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Friday, 16 October 1970

Mr COHEN (Robertson) - Before I go on to what I was speaking about last evening I want to compliment the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) and his Department for the very co-operative attitude they have taken in dealing with anything f have had to raise with them. Every time I have written a letter to the Minister or asked for action I have received extremely prompt replies and extremely satisfactory solutions have been found to almost all the problems I have asked him about. I would also agree with the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull)' when he complimented the local officers of the Postmaster-General's Department on the tremendous assistance they give. 1 only wish that 1 could say the same about a lot of other departments. Last evening I was referring to a number of matters concerning . television and honourable members may recall that 1 quoted from a speech from Mr Newton N. Minow, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission of the United States of America. I talked about the profitability of television stations and referred to the ratings which showed that Australian produced television was highly rated and that it had 6 out of the top 10 shows according to the Australian ratings. 1 hope that the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) will find time soon to announce what the new quota content will be. A couple of thousand artists are most anxiously awaiting the results of the inquiry as to whether or not there are to beincreased quotas.

It is interesting to note that the Australian television commercials industry, given complete protection by the banning of imported commercials, has thrived and is highly profitable and ranked in the top 3 in the world. A few of our television commercials have won world awards. Unless drastic action is taken in the near future to protect Australian television shows, particularly drama, it is unlikely that anything remotely resembling an award will be won by Australian writers, Australian artists and Australian producers. If they do win them they will have won them for their work on English television, for that is where most, of them are working now. The complaint that I make on behalf of these people is not that the television stations do not fulfil their quotas hut that the quotas are too low, particular for drama. If the television stations had their own way there would be no quotas and consequently no Australian television industry. Only quotas have prevented the industry's complete annihilation.

In recent weeks we have seen the dangerous situation that has arisen through the granting of licences to newspaper proprietors who now have almost complete control over the dissemination of nearly all news, information and editorial comment. In the current debate that has raged over Australian content, the Press, particularly the Packer Press, has been able to distort or misrepresent the arguments of one side while publishing misleading and exaggerated claims in support of their own side. One needs only to read the pontificating pomposity of a Mr Nigel Dick, General Manager of GTV 9, on 21st August when he attempted to hand down from the mount his view or should I say Sir Frank Packer's view, of what television is all about. If there is anything more sick making than a business executive trying to explain that his company's actions are motivated entirely by the public interest and not good old fashioned profits, I should like to know what it is.

It is highly unlikely that any of my speech will be reported in the newspapers where there is this conflict of interest. I might add that it is the opinion of those who have visited the United States - and I cannot count myself among them - and have made a close study of television, that this is the reason for the vast difference between the amount of news, news editorial and current affairs that is broadcast on Australian television and the amount that is broadcast on American television. The major networks in the United States have li hours of news and editorial comment from 6 p.m. to 7.30 p.m., another i hour at 9 p.m. and again at 11 p.m. As well as this there are numerous quality panel and discussion shows that delve deeply into every aspect of American social and political life. This is in stark contrast to Australian television where what few current affairs and discussion programmes there were have almost ceased to exist. The Australian Broadcasting Commission provides This Day Tonight' and 'Four Corners* as the only continuous current affairs programme. The reasons for this are obvious. Too many of these programmes would lead to a drop in newspaper sales, and a well-informed public would not be in the interests of the political party that most newspapers support. One needs only to have studied the deliberate attempt by certain government backbenchers to eliminate the last vestige of political and current affairs discussion on the ABC to understand why the commercial stations have sought to stifle public debate and awareness.

I mentioned earlier that the television stations, through their organisation, the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations, had waged an elaborate, expensive and factually inaccurate campaign which culminated in the production of a glossy magazine that purported to answer the critics' charges that they were not fulfilling their moral obligations to Australia's cultural heritage. The publication, called 'FACTS', was historic in that it probably contained more prejudiced, subjective and deliberately misleading and meaningless statements than any document it has been my misfortune to read. The brevity of this debate does not allow me time to mention more than a few, but let me quote a couple of examples. It stated:

The existing quota has achieved an excellent programme balance between imported and local programmes, making for a good blend of programme variety sufficient to appeal to the Australian public.

What arrant nonsense! Have honourable members ever heard a more selfcongratulatory view of one's own work? It must be very convenient when a person can write his own critiques. This brings to mind a recent statement by Sir Frank Packer, when commenting on the disqualification of 'Gretel' in the Americas Cup, about appealing to your mother-in-law about your wife. This is like a mother giving a reference for her daughter to a prospective husband.

I was going to quote another extract from this publication but the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) has mentioned the number of people who watch television. I think that what is needed are the following requirements: We need increased quotas for Australian content - we should aim, like the Canadians, for 60 per cent; we need special emphasis to be placed on drama and the present 2-hour quota should be increased to 4 hours a week; Australian drama should be defined as that written, acted and produced by Australians; repeats should not be allowed to qualify as part of the quota and the clause that allows British Commonwealth productions to qualify" for 50 per cent of their time value as Australian content should be removed. We should introduce tariff protection with a 50 per cent loading on imported shows With the revenue directed towards subsidising Australian film production. 1 hope that the, Government and the Opposition can get together to review the matter of the 10-minute time limit during the Estimates debate. I think that all of us have agreed that we should cut the time limit on major speeches on Bills and state- ments but during the Estimates debate it is absolutely impossible to say anything at all profound or anything that has involved research in 10 minutes.

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