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Thursday, 17 November 1960

Mr DALY (Grayndler) .- Mr. Deputy Speaker,I have a few questions in connexion with the issuing of licences for television stations in country districts which I should like to direct to the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson). I am sorry to see that the Minister is not in the chamber at the moment. I ask him: Is it a fact that he has rejected the Australian Broadcasting Control Board's recommendation that the English company, Associated Television Limited, shall not be permitted to control any interest in the licences for stations in the Richmond-Tweed and Ballarat districts which have recently been granted by the Cabinet, and that this company's interest in the licences granted for Canberra, Wollongong and the Central Tablelands of New South Wales shall be limited to 5 per cent.? I should like to know, also, whether Associated Television Limited controls either directly or indirectly the following proportions of the shareholdings in companies to which the Government has granted monopolistic country television licences: - Canberra, 15 per cent.; Wollongong, 14.06 per cent.; Richmond-Tweed, 8.33 per cent.; Central Tablelands, 7.5 per cent.; and Ballarat, 6 per cent. Does this overseas company, Associated Television Limited, have larger shareholdings in three metropolitan television stations - ATN, QTQ and NWS - thus giving it a dominating interest in eight Australian television stations? I ask further: How does the Government justify the free and unfettered gift of such a network of Australian television stations to a London company when it has refused to grant any country licences to groups in respect of which metropolitan stations have maximum shareholdings of 15 per cent.? I should like to know, also, whether it is a fact that the largest single interest of any Australian company is that of the Melbourne " Herald " company in the shareholding of three stations. If this is so, how can the Government claim to be interested in the development of Australian television production, when it grants an interest in eight stations to an overseas company - a huge television and film production organization which has not the faintest interest in or knowledge of local conditions but merely wishes to obtain outlets for the sale of its non-Australian products, even at the expense of the local industry?

I feel that these questions require answers, particularly in view of the findings of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board as a result of its recent inquiries, and in view of its report and recommendations to the Minister on the applications for commercial television licences in provincial and country areas. Paragraph 190, at page 151 of the board's report, states -

It is necessary to refer to the position of A.T.V. (Australia) Pty. Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Associated Television (England) Limited, which has considerable direct or indirect interests in commercial television stations ATN, QTQ and NWS and in a number of broadcasting stations. This company has, or proposes to have, shareholdings, in its own name or through broadcasting companies, in a number of applicant companies. The Board considers that, in the event of any of these applicants being granted a licence, the shareholding of any broadcasting company in which A.T.V. has a shareholding should be limited to 5 per cent, and that in the other cases no shareholding by A.T.V. (Australia) Pty. Ltd. should be permitted.

That deals with the limitation to 5 per cent, of the shareholding. Paragraph 196, at page 154 of the report, reads in part -

The conditions referred to in the preceding paragraph are -

As to Canberra Television Ltd. - that the shareholding of Canberra Broadcasters Proprietary Limited, in which Associated Television Limited, London, through subsidiary companies, holds approximately 45 per cent, of the shares . . . should be not more than 5 per cent, of the issued capital of the licensee company. . . .

As to Richmond Tweed T.V. Ltd.- that the shareholding (8ird per cent.) of A.T.V. (Australia) Pty. Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Associated Television Limited, London (see paragraph 190),-

That is the paragraph that I read a moment ago - should not be permitted, and that the proposed general public issue of 25 per cent, of the issued capital be increased to 50 per cent, and offered to the public in the Richmond-Tweed Heads area . . .

As to Ballarat and Western Victoria Television Ltd. - that the shareholding (6 per cent.) of A.T.V. (Australia) Proprietary Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Associated Television Limited, London (see paragraph 190), and of Ballarat Theatres Proprietary Limited, a company controlled by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation of U.S.A. (6 per cent.) be not permitted; . . .

In paragraph 190 of the report, the Australian Broadcasting Control Board states that the interest of Associated Television Limited should be limited in certain cases to 5 per cent., and in paragraph 196, the board states that this company, in some cases, should not have any interest whatever in licences.

