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Tuesday, 3 December 1974
Page: 3037

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - Let me put it on the line, first and foremost, as straight as I can, that so far as the Labor movement is concerned its policy is that there shall be a dual system of radio and televisionnational and commercial. I think it is fair to say that the Whitlam Government has done more for the television industry, nationally and commercially, than any other government. I believe that that fact would have to be acknowledged by the overwhelming number of executives and licensees in the commercial sector of the industry. For instance, I shall name 3 or 4 matters that come readily to mind. Rather than have an overall percentage of Australian programming arrangements as existed under the previous Government, when we came to office we introduced a points system which gave commercial programmers complete flexibility in the program arrangements that they made, but providing for the employment of Australians.

We have not imposed any additional taxation provision on the television licensees. There has not been any increase in television station licence fees since 1 966 because we knew the huge costs that the stations were involved in in making conversions to colour television. We eliminated the wireless licences and television viewers licences for the public in order to assist to get colour television into the homes of as many working class people as possible. That will cost the Australian Government about $70m a year, thus spreading the coverage of colour and thus enabling the stations better to amortise their costs and get a greater return from their advertising.

We, as the Government, have substantially transferred a tremendous amount of Government advertising to television. Without having the exact percentage readily available 1 cannot give those figures but in terms of dollars and cents it has been a tremendous amount of transference from what was previously Press and classified advertising into the area of television and broadcasting. We knew that the stations were involved in heavy conversion costs and also had a responsibility, under the Government's other policies, to meet costs of Australian productions. We have appointed to organisations, such as the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, and have recruited as officers of my Department, people who have been professionally involved in the industry; people who know the immediate problems; people who are prepared to talk to all sections of the industry.

I am absolutely amazed, if I may say so- by way of parenthesis- to see the Opposition opposing a provision brought down by this Government that not only shall the Australian Broadcasting Control Board confer with representatives of stations when they are considering program requirements but also that they should be enabled to confer with representatives of the trade union movement and others who are vitally interested in that area. However, as I said, we have appointed to the Control Board and to my Department people of this nature- people who are prepared to talk to all sections of the industry and people who understand the problems and have concern about the problems.

Let me say quite frankly that having lived, eaten and slept with this industry during the last 2 years I have developed- I am taking up a point made by Senator Hall- a very high regard for the overwhelming number of executives at managerial level in the industry who want to do something in co-operation with the Government towards the development and the fostering of an Australian culture. But unfortunately there are some people- admittedly they are in the minority- who could not care less. It is because those types of people exist in the industry, admittedly in the minority, that the Government has had to take this action. It is action that the previous Government said it would take but which it never did undertake.

Frankly I say quite openly that there has been a lot of sham and, if I might use the words, hypocritical talk in the attitude of the Opposition to this Bill today.

Senator Guilfoylesaid that the Opposition, for instance, accepted that the Control Board had a responsibility to act in certain areas and she referred to those areas as technical and community standard areas. But she went on to say that to accept control of program content 'leads us'- that is the Opposition- 'to question the motives of the Government'. Therefore in one breathless sentence the Opposition, through Senator Guilfoyle, ripped up the whole tenor of the Act, because quite clearly under section 16(1) (c) of the Act one of the functions of the Control Board is to ensure that adequate and comprehensive programs are provided by commercial broadcasting stations and commercial television stations to serve the best interests of the general public. What Senator Guilfoyle was saying in that sentence was that it is all right for the Board to lay down technical and community standards but not standards in respect of programs, and that if the Opposition had its way it would move to delete section 16 ( 1) (c) from the existing Act.

Among the powers of the Board, specifically provided by an Act of Parliament which has been amended by a series of conservative governments, we find that the Board shall have power to determine the hours during which programs may be broadcast or televised. She would deny that power and Senator Guilfoyle went on to say that since this Government assumed office there has been an unprecedented interest in news programs both by the Board and by the Government. Let me tell honourable senators one of the things that has been done in respect of news programs. When I took office as Minister for the Media, Channel 0 in Brisbane- one of the metropolitan or capital city stations- did not have a news program and, far from wanting to suppress news, I made it a condition of renewal of its licence that it must provide a news service to the people that it served within a period of 12 months. That fortunately was readily acceded to by the executives of that station. Indeed, far from suppressing news or public affairs programs, under our points system there has been a 1 5 per cent increase in news and current affairs programs since this Government came into office. It is a complete sham and quite hypocritical for anyone to say that one of the ulterior purposes of this legislation is some attempt to suppress or to interfere with news programming arrangements.

