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Thursday, 17 November 1910

Senator CHATAWAY (Queensland) . - I was very glad to hear the remarks of the Honorary Minister, and join with him in hoping that the motion will be carried unanimously. But I should like to direct attention to the fact that Parliament nowadays is in an entirely different position from that which it occupied two or three hundred years ago. Then it was an offence to report the proceedings of Parliament at all. That was particularly the case during the Stuart regime, when several persons were punished for reporting parliamentary proceedings. Now we have a totally different state of things, and are complaining that pressmen do not report the proceedings more fully than they do. I honestly admit that I am not enamoured of the object of the motion. Senator Millen's desire, apparently, is to issue some kind of official publication to the people telling them what has been done in Parliament. I am not sure that such a publication would do very much good. But I am prepared to go with my leader to this extent - that we should have some sort of inquiry made in order to ascertain what steps should be taken to issue an official publication of the kind contemplated. I was glad to hear what the Honorary Minister said about the statements that have been made concerning the unfairness of the press. Speaking as a newspaper man, I have to say that the press is a commercial institution. Its business is to report the proceedings of Parliament with the object of selling newspapers, and not merely for political purposes. We cannot blame newspapers if sometimes they report . a prize fight at considerable length instead of devoting more space to a rough-and-tumble in Parliament. They have a perfect right to adopt that course if they think fit. We have no right to charge them with being unfair because they supply their readers with the matter which they think is most interesting to them.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Oh, yes; surely we can do that?

Senator CHATAWAY - The newspapers have a perfect right to publish what they like, provided they keep within the law. If they are dishonest in their reports of Parliament, they will probably kill their circulation when they are found out ; and it does not take very long to find a newspaper out.

Senator Rae - I differ from the honorable senator.

Senator CHATAWAY - Nevertheless, that is my view. What has killed the Labour press so far?

Senator Rae - It has not been killed.

Senator CHATAWAY - It has. What has driven the Labour press to come down to a Parliament and ask for a subsidy to enable it to continue? What is really the reason that has kept the Labour papers down? Nothing but the fact that they only report one side of the case.

Senator Rae - When has a Labour newspaper asked Parliament for a subsidy?

Senator CHATAWAY - The honorable senator voted for one the other day.

Senator Rae - I did not, and never heard of such a thing.

Senator CHATAWAY - The fault of the Labour press is that it only reports its own side.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is not the trouble that the Labour press suffers from.

Senator CHATAWAY - I do not see why it should come to the Government of the Commonwealth for a subsidy for any other reason. I will say the same about some sections of what may be called the Conservative press, if my honorable friend likes. Those newspapers which stand for one side all the time, and never give the other side a fair chance of being heard* do not commend themselves to the public generally. A newspaper that wishes to succeed in politics must give a fair show to both sides. I take exception to what the Honorary Minister said when he referred to the alleged unfairness of the newspapers generally.

Senator Rae - It is a matter of notorious knowledge.

Senator CHATAWAY - " Notorious knowledge " is rather a tautological expression, but I do not agree with what the honorable senator intends to convey. Newspapers cater for the people who buy them. If, however, a newspaper adheres too closely to Conservative leanings in its reports, it kills itself. If it adheres too closely to the contrary opinion, it kills itself. I do not think it fair to charge the newspapers with dishonesty because they do not choose to report the proceedings of Parliament at greater length. I may. hold the personal opinion that the words of wisdom which I utter at times have not received the publicity which they deserved. But that is my affair. The press has probably given me as much publicity as it thought I was worth - and that may not be very much. I am not justified on that account in attacking the press because it has not chosen to publish its reports in a particular form. Senator Findley said, amongst other things, that the newspapers occasionally say that such-and-such a member of Parliament " also spoke." But I would remind him that in England a member of Parliament often considers himself flattered if the Times refers to him as one who "also spoke." He by no means thinks that he has been ignored.

Senator Findley - If ten honorable senators speak in a debate, and a newspaper devotes four lines to stating that they " also spoke," would the honorable senator think that it was flattering?

Senator CHATAWAY - If it is mentioned that they, spoke at all that is something. I frequently make speeches, and find no mention of the fact in the press reports. I am speaking of what occurs in England, and if a member of the Imperial Parliament speaks for an hour or three-quarters of an hour, and a big London daily takes so much notice of his speech as to record the fact that he " also spoke" in the debate, he thinks that he has not been treated so badly. If the inquiry suggested by Senator Millen is to be made, I hope that some means will be devised for educating the public generally on public matters, and that we may arouse some interest in what is taking place in this Parliament.. My complaint is not so much against the newspapers as against the people who do not demand more extensive reports of our proceedings. That seems to me to be where the difficulty lies. After what the Minister has said, I understand that the Government propose to assist Senator Millen in carrying his motion. I hope the matter will be gone into thoroughly, and, even if it should not lead to the issue of an official publication, giving concise reports of what occurs in this Parliament, it will, at least,* direct public attention to the matter, and make Hansard, which is at present being run on different lines, a more popular publication than it is today, and thereby create a greater demand for it.

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