My information is that the Government, in granting licences, has rejected the report of the board. In view of the implications of the stipulations made by the board, we should know whether or not the companies concerned have been granted licences without effect being given to the recommendations of the board. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) recently stated, when dealing in this Parliament with the issuing of these licences, and the Postmaster-General has stated continually, that these licences are granted by an independent authority which has been set up to inquire into applications for licences and that the Government should accept that authority's recommendations on these matters. But we know from experience that this Government has from time to time reversed decisions made by this and other authorities. It has not always given effect to the board's recommendations, independent though the board may be. We have had similar experience with respect to the Tariff Board. That is an independent board which has been set up to inquire into certain matters, and sometimes the Government completely rejects its recommendations in favour of a certain course, without regard for the fact that the board has conducted independent and specialized inquiries.

The granting of television licences for stations in provincial cities and country districts is a matter of grave concern. Those who have studied closely this report by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board feel, quite apart from the facts that I have just mentioned, that the circumstances indicate that there is in process the forging of a further link in the great monopolistic system of the control of television - this important medium of propaganda - throughout the country. Therefore, there is grave concern at the reported rejection of the recommendations in the board's report which I have mentioned. It is true that when announcing in this House the granting of licences for country television stations, the Postmaster-General stated -

The licences to be granted will be subject to a number of conditions which I will notify shortly to the successful applicants. In particular, modifications of the shareholdings in some of the companies will be required to provide that at least 50 per cent, of the shares will be made available to the public.

That in itself, though, does not go as far as it should and indicate that in some instances the interests of certain companies shall be limited to 5 per cent., and that in others certain companies shall have no interest whatever in the licences that have been granted.

The circumstances that I have outlined indicate that an assurance on these matters is needed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I regret that the question about these matters that I attempted to ask this morning was ruled by Mr. Speaker, in his wisdom, to be out of order. I attempted to ask it only in order to obtain valuable information for the Parliament. I should like to hear the PostmasterGeneral affirm or deny the statements that I have made on these matters. which are of great importance to all concerned. If the things which I have mentioned have been done, and if the position is as I understand it to be and the recommendations of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board have been rejected by the Cabinet or the Minister, it hardly seems worth while to have a board appointed for the purpose inquire into these matters at tremendous expense to the public and hear the evidence and submissions of numerous people, and then submit a report only to have sections of it which do not suit the Government rejected. I suppose that the Government is not obliged to accept these recommendations in their entirety, but there has been too much favoritism in the granting of television licences and too much rejection of those interests of independent thought outside the influence of monopoly control which might be able to give better service to those in the country and the provincial cities and towns. As a result, there is grave concern in the minds of the people, and especially those who understand the importance of television and its effect on our lives.

This is a powerful medium of propaganda which can be used to influence people in all walks of life, particularly in matters relating to national affairs, and we need to keep a medium of this kind outside the control of these monopolies which would use it exclusively for their own benefit regardless of the effect on the public. We have already seen how the newspapers in this country have come to dominate and control the dissemination of information. We know how they work in the main against the interests of the vast majority of the people, and particularly against the interests of those in the community who are represented by members on this side of the Parliament. Unfortunately, in every great metropolis in Australia, we have seen the great extension of the influence of these monopoly interests in the field of television. Who knows whether we may now be facing the same sort of situation with respect to television in provincial cities and towns and country districts, if these recommendations by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board are ignored in the way I have mentioned! This is something that we in the Parliament should know about. I therefore hope that the Postmaster-General will state quite clearly where the Government stands on these issues in order that we may know the exact position.

When all is said and done, the Minister was very touchy when he announced the issuing of country television licences and presented the Australian Broadcasting Control Board's report to the House. He was not at all co-operative in his response to the Opposition's attitude. There is a feeling among members on this side of the Parliament and, I know, among the public generally, that the Government desires to cover up its action with respect to the issuing of television licences. We believe that these matters should be brought into the light of day, and particularly that we should know whether all the stipulations made by the board in its recommendations with respect to the granting of these licences are being observed and whether favoritism is being extended to certain interests, and particularly to the overseas company that I have mentioned, which has very little interest in or knowledge of the conditions in this country applicable to television. For too long, in all fields of activity, we have had absentee landlords. These absentee landlords should be kept out of the field of television. I should like an explanation from the Postmaster-General in respect of these matters.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable gentleman's time has expired.

Debate interrupted under Standing Order No. 291.

Question resolved in the negative.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

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