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Wednesday, 17 February 1971


Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - [ rise to express my concern and the concern of a great number of people on the north coast of New South Wales at the manner in which an announcement has been made regarding the proposed merger of 2 large television stations on the north coast of New South Wales, and of the further projected concentration of this very powerful medium inthe hands of a privileged few. I urge the Postmaster-General (Sir Alan Hulme) and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to give very serious consideration to the implications of the application that has been made to them concerning the merger of television station RTN8 Lismore and NRN11 Coffs Harbour before they give their imprimatur to it.

Out of the blue on 15th January a news item appeared in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' and also in the Lismore "Northern Star' to the effect that in the first television industry merger in New South Wales RichmondTweed Television Ltd and Northern Rivers Television Ltd would join forces. The 2 companies announced ' that they planned to form a holding company which would make offers for the whole' of the issued capital of each of the 2 licenced companies. The report went on to say that the 2 companies were awaiting, the. 'approval of the Postmaster-General and of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and that they would give details o'f the proposal in due course. Why could not they have made their complete proposals available in the first instance for the benefit and edification of the public? I would have thought that in the interests of the towns and the areas that they serve under licences issued by- the Commonwealth it would have been in the public interest for full and frank .details of the proposal to be disclosed.

The statement went on to say that the proposed merger may have implications for the future operations of the operator on the east coast, namely, Channel ECN8 in Taree which went into receivership last August, and that if the new RichmondTweedNorthern Rivers group should be successful ,in gaining ECN8 as a translator station it naturally would enhance the operations of those, stations which would operate under the holding company. To say the least, a kite was being flown to learn public reaction to this proposal. I can assure the Senate, the Minister and ' the Control Board that a great number of people are concerned that the whole of the television coverage of the north coast of New South Wales from Taree to the Queensland border will be virtually in the hands of 1 operator if approval is given for this merger. As has been put, this proposal could well be a breach of the Broadcasting and Television Act which, in relation to the limitation of interest in commercial television stations, provides that a person contravenes the Act if and so long as he has a prescribed interest in each of three or more licences. Other matters are elaborated. We see very powerful associations forming into 1 organisation thus tightening the hands of monopoly on this very important medium. The Minister and the Control Board should look very closely at this state of affairs.

Naturally operating costs will be reduced. In the 21 st January edition of a magazine called 'Broadcasting and Television' it Was stated that rationalisation of operating costs and increased revenue potential would ensure a greater return to shareholders. The article also stated that the proposal was subject to the approval of the Postmaster-General and the Control Board but, according to a statement on page 1 of the magazine, it appears that the proposal is to be regarded by prospective advertisers as a fait accompli. An article appearing in the edition of 31st January of the same magazine refers to 'joint ad. rates for television stations'. Under the banner line of 'Coffs Harbour' the article states:

Following the merger of RTN and NRN (relaying to ECN) the 3 markets will be sold on a single rate curd from Marsh 1st, with schedules and invoices handled by NRN.

The article then sets out details of the representatives for the group. 1 suggest that it is an insult to the people living in the north coast region, and could well be a breach of section 92 of the Broadcasting and Television Act. The Press statement to Which I have referred- mentions a greater return to shareholders, and states that the rationalisation of operating costs and increased revenue potential will ensure a greater return to shareholders than is possible under the existing structures. But the return last financial year did not appear- to be too bad at all. The Press statement of 15th January said that Richmond Tweed. TV Ltd returned an earning rate on . issued capital of 20.5 per cent after a 2.8 per cent increase in net profit from $70,139 to $72,098 in the year ended 30th J une. last.


Senator Cavanagh - And it will be a lot better under the new arrangement?


Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It will be a lot better not only for that company, but also for the others, as the statement makes dear. It went on:

Northern Rivers after accumulating debts for 6 years of $165,380 up to June 30th, 1967-68, went into the blue in the last 2 years returning a net profit of $58,828 (or 13.4 per cent on issued capital) in the 1.969-70 year.

I repeat that the percentage profits do not appear to be too bad, but it is said that the proposed merger will ensure a greater return to shareholders than is possible under the existing structures. The chairman of Richmond Tweed TV Ltd, the Hon J. C. Mcintosh, has said that full details of the proposal will be made available in due course. In a statement which appeared in the Lismore 'Northern Star' on 15th January he is reported to have said:

At. this stage, however, it can be assumed that RTN8 and NRN11 will be linked on relay, the major portion of the programme being originated at NRN11

Before approval is given by the PostmasterGeneral or the Australian Broadcasting Control Board the chairman of the company is able to announce that at this stage it can be assumed that RTN-8 and NRN-11 will be linked on relay, the major portion of the programme being originated at NRN-11.


