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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3240

Mr TURNER (Bradfield) - This is the first time that the estimates for the Department of the Media have been brought before the Committee in an Appropriation Bill, because the Department has only recently been set up by the present Government. This debate gives us an opportunity to concentrate on policies in this field. I want to make 2 preliminary observations about the media. The first is their all-pervasiveness. I speak of the Press, radio and television. A second quality that they have is the quality of monopolisation. Because it is so expensive to establish newspapers few exist and still fewer new ones come into existence. So far as radio and television are concerned, the ether waves are limited. Therefore the number of channels that can be established is also limited. These are 2 features of the media to which I wish to draw attention to begin with.

Dealing first with the all-pervasiveness and the power of the media, I would say that technology makes this field as important as, say, the development of nuclear weapons, or jet aircraft, or modern earth-moving equipment, or the electronics industry - for example, in the field of computers. The difference is that instead of effecting the movement of mountains, the killing of millions of people or the speed of movement, it affects the minds and attitudes of men, and this is obviously a vitally important matter.

I want to refer to only 2 aspects of the activities of the media. What are their effects on morals and attitudes in the community? We have seen in the commercial field the merciless exploitation of youth, for young people have money in their pockets and the advertisers on commercial radio stations and so forth have sought to coax it out of the pockets of the young and, in so doing, have had no regard whatever for anything but the profit motive. We have seen the growth of moral depravity, of pornography and all kinds of undesirable developments in this field. We have seen petitions presented to this House recently - I think most honourable members have done this and I certainly have presented a number on behalf of my constitutents - in regard to this aspect of television and radio in particular.

There are 3 ways in which young people are educated. One is in their homes. Unfortunately not all homes can provide the best education for the young. Another way is in the school, and the third way, and perhaps the most important of all, through the media. The idea that children, young people, are like adults who can pick and choose and know what is good and what is bad obviously has no basis in reality. So the sacred cause, the sacred name of freedom of speech, and the horrible word 'censorship', and so forth, have been utterly perverted and misunderstood. If one is dealing with children, censorship is entirely justified and freedom of speech, in the old sense, has to be modified.

May I mention two or three of the most famous thinkers in the field of education over the centuries. In ancient times there was, of course, Plato. Then there was Vittorino da Feltre, the great humanist educator in Italy during the Renaissance; Arnold of Rugby in the last century in England, and Sir Richard Livingston in our own day, the writer of that classical work, 'Education in a World Adrift*. I merely pick at random great figures in the field of education over the centuries, and none of them has had any doubt whatsoever that one should indoctrinate children with the ideas of excellence. I use the words particularly used by Sir Richard Livingstone: They should be surrounded by that which is excellent. Those great men had no doubt that that kind of indoctrination was not merely justifiable but also essential if worthwhile citizens are to be produced.

So I think we have to revise our views about censorship and freedom of speech when we talk about the media, and particularly about radio and television, as they affect our future citizens. That is all I want to say on that issue. It is a matter of fundamentally rethinking the position. I do not suppose anybody will think about it at all, and that we shall go downhill steadily as we have been doing in the past. At least, I put it so that there can be no doubt that there is this issue.

I talk next about the effect of the media on the democratic process. First of all, in general terms, we now have a Minister for the Media. This, of course, conjures up immediately the name of Dr Goebbels. We look with great doubt and suspicion upon a person who is a. Minister of a government and who has power in this field, because anyone who seeks to establish power in perpetuity in the political field looks first of all to the media. It is what Hitler did, it is what Mussolini did, it is what is done in Russia, and it is what is done in China. It happens wherever one looks. Therefore, one must regard this Ministry with suspicion and as something that requires eternal vigilance if one is to prevent the same sort of deterioration here.

But the effect goes beyond this. Parliament is no longer reported in the newspapers. What we have instead are commentaries. As a result, parliamentary debate has deteriorated, for everybody knows that the speeches they make here will not be reported and therefore they ask why they should bother to make speeches that matter. This has had a most detrimental effect on the Parliament, and there has been a deterioration of debate - almost the demoralisation of the Parliament - as a result. I have mentioned the power, the all pervasiveness and the strength of the media. They provide a tremendous platform for those who can use them.

Who are they? The commentators in the newspapers and the people who conduct public affairs programs, say in television and on the radio. They have a tremendous plat form from which they can exercise their own particular predilections politically and do; or if one likes to put it this way, the political predilections of the people who employ them. It may be said that it is the newspaper proprietors, the television proprietors, or whatever: I do not mind which way it is put, but I say that there is enormous power in these unelected persons. Power has moved from elected persons to unelected persons inasmuch as this platform here, the Parliament, no longer matters, and instead this tremendously elevated platform is being used by unelected persons who can use it to express their own biased views.

When it comes to television performances, it is the executives of these organisations who choose the subject, who choose the timing, who choose the participants and who direct the debate. I need not mention the various platforms provided in this way, but I say that it is utterly wrong that this kind of platform should be given to these unelected people to use for their own particular political prejudices. What are their criteria? I believe that members of this Parliament, coming here from their electorates, being sent by peoples who have their own problems and their own ideas, and being conscious, as honourable members must be, of the aspirations of those people, come to this place to represent the aspirations of those with whom they are in touch. What do the media people represent? Their criterion, above all, is entertainment. This involves personalities, rows - these are the things in which people are most interested - and trivia. We had a little talk in the past day or two in this place about sugar. I think one honourable member came up with his grandmother's prescription for all kinds of wogs. I think it required a mixture of sugar - and what else?

Mr Giles - It induced virility.

Mr TURNER - It was a mixture of sugar, rum and onions, and it was supposed to give people virility and so forth. This trivial thing is what hit the newspapers. I am simply making the point that the criteria of these people are not the criteria of this Parliament. I think that great damage is being done to this institution as a result of our not giving careful thought to where we are moving in this field.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drury)Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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