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Friday, 16 October 1970

Mr CREAN (Melbourne Ports) - I wish to raise two aspects of television in Australia. I refer to family and children's programmes on the one hand, and to the Australian content in television programmes on the other hand. Paragraph 478 of the most recent report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board states:

By far the greatest proportion of programmes in family viewing time consisted of general entertainment from overseas. Although many of these programmes attract the young audience it is clear that in family viewing time there are unused opportunities for developing a wider range of Australian programmes of both an entertaining and informative character to interest children and adolescents. The Australian -culture, in its broadest sense, should rank much higher than it does in subject matter presented by television to developing young Australians.

That observation by the Board raises this question: Whose responsibility is it to see that these sorts of things are done? It is my view that while the control of television is so much in the hands of commercial interests it is unlikely that there will be any improvement in children's programmes, at least at the commercial level, and it is unlikely that there will be any improvement in' the Australian content. By Australian content' I do not mean filling up time by replays of football and what are called sporting events. Some real attempt should be made to help creative drama. I do not know whether this will be done basically by the television stations, but I think there is some obligation on them to assist more in the promotion of opportunity for Australians to participate in programmes. I do not know whether this should be done jointly by the commercial television stations and by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. This is the sort of dilemma which we presently face in Australia.

I should like to quote from a rather curious document which is issued by the Commercial television people themselves and entitled 'Facts of Australian Content in Television Programme Schedules'. The 2 interpretations which have been placed, upon the same set of figures by 2 sources - the commercial television stations and by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board - defy analysis. According to the figures in the latest available report, last year Australian commercial television stations collected nearly $83m from advertisers and spent $67m, which represents a clear profit of over $15m. It is well said that when you give a television licence, in essence you are giving a licence to print money. When we look at an analysis of the programmes we see what has been done with this State-given right - the licence - when it has got into the hands of the commercial television stations. Paragraph 28 of this document rather glibly states:

The submission of the Victorian Division of Actors' Equity, as released to the Press, contended that the drama requirements should be increased for the purpose of -

The opinion of the Victorian Division of Actors' Equity is quoted - encouraging Australian production and protecting the interests of Australian artists which we believe are the primary obligations and responsibilities of the Board and the TV operators.' The whole of its current campaign-

That is, the campaign of Actors' Equity - is based on this misconception.

The television stations erect their own view against this misconception. They say:

The primary responsibility of the television licensees is to the public and it is in their interest-

That is, the public interest - that programming is selected by stations.

I submit that when one reads the analysis of programmes as contained in detail in the report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, one finds that it is an awful reflection upon the choice of the stations and upon the opinion which they have of public choice.

Virtually the situation is that on many nights the public has to choose between a variety of rubbish. People do not watch programmes on television because they like them; they watch the programmes because they are the best that arc available out a lot of rubbish. The document entitled Facts of Australian Content in Television Programme Schedules', in paragraph 7, proudly points to this fact:

Statistics prepared by Anderson Analysis covering 1969- viewing in the' capital cities estimated that:

(a)   1.808,000 sets in 97 per cent of all homes with TV sets were turned on to commercial television for an average per set of 30 hours and 6 minutes each week.

(b)   6,139,000 people, being 93 per cent of all people living in TV homes, watched commercial television programmes for an average per person of 18 hours and 12 minutes each week.

I read an article recently in which a television set was described as a horror box. I do not go all the way with that view but, nevertheless, if ever there was a medium at the disposal of the community which is being misused it is the medium of television. I submit that to suggest, as the commercial television stations do, that the primary responsibility of television licensees is to the public and that it is in the public's interest, that programming is selected by the stations leaves a lot to be desired.

On the question of Australian content in television programmes, I do not go all the way with the view of the actors. I do not say that they should necessarily call the tune, either. But I think that the way in which commercial television stations have interpreted what they regard as . their duty is wrong. I draw attention in particular to paragraph 460 of this report. In commenting on the actors' submission the Board said:

It is clear that there is no simple solution. Strongly held views about the availability of physical and financial resources and the capacity of the artists concerned vary so widely that it is not easy to determine the best policy to be adopted immediately. Many of the proposals put to the Board about, for example, the production of film arid drama in Australia go beyond the Board's jurisdiction.

I submit that if the Board believes it is beyond its jurisdiction something has to be done to make that jurisdiction somebody's responsibility, lt may be necessary, just as the Government has . created funds . for assistance to the film industry, for funds-'to be made available for television. I am 'not sure that some contribution should not be made by the commercial interests, in view of the large rake-off they are taking. There should also be created something- in the nature of a drama school where full facilities would be made available. The analysis shows that serious drama is almost nonexistent on Australian television at either the national or the commercial level. Read the statistics for yourself and you will see that what is called drama consists of westerns, crime and light comedy.

To develop the sort of culture referred to in the section of the report dealing with children's programmes it is necessary to experiment for quite a while, even if the acting is bad and bad programmes are made for a while It will not improve until we go through this, process of trial and error. I commend for the consideration of the Government that, just as funds have been established for assistance to the film industry, assistance in the field of drama should be looked at separately in an experimental way.

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