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Thursday, 15 October 1970

Mr GARLAND (Curtin) - -I wish to refer to 2 aspects of the functions of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in relation to current affairs programmes, principally on television but also on radio where relevant. Firstly, I submit a plea to the ABC and its management to allocate adequate funds to train and increase television teams reporting current political, economic and social events in other countries, principally countries in South East Asia - I mean all of them - and the United States of America, the United Kingdom and, if possible, other countries of importance to us such as the Communist countries. I am pleased to be advised that the ABC has 11 journalists stationed in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Djakarta, Tokyo, Saigon and New Delhi. In the last financial year one cameraman has been added to that complement and in the past year he has submitted more than 150 film reports.

I believe that Australia needs reporting of events and opinions by Australians for Australians. We need a great increase in this. We need an Australian point of view of the events which happen in those countries which are of great national interest to us. The. films that we use from the American networks, the Columbia Broadcasting System and others, are not entirely adequate for our purposes although they are of high quality, ft is essential that Australian national television carry films produced by ABC teams who are permanent residents or on a long term residency basis in each of the countries concerned. I think that in time we ought to be able to have fair reporting, which T will refer to later, to enable Australians to see and hear events and to observe the reasons and ideas behind the events so that we as a people can understand the culture, politics and economics in these important regions whose policies and relations closely affect Australia.

I am aware that this would involve a very considerable expense, but I believe that that expense would be justified. Its value would be enormous in displaying the truth and the facts to us. Such information on which we as a people can make judgments, and the resulting informed debate, would be a great step forward. 1 believe that, as the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) has said this evening, this Parliament has a direct interest in the activities of the ABC and in its impartiality. That needs to be said because of the debate which has been current in this country for some while. There are 3 reasons for this.

The first reason is that the Commonwealth makes substantial revenue contributions to the ABC. Secondly, the public interest is deeply involved in what is represented to us by the ABC as factual and educational material because it is a dramatic part of forming Austraiian public opinion. In the great majority of cases, open and fair reporting leads to a more informed public opinion from which our representative democratic government system can function better, lt is an important element of democracy that a continuing striving for improvement in communication exists.

The third reason is that, unlike other media which do not depend on the Government for a franchise to communicate with the public, there is a limited number of television channels available. One channel in each of the areas where television operates in Australia is an Australian Broadcasting Commission channel. The ABC has the right of the use of a scarce public asset. I believe that the last 2 reasons apply equally to commercial television for there too is a substantial public interest involved and Parliament must, with others, ever concern itself with the public interest. lt must be granted that there are great technical difficulties in reporting politics - the actions of men and the issues and ideas - to the Australian community. There are international issues, social and economic issues of complexity all interwoven. Yet we know that it must be done - and with detachment, objectivity and fairness which alone brings out the truth, and alone gives the reputation of integrity essential to that trust on which people anxiously rely from national television. It is a deep need of our community.

Striving for objectivity is a fundamental part of the production art in a television current affairs programme. It is not easy to keep interest in, for example, a discussion of complex ideas. The medium relies on pictures more than sound. Its dramatic impact is felt most readily by pictures of. action which affect emotions far more than intellect. The temptation to show violent incidents to obtain powerful communication is strong. One violent incident out of a large event can give a quite false impression; and the accompanying words have little or no effect. Colour television will accentuate this. Without balance, for example, wars and riot can be seen exclusively in terms of the casualties and combat rather than the issues which bring them about. We can be reminded in a vivid way of unfavourable aspects of our society where the cameras are free to roam and yet they cannot intrude into, for instance, closed Communist societies and that fact leads to an overall distorted representation of the world.

It is the responsibility of the production to examine also why these events took place, who is responsible, what the alternative is, the scope and relevance of the action filmed and to be fair to all the parties in giving an overall impression. The public is entitled to have balanced impartial reporting - whether it is newscasting, verbal on-camera reporting, descriptive comments on events as they are shown, studio programmes on topical issues, interviewing, or, importantly, writing commentary for film reporting or documentaries.

In this television journalistic inquiry we all have a direct interest. But what high standards this demands of those involved, in reporting and analysing facts and in presenting and examining the opinions of others. As I said, there are great difficulties including the physical transport of cameras and teams to the right spot, being in the right place at the right time, getting the right people to interview, representing all the views - and often there are more than 2 views - for the exchange of ideas because the implications of an international agreement are so difficult to treat adequately and yet may be of far greater importance than a riot which can be portrayed vividly. Sometimes only one side of the question can be shown readily. But it is challenging to make important matters visually interesting to achieve balance as part of the art of television production.

The most vivid pictures can distort the reality they appear to show unless they are combined with inquiry or explanation. Pictures, too, can be taken fairly and the words falsify the position. Words, though secondary, are important and need to be improved. So much effort and research is needed to achieve impartiality; it is much harder than adopting a prejudice. The right to inquire arises only from the duty of impartiality. The way television is used depends on the integrity and the motives of those involved.

So, I plea for a growth of more facilities, research and increasing process of awareness by the ABC of its responsibilities in these fields to reach heights demanded, indeed craved for, but only yet commenced. There is strength in reasoned argument, not mere exhortation, and so all the known facts and practical influences in a situation are exposed impartially for the judgment of a free people with common sense. To have national television dedicated to such an objective gives not only education; it is a step in the civilising process.

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