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Tuesday, 27 October 1964
Page: 1327

Senator CORMACK (Victoria) .- I do not feel that I can allow Senator Cant's wide generalisations to pass without some sort of comment or some observations from me. On occasions I have looked at the " Four Corners " programmes, and I may as well confess right at the beginning that they do riot impress me. I have two reasons for saying that. One is that the original "Four Corners" programmes brought to the television screens of Australia had the obnoxious habit - it has been developing substantially in the British Press, and is creeping into the Australian Press - of invading the privacy of individuals, invading the privacy of their homes, and of bullying and hectoring in order to obtain a desired effect or to elicit statements which were alleged to be factual statements.

Secondly, Senator Cant says, by inference, that the existing " Four Corners " programme is a balanced programme. That is a matter of opinion. In my view by no stretch of imagination can it be said to be balanced. Let me illustrate to the Senate exactly what I mean by that. Some 12 months ago the " Four Corners " people decided to feature a programme relating to pensioners. There was an invasion of King's Hall, which was used as a sort of backdrop. King's Hall is the very heart of the Parliament. I happened to be here that day and I watched with some interest - with a rather technical eye, as it were - to see how the programme was to be put together. I remember that it was a bright sunny day - one of those bright spring days that you get in Canberra. The young gentleman who was one of the comperes of the programme, having told a piteous story - not, I think, substantially true - about the pensioners, provided himself with drapes to illustrate to the cowering viewers the unfortunate situation of pensioners. He did this by donning a heavy overcoat, which he held up under his ears, and then put his hands in the cuffs. Then he shook and shivered, supposedly from the icy blasts which sweep down from the Canberra mountains, in order to evoke the sympathy of viewers. If anyone can describe that as straight reporting, I have something to learn about the straight reporting of television programmes.

I wish to comment on Senator Cant's remark that political pressure is constantly being exerted. He said that Ministers are exerting pressure on the Australian Broadcasting Commission or that pressure is being exerted on the "Four Corners" programmers. The truth is that the Australian

Broadcasting Commission is charged with a responsibility to carry out the obligations plainly set out in the Act. If the Commissioners believe that pressure is being exerted upon them which they cannot resist, then, if they are men of character and quality, it is their duty to resign and to state that their reason for resigning is that they are not allowed to carry on but are being subjected to political pressure. I have never heard Dr. Darling, the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, say that he has been subjected to political pressure.

There is another aspect, and it is one that Senator Cant will not recognise. The " Four Corners " programme is similar to a newspaper in that it is produced by reporters. Senator Cant mentioned them. He must acknowledge that journalists on a newspaper are subject to the scrutiny and discipline of the editor. The editor in this case happens to be the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. If he instructs that a programme be withdrawn, he is acting in the proper role of an editor in relation to what he considers to be the public need. On that basis alone I think there can be no complaint about the " Four Corners " programme. I heard Senator Maher interject that it was a grisly performance. In truth television is easily the most intimate medium of communication. The Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission is the only man who can order the withdrawal of a programme, or its deferment. Therefore in the view of the Chairman or the Acting General Manager of the Commission it must have been an inappropriate programme to display at the time it was intended to display it. I am on the side of the Chairman or the Acting General Manager of the Commission.

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