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Thursday, 1 May 1980
Page: 2032

Senator CHANEY (Western AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs) - by leave- I wish to inform the Senate of the Government's general reaction to the recommendations of the report of the Senate Standing Committee on

Education and the Arts entitled 'Children and Television'. This report was tabled in November 1978 and was the result of the Committee's inquiry into the impact of television on the development and learning behaviour of children. Before doing so, however, I would like to extend the apologies of the Government and the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley) to the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Davidson, and to all members of the Committee for the unfortunate delay which has occurred in providing this response. I extend that apology also to cover the fact that, as was raised in the Senate yesterday, some elements of this statement were published by the Government in an answer given to a question asked in another place. That was done by administrative oversight and a letter of apology has been sent to the Chairman of the Committee. The Government certainly did not intend that to happen and meant no offence to the Senate.

Assessment of the Committee's recommendations involved advice from a number of government authorities and instrumentalities and this took some time. At the same time, action in this same area taken by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal meant that the Government's formal response to the Committee's report required amendment to reflect the most uptodate position. Finally this general response had to take account of the Government's position in relation to other Senate committee reports, including the report of the Standing Committee on Social Welfare's report entitled 'Drug Problems in Australia- an intoxicated society?'

The report of the Standing Committee on Education and the Arts on children and television was the outcome of a great deal of painstaking work by the Committee. It took account of submissions and information received from 274 organisations and individuals. Submissions received by the Committee represented a wide cross-section of attitudes and opinions. They covered the views of those involved in national and commercial television, the advertising industry as well as members of the public. The Committee's conclusions on the impact and effect of television on children are of deep concern to government, as they should be to all honourable senators and to the community generally. The Committee's recommendations covered a wide range of matters directly or indirectly associated with children's television. Major recommendations included:

Stricter controls over children's television programming and associated advertising;

Endorsement for the concept of a special children's viewing dme and of a set quota for kindergarten programming;

A ban on early morning television and a ban on advertising in pre-school television programs;

Establishment of a children's television program production unit to ensure quality programming;

Further research into the effects of television on children;

Further development of media education in schools;

Eventual abolition of all advertising of alcoholic beverages on the electronic media.

Some of the Committee's recommendations involve other departments and instrumentalities, for example health matters and media education. Still others are complex and will require further detailed study. The Committee identified a number of areas where it believes television broadcasters have been failing our younger generation. There appears to be overwhelming evidence that some corrective action is required. One example is the decline in special programming for pre-schoolers during the seventies. There has also been some contraction in the range of material programmed for children generally. On the credit side, some stations have recently devoted attention and resources to these areas.

The Committee advocated a series of measures with the objective of improving the situation. These included suggestions for the imposition of bans and tighter controls on the industry in certain specified areas. The Committee also felt that much more research into the effects of television on children should be undertaken. It served notice of the Committee's intention to consider reviewing the whole question of children's television in about the middle of this year.

Honourable senators will know that the administration of programming and advertising standards in all three sectors of broadcasting is the responsibility of independent statutory authorities. The Australian Broadcasting Commission is responsible for programs on the ABC while the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal administers the commercial and public sectors. I emphasise this fact because any new measures intended to improve the standard of children's television would need to have the support of, and to be endorsed by, the bodies who would be responsible for their administration. In effect, any action on Committee recommendations which seek additional regulation of programming or advertising in the commercial and public broadcasting sectors are matters for the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal.

Significantly, the Tribunal 's report on its selfregulation inquiry contained some unequivocal reservations about stations' performance in the area of children's programming. The Government endorsed those reservations in deciding that children's programming standards should be one of the three areas in which the Tribunal would administer minimum standards. The announcement of the Government decisions on the self-regulation report made it quite clear that the Tribunal would be asked to take account of the findings of the Senate Standing Committee in developing Tribunal codes on children's programming. I note in passing that the imposition of bans and more controls is not necessarily the most desirable or effective short-cut to the achievement of better television output. Television is a creative medium. Constraints on creativity tend to inhibit innovation, to produce blandness and repetition in, and hence boredom from, programming. With this in mind, encouragement rather than enforcement would appear to be a desirable approach.

After concluding that specific requirements should be met for children's television programming, the Tribunal formed a Children's Program Committee. That Committee has been very active since its formation. It has devised guidelines for children's television material following consultations with program producers, representatives of the television industry and other interested parties. The guidelines, which took into account recommendations in the Tribunal's self-regulation report, have been endorsed by the Tribunal. Some of the initiatives undertaken by the Tribunal are similar to those proposed by the Senate Standing Committee. The Tribunal now requires stations to air at least 30 minutes of pre-school age programming each weekday. This requirement became effective on 1 July 1979. Discussions are continuing on the question of the presentation of commercial-free pre-school programs.