We heard many expletives during the course of the debate. We heard such climatic and dramatic expressions as 'revolution through mass communications', 'tyrannous legislation', 'the rights of the people', 'freedom of operation for the Press', 'the threat of nationalisation' and other cliches that we have heard from the Opposition over a long period of years. Senator Young went on to say that the Opposition believed in rules and standards and that the stations wanted guidelines. True it may be that the stations want guidelines but, quite affirmatively, today the Opposition has indicated that neither it nor the stations want rules and standards. Surely that is the whole purpose of this ball game today.

I believe that the Australian people feel and have felt for a long time that the Broadcasting Control Board has a responsibility to determine what are to be regarded as children's viewing programs. I believe that the Board has a responsibility to determine what it regards as family viewing programs, as prime time viewing programs or a program which features violence, and I believe that someone other than those who provide the programs should determine those things.

I believe that that is the wish of the Australian people and that they have believed that the Broadcasting Control Board always was vested with those powers. I believe that this Parliament always thought that the Control Board was vested with those powers and that the Australian people felt that the Broadcasting Control Board should have the responsibility to determine how much advertising is allowable. I consider that the Australian people want to ensure that the Australian Broadcasting Control Board has the power to determine what type of advertising should be allowed, for instance, during children's viewing time and during family viewing time and so on, and that they believe there is a responsibility on the Board to determine how much programming should be of Australian origin. But by rejection of this legislation all those things that the Australian people believe to be the responsibility of the Board under powers they thought were vested in it are going to be denied the Board. Henceforth when I get letters of complaint about the time slotting of particular programs on children's viewing time or in family viewing time, complaints about excessive advertising on television or the type of advertising on television during children's viewing hours I will be able to say that because of the Opposition in this Senate the Control Board has no power to act.

Senator Guilfoylesaid that there have been only 3 complaints about the Control Board's standards. I intend putting those complaints on the record so that we will know what they were all about. At a meeting which the Board held with the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations- not with a station but with the Federation, or FACTS as it is known- on 2 1 May 1970, the Federation questioned the validity of paragraph 35 of the Board's television program standards which read as follows:

Programs for Transmission on Sunday Morning

On Sunday morning, between 6.0 a.m. and 12.0 noon, no program shall be televised without the prior approval of the Board. In general, approval will not be given for the televising of programs other than-

(a)   religious matter,

(b)   instructional education,

(c)   charitable appeals,

(   d ) other matter of a similar nature to the foregoing,

(e)   news, excluding news commentaries and the replay of any sporting events, and

(f)   other matter as may be determined by the Board from time to time.

Except as otherwise approved by the Board all programs televised during these hours should be Australian in origin.

Subsequently the Board received the legal opinions which are included in a letter dated 1 July 1 970 from the then General Manager of the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations. The matter was referred by the Board to the Attorney-General's Department. It was felt that the Board did not have the power to determine what should be transmitted on Sunday mornings. Anyone in Victoria who complains that the 4 stations on a Sunday transmit football replays has no one else to blame but the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations. On 12 January 197 1, again dealing with Sunday morning programs, Television Corporation Ltd, commonly referred to as the Packer organisation, wrote under the specific title of 'Meet the Press' and inter alia stated:

Our belief is there is no authority for the Board to lay down that no program should be televised between 6.0 a.m. and 12.0 noon Sundays without the Board's approval and indeed that the contents of circular letter T29 are not a "standard".'

The Board replied to that letter on 12 March 1 97 1 saying, inter alia:

It is now apparent that it may be some time before the legal situation is clear.

Television Corporation went on to say:

We understand that there has been no further advice from you on the matter since your letter of 12 March 1971 and, as you know, we subsequently televised 'Meet the Press' on Sunday mornings.

Now we are planning to transmit on Sunday mornings between the hours of 10.30 a.m. and 12.00 noon throughout the forthcoming Melbourne football season videotape replays of football matches played in Melbourne during that season. For the reason set out in TCN 's letter of 1 2 January 1 97 1 , we adhere to the view that the prohibition contained in circular letter T29 is invalid and that prior (or other) approval of the Board to the transmission on Sunday mornings of the aforesaid football replays, is not necessary.

As there has been no further advice from the Board since its letter of 12 March 197 1 , we assume that either the Board is still awaiting legal advice, or that such advice has been received and accords with the views set out in TCN 's letter of 12 January 1971.

We plan to proceed on the latter basis.

That was the challenge by TCN to the Board's standards. On 14 March 1972 station GTV Melbourne informed the Board that it intended to transmit on Sunday mornings between 10.30 a.m. and 12 noon videotape replays of football matches.

On 30 March 1971 station TCN Sydney questioned the validity of the Board 's power to determine Australian content requirements under paragraph 25 of the Television Programme Standards in the following terms:

We refer to the Circular Letter (No. T43) headed 'Australian Content in Television Programmes' issued by the Board on 13 November 1970.

