elections pending in Australia, one in Victoria and one in South Australia. In Victoria, particularly, because of the mass population of Melbourne, the fact that the Press, radio and television are controlled by a small group of interests and the fact that there is a small number of papers circulating in Melbourne, it is important that the Press not only publishes all the news but publishes it accurately and does not create news.

In Victoria, in my view, there has been a suppression of news or, one might even say, a distortion of news by the Melbourne Herald' in its treatment of a recent gallup poll. For instance, its headline in April about the gallup poll reads: '8% Swing to Gorton Since October'. That is fair enough. That was the figure for Australia. But as far as the people of Victoria are concerned, it is that State which is important. The 'Herald' suppressed, I have no doubt consciously and with a view of concealing from the public the danger of the defeat of the Bolte Government, the facts relating to Victoria as disclosed in the gallup poll. In Victoria 1 ,693 people were interviewed, and the poll showed that 827 or 48.8% said they would vote for the Australian Labor Party. On the other hand only 7.7% said they would vote for the Democratic Labor Party. This is the significant figure: Only 33.7% said they would vote for the Liberal Party. That information was suppressed, and I believe that such a headline indicating that there had been a swing against Labor in Victoria was a distortion of the news. Admittedly the 'Herald' owns the copyright for the gallup poll, and 1 suppose te that extent it can do what it wishes. But the Australian Press, because of its monopolisitc control of the forms of information, has a duty to the community. So 1 want to place on record my concern with the way in which it has operated in this matter.

In Victoria at the present moment there are 3 large newspapers - the 'Herald' and the 'Sun News- Pictorial', both owned by Herald and Weekly Times Ltd, and the Age'. I regret that 'Newsday' folded up. I believe that it did not meet the requirements of a modern society in Melbourne, but Melbourne could have done with another daily evening newspaper. On the other hand, the Press is guilty of creating' news. Recently there have been discussions about certain parts of Labor's policy in Victoria, but the heading 'Labor in Pieces' in a leading article in the Melbourne 'Age' of I. 1th May was in fact quite false. People might have had views about policies but there was no internal dispute in the Labor Party in Victoria and I believe that this was a piece of mischievious misreporting. This is the kind of thing a Press council would be able to deal with and it would be able to establish some ethics. Another area in which it could become involved, particularly in Melbourne, is the control of the Press itself. This would represent an addition to the charter of the British Press Council. Something must be done about the growing monopoly of the Australian Press. 1 want to quote from another organ which 1 do not ordinarily quote as an organ of informed democratic opinion, but last year the 'Daily Telegraph' published an article headed: Danger from Melbourne's Growing News Monopoly', lt states:

If the Melbourne 'Herald' succeeds in its bid for the 'West Australian' and "Daily News', Perth, it will have tentacles in every Australian capital except Sydney.

In the few minutes one has this morning one cannot elaborate on the control which this institution exercises over Australian Press, radio and television. One can find details of it published in many quarters. In particular, this article in the 'Daily Telegraph' shows its investments in newspapers, television and other fields of great concern.

Of course, there are other things to which a Press council ought to turn its attention. The Australian Press on occasions seems to disregard the rights of private citizens. 1 have just had a survey made of the number of writs issued by private individuals against the Press in New South Wales alone over the last 3 years. In 1969, 10 were issued; in 1968, 10 were issued; and in 1967, 9 were issued. These are writs issued mostly by individuals against the Press for defamation, libel and so on. Of course we on this side of the House are aware of the great battle that went on for many years between the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) and the Press, .in which the honourable member for Reid was finally triumphant. Other members of the Parliament has suffered in the same way. Recently the proprietors of the 'Daily Telegraph' had judgment given against them for 520,000 in a case brought by an individual in Sydney. In the ordinary course of events an individual cannot initiate campaigns against the Press.

There are other areas in which I think the Press is quite unethical. One of them, of course, is its intrusion into private individuals' lives. I believe that I am supporting here in some way the remarks of the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron). I do not believe that the Press has the right to publish photographs which harrass or cause concern and distress to people. Many of the photographs one sees of accidents are quite unethical, and some of the remarks that are made by Press writers are equally unethical. I came upon a remarkable piece of journalism in the Hobart 'Mercury', which I think has a monopoly of the morning news in Hobart. The paper, referring to the Moratorium a week or so back, said:

The goings on at the Moratorium affair today will just have to be anti-climax after the affectionate displays of tolerance. . . .

Then the article runs on with some reference to Hitler and Mussolini. I believe this is a disgraceful article to be either written by an Australian journalist or published by an editor. It states:

For today let me remind you that spitting on the footpath is illegal, so be accurate.

What kind of editing is that? It is a completely unethical publication. On the other side, we have to do something about the protection of the freedom of the Press. I have here a report of a case brought by Maxwell Newton Publications in Canberra last year, I think, in which Maxwell Newton

Publications finally obtained judgment. The case involved unethical use by the Government of its power or, one might say, abuse of its power. In Vietnam the Press is controlled in a large measure by the Australian forces. 1 understand that Australian journalists may interview an Australian soldier only when he is accompanied by an officer or a public relations man. This is a restriction on the freedom of the Press. One is reminded of the reports that came back from Gallipoli during the First World War from the late Sir Keith Murdock which revolutionised attitudes in this country.

But there also has to be some protection for the journalist and some freedom to print. There has been too much secrecy. There is a tendency to regard news as being a security matter. 1 believe that for the sake of Australian democracy it is urgent that what one might call the contradiction between the 2 sides of the Press - the freedom to print and the freedom of the individual - be resolved. It will be resolved only by some authority which is able to examine each of these cases on its merits. lt is important that citizens, and particularly working journalists, be protected against the arbitrary decisions of the managements of Australian Press, managements which are largely irresponsible in the political sense and becoming increasingly monopolistic in the strictest and most liberal sense of the word.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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