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Thursday, 27 February 1975
Page: 897

Mr INNES (Melbourne) -Over some period of time, and in particular during the past day or so, the attention of the House has been drawn to vicious articles appearing in the national Press discriminating against individuals, attempting to superimpose the viewpoint of the owners of the media on the people of this country, and applying that fundamental policy of not messing up a vile headline or a defamatory story by having any regard for the truth or the facts. The latest example of this breach of privilege is in line with a grave misrepresentation of an individual by one of the barons of the Press- an individual who, because he does not own his own television station or have extensive newspaper holdings, is deprived of the right of reply.

The individual who has suffered this gross misrepresentation is a well known television actor whose character and integrity could never be called into question- Mr Gerard Kennedy. The perpetrator of the attack is that well-known baron of the media, an individual not worthy of wiping Gerard Kennedy's boots- Mr Kerry Packer. I draw the attention of the House to an article which appeared in the 'Australian' of 7 February. It was written by Mr Kerry Packer and is titled 'The End of Division 4'. In that article Mr Packer set out to destroy Gerard Kennedy's standing as a spokesman for the Australian television industry. Honourable members will be aware that Mr Kennedy has long been a fighter for Australian content on our television screens. He also has been one of the many individuals and organisations associated with that industry to welcome the Australian Labor Party's policy of 75 per cent Australian content, as announced at the Terrigal conference. Mr Kennedy also has been associated for some time with one of Australia's top-rating shows, 'Division 4'.

Mr Packer'sChannel 9 network announced recently its intention of axing the 'Division 4' series despite its popularity. This decision provoked Gerard Kennedy to condemn the Channel 9 network for its contemptuous attitude to the Australian television industry. What has been Mr Packer's response to what would seem to be an eminently justifiable criticism? Firstly, he dismissed Gerard Kennedy's criticism as near libellous and demonstrably haywire'. On what basis did Mr Packer make this assertion? As is his usual custom he established it on the basis of a barefaced lie. Kerry Packer claimed that the reason 'Division 4' had been axed was Gerard Kennedy's decision to leave the series. This assertion is untrue and Packer well knows it. He publicly libelled an individual who lacks Mr Packer's easy access to the media and therefore lacks the opportunity to reply.

I draw the attention of the House to another article which, like Mr Packer's, was submitted to the 'Australian' but, unlike Mr Packer's, this piece was not published. This is a letter which directly refutes Packer's lies about Kennedy's role in the decision to axe 'Division 4'. Since the letter has not been published I would like to quote from it. It states:

I wish to join issue with Mr Kerry Packer's comments published in your issue of Friday, February 7 1973, under the heading 'End of Division 4' where he says 'Mr Kennedy knows very well that he was told clearly by me, as was Mr Crawford, that if he, Kennedy, left, the series would be terminated.

In other words, he would be the architect of Division 4's destruction'.

This statement is incorrect. The position, as Mr Packer was fully aware, was that the question of Gerard Kennedy's participation in the show was thrashed out and agreement was reached between Mr Packer and his network, Crawford Productions Pty Ltd, and Gerard Kennedy that Gerard Kennedy would appear in 13 episodes of Division 4' in 1975. The network also was advised that his place would be taken by John Stanton. These agreements having been reached, I understand that an agreement was then concluded in writing between Mr Packer's Channel 9 network and Crawford Productions for the production in 1975, commencing on 20 January 1975, of 47 episodes of the program 'Division 4'. That letter was submitted by Mr Vic Arnold, the State Secretary of Actors ' Equity.

Simultaneously with the conclusion of the agreement a side letter forming part of the agreement was given by Mr Packer's General Television Corporation to Mr Hector Crawford which confirms the position of the 2 actors, Gerard Kennedy and John Stanton. I will quote the letter that was sent to Crawford Productions. It states:

The company is aware that Mr Gerard Kennedy will not be available for his sustaining role beyond episode 13 and that his place will be taken by Mr John Stanton.

That letter was signed by L. A. Mauger, Managing Director of the Channel 9 network, yet it was never published. Packer's lying hypocrisy is left free to damage Gerard Kennedy's reputation, lies that he is not given the opportunity to refute. But it is Mr Kerry Packer who goes on to bleat about freedom of choice. This whole affair does raise serious questions of freedom of choice; questions of the freedom of the media. What right has Mr Packer by the happy accident of his birth to dictate what Australians shall or shall not watch? This is not the first time that the Packer organisation has been found misusing its power and control over the media. In November 1973, another prominent media identity, suggested that Mr Kerry Packer's father, Sir Frank Packer, was misusing his responsibility in the running of the Nine network. It was suggested that Packer should not attempt to run a television channel like a newspaper because the air waves were publicly owned; that the television channels had a responsibility not to ram their own viewpoint down the public's throat. Who made these criticisms? None other than Kerry Packer's brother, Clyde Packer. The remarks were made after Sir Frank Packer had decreed that on no account was Bob Hawke to appear on Channel 9, Bob Hawke who, in his capacity as President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and of the Australian Labor Party, represents two of the largest groups of people in this country. The reason Packer gave for the ban was that Hawke was too good for Channel Nine 's interviewers.

I find it incredible that the elected representative of the two largest organisations in Australia should be denied any chance to put his views to the public simply because the owner of a station licence is opposed to those views. Is this the kind of freedom of choice Mr Kerry Packer is so concerned to protect, the freedom of the Packer dynasty to mould public opinion to its own purposes? What right does Kerry Packer have to appear on his own television station to, in the words of the interviewer, Gerald Stone, 'tell us specifically what is going to be wrong with this 75 per cent'? To tell us what is going to be wrong mark you. That is the dictate of the people who control the media. There was no suggestion of discussing the issue or of presenting a balanced view of the controversy since no one had been invited on the program to present the Australian Labor Party's policy but to tell us what is wrong. The issue will be completely ignored. Is this the freedom of the Press? I suggest that Kerry Packer has shown himself to be an unsuitable person to possess a television licence. I suggest that there be an immediate inquiry into the use of the media by private individuals to force their particular views and opinions on the public. In a democracy it is vital that we should have a diversity of sources of information and opinion. In a democracy it is vital that the media should not be in the hands of a small number of rich and powerful men. We need an inquiry to determine how we can ensure the freedom of the media, free from the arbitrary control of the few to distort and slant information to their own purposes. Those honourable members who feel I am overstating the case are invited to observe the treatment this speech receives at the hands of the media.

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