This letter states that a 'Determination' has been made under paragraph 25' of the Standards concerning Australian content and related matters. Paragraph 25 provides that a licensee 'shall comply with the requirements specified by the Board from time to time concerning the proportion of programme time to be occupied by programmes of Australian origin and the nature of such programmes. The Board may vary the requirements if circumstances arise which would prevent a station's adequate compliance with them under reasonable conditions'.

The circular letter No. T43 dealing with the new requirements contains words similar to those which we have underlined above (see page 3 of letter at top and paragraph 3 of the Determination). It is these words which, in addition to the new requirements generally, are the cause of grave concern to us.

By way of explanation, we see in the underlined words suggestion that the Board may apply the new standards in different ways vis-vis individual stations. For example, if one station is unprofitable, the Board may ease the requirements as regards that station whilst applying them rigorously as regards the others. That the Board can, or can claim the right to, vary the requirements as between particular licensees is objectionable: that it may do so, relying solely upon its appreciation of circumstances generally and of circumstances applicable to a station in particular, appears to be a usurpation of a discriminatory power which can operate to the advantage of a particular station and to the disadvantage of another station, even though those two stations may bc in actual business competition within the same viewing area.

We have, therefore, sought Counsel's opinion as to the validity of the Determination in question.

I interpolate to say that this was a determination of the Board so far as Australian content requirements are concerned, and bear in mind it is the specific written policy of this Government and of the Party that I represent that everything shall be done by a Labor government to increase the quantity and to improve the quality of Australian content. We are the only Australian political party that has in its platform a specific policy of that nature. The letter from station TCN Sydney dated 30 March 197 1 continues:

Counsel's opinion is to the effect that the Determination is wholly invalid. One ground on which Counsel bases his view is the reservation by the Board to itself of a dispensing power to relieve individual licensees of the obligation imposed by the Act to observe the standards laid down by the Board. To say that the standard to be observed is such-and-such but that the Board may vary the requirements with respect to individual stations is not to prescribe a standard at all. The purpose of this letter is to seek an acknowledgment of the Board that the determination is invalid and an undertaking that until a new and valid determination is promulgated it will not require this Company to act in accordance with the present Determination. Any such new Determination would have to omit any provision similar to that underlined above.

If such acknowledgment and undertaking is not forthcoming this Company will make application to the appropriate Court for a declaration that the Determination is wholly invalid.

I have read that because Senator Guilfoyle queried my going to the annual conference of the Professional Musicians Union of Australia and telling the delegates that if this legislation giving the Board power to determine Australian content regulations is not adopted by the Senate, their jobs are in jeopardy. Of course they are. There can be no mistake about that. I say frankly- I have read it onto the record- that there was a clear and open challenge by one of the stations in 1971 or 1972, when the previous Government was in office, to prevent a certain amount of Australian content having to be put into the stations' programs. The previous Government did nothing about the situation and we have determined, because we are bound to implement our policy of providing Australian content and quality in programming, that we must have the legislative power to bring that about.

Senator Guilfoyle - Did the station concerned adopt the points system?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - The station concerned has adopted the points system.

Senator Guilfoyle - Then what is the argument?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) -Just let me say that the station concerned adopted the points system. It is not for me to say it adopted the points system, but I assure the honourable senator that if it does not accept the points system I will take action under section 85 to suspend or revoke the licence and then we will have it tested in the High Court or wherever it might be. We have set out to give co-operation, have consultation and undertake understanding. The simple fact of the matter is, in reply to the original query put by Senator Guilfoyle, that there has been a challenge to the power of the Board to determine rules and standards so far as Australian content requirements are concerned. Last year in December 1973, about 12 months ago to the day, the licence for a station came up for renewal. It was found that the station was behind in meeting the requirements of 4-hour school age children's programs, and in approving the renewal of the licence I directed the Control Board to draw this matter to the attention of the station. The secretary of the Board forwarded to station TCN a renewal of the licence for 1 year commencing 1 December 1973. He went on to say that the Minister had directed that the company, as licensee, be reprimanded for its failure to meet the 4-hour school age children's program requirement in the first period of the current statistical year. The Secretary of the Board then sought comments including details of plans to ensure that the requirement was met over the whole statistical period. In a letter subsequently sent on behalf of TCN this was said:

We refer to your letter of the 4 December 1973 (TCN/4) under cover of which license for the year commencing the I December 1973 was forwarded.

We note that in the same letter you said that in' renewing the licence for TCN the Minister had directed that our company, as licensee, be reprimanded for its failure to meet the Four Hour School-Age Children's program requirements in the first period of the current statistical year.