Senator Cavanagh - ls the statutory law only a joke today?


Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The legislation to which I am referring appears to be a complete and utter joke. The big business operators are dictating to this Government the terms and conditions under which they will operate commercial television licences. Only about a week ago the Lismore City Council held a meeting to discuss the matter, lt was said at that meeting that the loss of RTN-8 was one of the biggest setbacks that Lismore had experienced. For the great northern city of Lismore in the State I have the honour to represent in this Parliament it was the greatest setback of the last 10 years. Mr Mcintosh, the Chairman of RTN-8, has said that full production and television facilities will be maintained at RTN-8 Lismore


Senator Branson - Come on! Wrap it up!


Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honourable senator says: 'Wrap it up!'


Senator Branson - Well, your own members are not present.


Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - lt is an important matter and I intend to place it on the record in the interests of--


Senator Branson - We will call a quorum.


Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - You go ahead and call a quorum. But I intend to talk on this matter which is vital to the people of this area. (Quorum formed) Mr Acting Deputy President, 1 was referring to a statement that the Chairman of RTN-8, Mr Mcintosh, had made. He said that full production and technical facilities will be maintained at RTN-8 Lismore. But one of the unions concerned - namely, the Professional Radio Employees Institute - has written to me indicating that it has received information that RTN-8 will cease ali operations from its studios at Goonellabah on 1st March 1971 and, after that date, will take programmes on relay from NRN-11. Prior to the merger, a total Of 24 people were employed in the production, technical, traffic, administrative and sales sections of RTN-8. At least 1 1 of these employees, whose ages range from 16 to 21 years, have received dismissal notices, it is known that some of the remaining senior staff have been offered positions at NRN- 11, but the general feeling of uncertainty is caused by the knowledge that all members of the staff cannot be absorbed. As I have mentioned already, the union points out to me that ECN-8 Taree has closed down its operations and its studio and now is taking its programmes on relay from NRN-11.

The Labor movement believes iti as wide a diversity of ownership in this vital industry as is possible. This deal to me is quite frightening and causes me concern. As I have indicated - and 1 emphasise again if this deal is agreed to, one television station will cover the complete north coast of New South Wales from Taree to the Queensland border.


Senator Cavanagh - Can the Federal Government stop it?


Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Of course, because there are-


Senator Cavanagh - It is a breach of the Act.


Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - 1 feel that it is a breach of the Act. 1 might refer to a section of the Act about which there is some doubt. But if ECN-8 Taree is regarded as a third television station - it being operated by translator - certainly in my opinion this deal would be a breach of section 92 of the Broadcasting and Television Act. Station RTN-8 serves about 40,000 homes in the Lismore district and station .'NRN- 1 1 at Coffs Harbour serves about 35,000 homes. I suppose the Taree station would serve about 30,000 homes. One can see from that what a vast control over the minds of many people stations controlled by one operator would have.

If we look at the appendixes to the last annual report of the Broadcasting Control Board we can see the interlocking association of the various shareholdings interested in the stations. We can see from those documents the vast interlocking association between many sections of the muss media of Australia which are grappling for more power and for greater profits, lt is true that the one station for this area would become probably the third largest provincial station in the Commonwealth and it might well be true that this would attract greater revenue from national advertisers. But that would serve only the interests of the shareholders of the company. Having regard to the unemployment that would be created and the inadequacy of news coverage in the main towns in that area, the best interests of the public would not be served. If this type of thing is allowed to develop the Broadcasting Control Board will, I suggest, become a mere paper tiger, powerless to do anything in the interests of television viewers. Rather than have a consolidation of stations, there should be a breaking up of their control. Licensees of commercial television stations must be made aware that licences that are given to them are for the primary purpose of catering for the commercial needs of the peoplein the areas involved and that the profit motive is secondary.


Senator Cavanagh - Would it not be for the human needs of. the people rather than their commercial needs?


Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is exactly what I said.


Senator Cavanagh - No, you said it was for their commercial heeds.


Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I should have said for their human needs - for the purpose of informing! enlightening and entertaining. I ask the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin), who represents the Postmaster-General -in this chamber, to bring to his attention and to the notice of. the; Broadcasting Control Board the remarks ' that 1 have made in reference lo what I and a great number of people on the -north .coast of New SouthWales regard as a very important matter, and to ask him . to ensure .that very close and serious consideration is given by him and the Board to the proposed merger, before it is agreed to.







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