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Wednesday, 18 September 1985
Page: 715

Senator VIGOR(5.59) —I welcome the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts on children's television standards. It recommends that the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal should have the power to regulate effectively in the field of children's television. I brought forward a private member's Bill to do this just two days after the High Court ruled that `standards' did not extend to pre-classifying representative samples of children's programs. In fact, the way the High Court prepared itself so that a decision was handed down immediately, while the broadcasting legislation was before the Parliament, left it open to us way back in May to restore certainty to the children's television industry. However, this opportunity was not taken up by the Senate. This report makes it clear that the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal should continue to pre-classify programs so that we have a pool of material suitable for showing between four and five in the afternoon each week day. The important thing is to have programming designed specifically for children between the ages of six and 13. This is the best possible investment we can make for the future. As Dr Shelley Phillips, of the Children's Program Committee, said in evidence:

Six to nine years of age are crucial years for imagination and make-believe. The latter is very important in a child's intellectual and personal development.

Our children spend more time watching television than they spend in school, yet very little has been done by the stations to provide them with a wholesome variety of material. In the last year the combination of the efforts of the Australian Children's Television Foundation, the section 10BA film taxation concessions, and the new drama quotas have drawn the best of our scriptwriters and film making talent into the area of children's programs. Australian programs are winning prizes and audiences overseas. It is important that they also be shown here. We must encourage this development.

I now want to deal with the red herring of censorship which has been raised by sections of the commercial television industry. They and the newspaper outlets they control have cheered the decision of the High Court of Australia and warned against attempts to restore the Tribunal's authority. Yet at the same time the Commercial Acceptance Division of the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations-FACTS-must clear an advertisement before it is screened. It handles its own censorship in this area. If previewing is censorship, certainly what FACTS does with advertisements is also censorship. Most of the stations also want the Film Censorship Board to classify overseas programs, as it has in the past. This is also a form of censorship. These arrangements restrict both what can be screened and when. The C classification, however, should be viewed as an opportunity for both the film making industry and the television licensees to have a guarantee that their children's programming commitments are well on the way to being met. As was stated in evidence by the Tribunal in relation to the C classification system:

The system does not operate that a particular program gets classified then a licensee has to televise that program. The idea is to classify a pool of programs which are all suitable from which licensees can select those programs which best meet the needs of particular licensees.

Stations such as NWS-9 in Adelaide, which has been taking full advantage of this area and offering several different types of programs in a week, have drawn a substantial viewing audience. However, those stations which have been unadventurous and have continually repeated programs have succeeded only in boring our children and that has resulted in those children turning off the programs. I think the problem is largely one of attitude. The Committee had before it an employee of a commercial station who said:

Once a station has been given a `C', there is very little incentive for that station to look around and seek another formula, so it just keeps churning them out.

The word `formula' says it all. It treats children as passive reagents rather than entertaining, stimulating and enlivening them with thought-provoking programs and exposing them to the beauty and mysteries of the world. For our children's sake, I would like to see the commercial television stations co-operating fully with the Children's Program Committee so that a variety of high quality programs are broadcast. I do not detect any antagonism in the Children's Program Committee's approach. It has been trying to ensure the broadcast of material that is specifically for children, rather than for family viewing. Every project that has had a provisional C classification on the basis of the script has in fact received a full C classification on completion. That will always happen provided it does not depart markedly from the thrust of the script and is not poorly made. With the talent we have in our film and television industry licensees can have confidence that their people will be able to turn a good script into a good production, made specifically for children in the six to 13-years age group, that most impressionable age. A positive attitude will lead to the nurturing of our children and greater public respect for the efforts of the commercial broadcasters. I commend the report to the Senate.