The Tribunal has also accepted the Children's Program Committee recommendation for the presentation of programs produced specifically for the six to thirteen age group between 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. each weekday. Commercial stations were served notice by the Tribunal that, effective from 1 July 1979, they would be required to televise at least three hours of approved children's programming material. Such material is given a 'C classification after being approved by the Tribunal. It is the Tribunal 's intention to lift the weekly requirement for the televising of 'C classsification material from three to five hours. This requirement will take effect on the basis of assessment by the Broadcasting Tribunal of the availability of sufficient 'C classification material to enable such an increase later this year. Action has also been taken to prevent the televising of unsuitable program material during C classified programs and time slots.

The Senate Standing Committee made clear its concern over the powers and responsibilities of the Tribunal under the existing provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Act. In answer to questions from honourable senators in this chamber, I have already stated the Government's awareness of certain inadequacies and ambiguities in the Act. The regulatory powers and functions of the Tribunal are consequently being reviewed. The Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley) has legislative amendments before the Parliament and will shortly be submitting further amendments with the aim of clarifying some of the relevant provisions of the broadcasting and television act.

I now turn to a focal recommendation of the Senate Standing Committee report- I refer to the proposal for the establishment of a children's television program production unit. This proposal raised complex issues and could involve substantial expenditure. It could touch upon the jurisdiction of a number of departments and statutory authorities. Given the significance of this particular recommendation, the Government is anxious to facilitate the fullest possible discussion and consultation of the proposal and its implications. It has accordingly deferred a decision on this matter to allow concerned departments and authorities to complete the present round of consultation on this and associated issues.

The Senate Committee also looked closely at the question of television commercial content and its impact on children. This study considered complaints that certain advertising has an adverse influence on moral and social behaviour and attitudes of children. As a result, the Committee has sought a Tribunal review of television advertising standards. That recommendation has been referred to the Children's Program Committee for advice, as has a proposal for a ban on advertising in programs directed to children under six. Similarly, the Tribunal has also asked its Children's Program Committee to recommend new guidelines for advertising directed to children.

Another issue of deep concern both to the Committee and to the Government is the question of violence in television programs and its effect on children. Considerable research has already been done on this question. There appear to be grounds to conclude that at least some adverse effects have been identified in this context. The Committee wanted to see more research undertaken in this area, and relevant recommendations are now being studied by a working party established under the auspices of the National Health and Medical Research Council. That working party has been briefed to report further on television violence and its effect on children. Other significant issues probed by the Committee have included the possible harmful effects of the gratuitous use of sex on television; the effects of television and television viewing habits on children's learning behaviour; and the neurophysiological side effects of intensive viewing over long periods. These have been taken up with other departments, notably the Department of Education and the Department of Health, and the Broadcasting Tribunal has decided to support a specific research project on the lastmentioned matter.

I reiterate the Government's conviction that decisions on any action on increased regulation relating to television programming and advertising should be left to the responsible authority. I do not wish to give the impression that the Senate Standing Committee has suggested the need for direct government intervention in this respect. It is pertinent, however, to stress that many of the Committee 's recommendations are in accord with action already taken by the Tribunal.

It is also fair to remark that, in recent times, many television licensees have demonstrated awareness of the raw deal meted out to children in some aspects of programming. This awareness has been reflected in initiatives taken by these licensees to devote more resources to research and production of programming material for children. It is no coincidence that these developments have eventuated in the wake of the Tri.bunal's self-regulation inquiry and the inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee and to some extent parallel the timing of licence renewal hearings by the Tribunal. Notwithstanding, I believe that progress is being made in the improvement of television fare for children and the industry is now sensitive to its responsibilities in this area. Recent developments indicate that station licensees will continue to respond more positively in the light of programming deficiencies identified both by the Tribunal and the

Senate Committee. There is no question of the need for more information on the effects of television on children in the Australian context. Action resulting from the Senate report and Tribunal activities should provide this information. Let me assure the Senate that the Government will not hesitate to endorse additional measures should further information reveal that action presently being implemented is not effective.

I conclude by expressing again the Government's regret for the delay in the presentation of this statement. I add, however, that the work and findings of the Committee have been and will continue to be of immense value to the Australian community and its understanding of this most important area of concern. Senator Davidson and his Committee members are to be congratulated on their efforts in making such an important contribution to the body of information available on this subject. I present the following paper:

Senate Standing Committee on Education and the ArtsMinisterial Statement, 1 May 1980.

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