Setting aside any question of a ministerial right to reprimand' we cannot accept that he had justification purporting to do so. Further, whilst the Board may be 'concerned at the possibility that TCN will find extreme difficulty in making up the current discrepancy later in the year', we feel obliged to question your request for 'details of our plans to ensure that the requirement is met over the whole statistical period '.

As indicated in previous correspondence the problem is not an easy one, but is not being disregarded.

During the course of this debate we have heard suggestions that the industry should set its own guidelines, make its own rules and make and abide by its own standards. I say frankly that the overwhelming majority of executive people in the industry would satisfactorily do it, and do it well. Unfortunately there are some who I doubt very much would be prepared to do so. We as a government have an overall responsibility to the Australian people in this regard. After having introduced the Bill and then having a discussion with executives of the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations we determined that we would amend the Bill so that the power would vest in either House of the Parliament and either House of the Parliament would have the right to reject the regulations that were determined by the Board. But apparently even an appeal of that nature to the highest court in the land is objectionable to the Opposition. What more can one do?

Now let me deal with the question of the licence period being from 6 months to 3 years. True it is that when we introduced this legislation we proposed a variable period from 3 months to 3 years for licences, in accordance with my Party's policy. After discussion with the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations I decided to amend the legislation providing for licence periods varying from 6 months to 3 years. I was under the impression that that amended provision was not objected to. Certainly in legislation that was introduced by the previous Government in 1972 there was provision for a variable period for licences from 6 months to 3 years. After all the matter was referred to by an all-Party Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts. Its second progress report dealt with all aspects of television and broadcasting including Australian content of television programs. Suggestions were made for strengthening the Board's powers. One recommendation from the Committee was:

That the Board be empowered to recommend graded renewal periods to the Minister so that a licensee who, in the opinion of the Board, has not performed satisfactorily be faced with only a short renewal period. It was urged on us -

This is the Senate Standing Committee -

.   . that this could be a useful deterrent in the Board's armoury of powers.

I am keeping my remarks short because I know from the expressions of opinion here today that the legislation will be automatically defeated. However, I wish to refer to another aspect. On 7 April 1972 the Acting Postmaster-General, Senator Cotton, issued a Press statement which stated:

The Government will be asked to consider an amendment to the legislation to clarify the powers of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to regulate programs on Sunday morning.

The Acting Postmaster-General, Senator the Honourable Robert Cotton, in announcing this today said that an examination of the Board 's standards had been proceeding between the Board and the Attorney-General's Department for some time but this was a long and complicated matter which would not be finished quickly.

However', he said, 'the action of station GTV in Melbourne in seeking a declaration from the Courts that the Board's standards regarding Sunday morning programs are not valid makes it desirable for this point to be clarified at once.'

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Order! The Minister's time has expired. The Minister has only half an hour to reply. I realise he was not aware of that.

Motion (by Senator Young) agreed to:

That an extension of time be granted.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - Thank you, Mr Acting President. I was under the impression I had an hour. I will only be about 2 minutes. I return to Senator Cotton's Press statement of 7 April 1 972. It states:

The Minister said that he was taking the course of making the announcement immediately to avoid putting the station, the Commonwealth or any others to the expense and difficulty involved in legal action. This was particularly important in a matter which the Commonwealth recognised was open to doubt. 'It is also', he said, 'desirable that the position be made clear for the benefit of licensees generally. '

He hoped that the Government would be able to consider the proposed amendment to the legislation within the next tcn days.

In the meantime Senator Cotton said he hoped that station licensees generally would respect the Government's intentions and continue with the special types of programs which up to now have been regarded suitable for Sunday morning television.

Following that statement, on 28 April 1972 Senator Cotton, the then Acting PostmasterGeneral, issued another Press statement which stated:

The Government will legislate to make clear the powers of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board with regard to Sunday morning television programmes.

Announcing this today the Acting Postmaster-General (Senator Robert Cotton) said the Government had considered the situation which had arisen as a result of the challenge to the powers of the Board by station GTV in Melbourne.

Senator Cottonsaid the Government had for some time been engaged in a full scale review of the Board 's powers but this would take some time to complete.

However he was making an immediate announcement on the question of Sunday morning programs to protect a situation in which the existence of a number of programs of considerable value to minority audiences was threatened.

I could go on at length. I could talk, for instance, about the number of occasions on which stations are reported for engaging in excessive advertising. At the moment there are 3 reports immediately in front of me. But I have said enough. The fate of the legislation is known. If the Board is powerless to act in the interests of the Australian community in this regard I suggest we will be reverting to the law of the jungle.

Question put:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

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