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Tuesday, 27 October 1964
Page: 1329

Senator O'BYRNE (Tasmania) . - It is my opinion that Senator Cant has done a service in raising the matter of the pressure that has been exercised on the Australian Broadcasting Commission, particularly in relation to the " Four Corners " programme.

Senator Cormack - Who is exercising pressure?

Senator O'BYRNE - In the particular case to which we are referring, it has been exercised by the Premier of Western Australia, Mr. Brand, and perhaps by the other man to whom Senator Prowse referred. Any political pressure on the A.B.C. should be strongly resented by the Commission. There is no doubt that the incident referred to is one of a series of cases in which the programme has been attacked. I remember very strong criticism of the " Four Corners " programme on the Returned Servicemen's League clubs. Some honorable senators requested an opportunity to see that programme. Some aspects of it perhaps did not show the best side of club life, but they could be seen in any club.

Senator Wright - The Returned Servicemen's League was entitled to criticise it.

Senator O'BYRNE - Yes, but the point is that there was nothing untrue about the programme. It has not done the R.S.L. or the Australian public any harm. As a matter of fact, membership of the R.S.L. has increased because the programme showed the Australian public the good fellowship that exists in R.S.L. clubs. Pressure was exerted on the A.B.C. following this programme. Then we had the example of the programme dealing with the pensioners, to which Senator Cormack referred. I should like to know how any man can truthfully say that there are beautiful, warm spring days in August in Canberra. He must have a very vivid imagination.

Senator Cormack - I was here. It was a warm spring day.

Senator O'BYRNE - The honorable senator probably looks through brighter tinted glasses than do most people. If the commentator was wearing an overcoat in Canberra in August, he was quite entitled to do so. He may be the type of man who needs an overcoat. The honorable senator is casting an aspersion that the commentator was specially dressed for the occasion to interview pensioners.

Currently the " Four Corners " programme on the subject of hanging has been withdrawn. I believe that it is a topical subject. The majority of people in Australia are opposed to hanging. Whether an unfortunate specimen of humanity moulders in a prison cell in Western Australia or dies on the end of a rope does not matter a scrap to anyone. The man is removed from the community. I believe that people who want to destroy life exhibit the lowest form of sadism. If they get any pleasure out of that kind of action, or if they want to perpetuate the system of capital punishment, they ought to be in the Congo where white men who went there to try to do good are being hacked to death. The action of hanging a man is similar to hacking a man to death in the jungle fashion. What right has the community to take any man's life? A man has taken life and we want to punish him. But the community should be punished for taking another life.

The point that arises in this discussion is the great interest of the community in this matter of hanging. When Senator Henty was the Minister in charge of censorship, he said, in effect: "A lot of this nonsense needs to be opened up. I will release a lot of books from censorship. I am not frightened to allow people to know about subjects on which they are entitled to be informed. I will remove a lot of this fustian crust from the old custom which denies people the right to read certain books." The same principle applies in respect of the present issue. Conservative people are wanting to protect the mass of Australians from information that they are entitled to receive. Therefore, it is my view that the Australian Broadcasting Commission should resolve to ignore political pressures. It seems, too, that because the Commission is trying to seek truth so as to inform the public-

Senator Morris - There has been no political pressure, and the honorable senator knows it.

Senator O'BYRNE - There is political pressure. The criticism of the telecast dealing with social services came from one political side. It is interesting, too, that the criticism of such a programme always seems to come from Government senators or people of their political persuasion for the simple reason that they have a vested interest in the perpetuation of ignorance, and lack of information. When you can keep people in the dark, you can get away with your old traditional lurks and rackets. An intelligent community is an informed community. The more information people can get, the more their minds are brightened, and the better citizens they are.

I want to support Senator Cant in raising this matter. I hope we have seen the last of interference in this organisation. If the editors of the " Daily Telegraph ", the " Daily Mirror " or some of the pictorials in Victoria were asked to withdraw some of the sensational material they publish there would be nothing left in the papers. There would be about as much as there is in the Country Party's political policy - a blank page. The Government does not interfere with them because the slant is always in its favour. That is how they have existed over the years, obtaining big advertising contracts and indirect favours, such as knighthoods and the like, from governments. Their sensationalism is always slanted in favour of the Government. Yet, when an objective organisation seeks ways in which it can lift the lid off the old traditional darkness, we find this opposition to it from powerful places.

I think that, in future, the Australian Broadcasting Commission should be regarded as entitled to enter fields which it believes are of public interest, and should have full authority from the Parliament to do so, provided the programmes are within the accepted bounds of ethics and observe limits with regard to sex and that kind of thing. We do not want sex programmes, for instance, on " Four Corners ". But the other activities of human beings should be open for public criticism and exposure. As a matter of fact, I think that the people who do wish to censor the realities of life are closing their eyes to the facts.

Senator Henty - Is not sex a reality of life?

Senator Buttfield - It is a fact of life.

Senator O'BYRNE - Yes. It is a fact of life.

Senator Henty - Yet the honorable senator wants the censor to take it off.

Senator O'BYRNE - I notice that Senator Henty is in the same position with regard to the censorship of books. He drew the line at a certain place beyond which he would not proceed. I think the same applies with the A.B.C. in these delicate situations. But in all other fields I believe that the public is not only able to absorb this educational and informative information but is seeking it. The public is sick and tired of being dished up the old onetrack minded stuff with blinkers so that people can see only what is good for them. It is time it was stopped and I think that Senator Cant has raised a matter that should quite rightly be aired in this Senate.

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