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Wednesday, 21 August 1985
Page: 121

Senator COLSTON(6.18) —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

On behalf of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts, I table the third report arising from the Committee's examination of annual reports. Two reports on annual reports have already been presented this year. The first dealt with the timeliness of reporting, the second with the content of annual reports. This report deals with children's television standards which are determined and enforced by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal under the relevant provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942.

In May 1985, following legal action taken by Herald-Sun TV Pty Ltd and others against the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, the High Court of Australia invalidated those parts of the children's television standards which required pre-classification of children's programs. The Government has announced its intention to amend the Broadcasting and Television Act to restore the Tribunal's powers of pre-assessment. These amendments are due to come before the Parliament early in the Budget sittings. The Committee decided that its views on the need for regulation of children's television should be made available to the Senate before the proposed amendments are debated.

For this reason, the report I table today has concentrated solely on children's television standards. Other aspects of children's television will be the subject of a further report which I hope to table later during these sittings. The report has been produced in-house so that the Committee's tight timetable could be met. Bound copies of the report should be available soon. I should take this opportunity to record my appreciation of the efforts of the Senate reproduction section which produced this report so quickly.

The Standing Committee on Education and the Arts has had a long-standing interest in children's television. This is its third report on the subject. In 1978 the Committee tabled its first report `The Impact of Television on the Development and Learning Behaviour of Children'. In 1981 a second report entitled `Children and Television Revisited' was tabled.

The children's television standards which are the subject of this third report took effect on 1 July 1984. The standards continued some existing requirements in relation to children's or C programs, including the setting aside of the 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. time slot Monday to Friday for these programs. The standards also introduced some important new requirements, including a quota of eight hours first release Australian children's drama, a 50 per cent Australian content requirement and limitations on repeats and back-to-back scheduling of programs. The most controversial requirement, which was in the standards prior to 1 July 1984, was that representative samples of children's programs had to be pre-classified by the Tribunal. It was this reqruirement which was challenged in the courts by commercial television licensees.

During the Committee's public hearings, the commercial television licensees argued that a requirement for pre-classification of programs by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal amounted to censorship. The licensees argued that they have the resources and incentive to undertake their own classification of C programs. They pointed out that they already classify all other programs. The licensees also stated that they did not take issue with the concept of C programs or with the C time slot. Their only objection was to pre-classification. Witnesses from the Australian Children's Television Foundation and the Australian Council for Children's Films and Television, on the other hand, argued for pre-assessment, stating that this procedure was vital for the future of children's television.

The Australian Broadcasting Tribunal denied that pre-classification amounted to censorship. According to the Tribunal, the aim of pre-assessment was to classify a pool of suitable programs from which licensees could select those which best met their needs. Licensees were not required to screen particular C programs. I do not intend in this statement to canvass all the arguments put to the Committee. These may be found in the report. I shall merely say that on the basis of the available evidence, the Committee recommends that the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942 should be amended so that the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal has the clear power to regulate in the field of children's television, including the power to pre-assess C programs. This power of pre-assessment, however, should be restricted solely to C programs. I commend the report to the Senate and seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.