By James Bailey
THE 1949 ELECTION
The Labor government called for tenders for the supply of television transmitters and studio equipment for a national service in each capital city, but before work began the Liberal Party gained power and Robert Menzies became Prime Minister.
The new Government announced its detailed policy on television in June, 19509. It stated that television would develop gradually, with one station in Sydney for the National television Service, which would expand as funds became available. There were also to be two commercial television licenses one in Sydney and one in Melbourne with others available to applicants in any of the other capital cities who showed they had the financial capacity to sustain a service.
This policy statement had serious implications for the ABC. Far from being given a monopolistic control of television, which was a possibility under the Labor government's policy, it was fighting for the junior role in the development of television. Moreover, it was left uncertain of the future plans of the Government which officially supported private enterprise and had many members who were not fans of the ABC. Charles Moses, general manager of the ABC at the time, said many years later that he had suggested to Menzies that a national service and commercial service should come under one statutory authority, like the ABC. This way, the powerful medium could be operated in the public interest. He admitted, however, that Menzies was never in favor of the idea.
In August 1950, the Government set up a television advisory committee, consisting of the Director‑General of Posts and Telegraphs, the chairman of the ABC and the chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. Charles Moses went overseas on a fact‑finding mission for this Committee. He recalled he was concerned to prevent that the same mistakes which had been made in radio particularly the separation of responsibility between programming which was done by the ABC and the provision of technical facilities which were supplied by the Post Office. Because of the cost of setting up a national television service, Moses wanted a system introduced which would encourage the Australian public to buy television sets. He had been very impressed with what he had found in San Francisco, where statistics showed that an increasing number of television sets were bought as more channels went to air. He also said he was very conscious of the cost of making television programs, and that the cost of a national service might be too much for the Australian economy to sustain. He proposed, therefore, that there should be advertising on the ABC in 20 to 25 per cent of its programs.
THE ECONOMIC CRISIS OF 1952
By early 1952 the economic situation had become serious, and in March the Government announced that it had deferred the introduction of television until the economy improved. The future of television was again problematic, but early in 1953 the Government announced it would amend the broadcasting legislation to permit the licensing of commercial television stations "on the same fundamental basis as has been so remarkably successful in respect of sound broadcasting". It also appointed a Royal Commission on Television, chaired by Professor G. W. Paton, vice‑chancellor of Melbourne University, and including the, chairman of the Control Board, to determine how many television stations there should be, and where they should be located.
The Opposition was very critical of the Government introducing legislation to provide for commercial television before the Royal Commission had reported, and for not allowing the Commission to provide a basic philosophy for the introduction of television or even to decide whether commercial television was wanted.
NUMBER OF CHANNELS
The Royal Commission took evidence from a number of witnesses who felt that a television service should be operated solely by a government authority, and that commercial services should not be permitted to operate at all ‑ or, alternatively, that the latter should only be permitted to operate after the national service had been established for some years.
In a personal submission, Richard Boyer, the chairman of the ABC, revealed the real problem inherent in a commercial television system:
"It is around this question of the limitation of total television transmission that the real issue is joined in the respective merit of commercial and public operation of television. In public operation there is no inherent urge to telecast more hours or more sessions than the availability of material of quality and public interest will permit. Commercially there is a natural urge to fill all possible hours with material of some sort for time is the product sold. This inevitably leads to the inclusion of a vast amount of material which is of inferior and sometimes distinctly harmful character. When one considers the. long preparation and care devoted to the production of film for theatre use because of the possibility of screening into thousands of individual audiences over a long period of time, it is obvious that the filling of day‑long television programs on a multiplicity of stations must result in a lowering of quality."
Boyer then recommended a gradual introduction, stating that it was inadvisable to entrench any sectional interest, be it commercial, political, or religious, which may have to be extracted in the future. tie urged in favor of the Post Office erecting transmitters which it would continue to own, to carry sponsored programs and renting facilities to those commercial organizations which wished to take advantage of them. He continued:
"The many applicants, both (sic) commercial, cultural and religious who may now or in the future desire participation on a commercial basis in television, should not have their rights prejudiced by the present alienation of any frequency to any one of more particular interests.
Where competition cannot by its nature be completely free and unlimited due regard to community rights can be achieved only through the sharing of the community facility."
The Royal Commission, however, stated that its terms of reference had restricted its function to inquire only into conditions under which the existing dual system should operate, and stated:
"Although the question whether commercial television should be permitted in Australia is clearly a matter which has caused great concern to large sections of the community, we have come to the conclusion that it is not included in the matters referred to us, and we do not therefore propose to offer any observation in this issue."
In 1954, the Royal Commission recommended one national station and two commercial licenses in Sydney and Melbourne, favoring the evidence from the commercial radio broadcasters, newspaper proprietors and manufacturers which wanted to encourage the purchase of television sets.
TELEVISION LICENSES .
The next significant event was the choosing of the licensees. The Control Board conducted public hearings into the granting of licenses in 1955. Four applications were received for the two Melbourne licenses, and eight for the two in Sydney. At the public hearings the Control Board approved representation by counsel. The Control Board also gave permission to the New South Wales branch of the Returned Servicemen's League, and Actors and Announcers Equity to be heard as interested parties, and Equity made a strong plea for an Australian content quota.
The Control Board reported to the Minister noting that the applications came from a narrow area of press, broadcasting and theatre interests, and recommended that the four licenses be given to the applications with substantial press and broadcasting interests. It is interesting that they did not recommend one substantial Sydney application with no press interests. The Minister approved the Control Board's recommendations in April 1955, and all four commercial stations and the two ABC stations were on the air by January 1957.
In 1957, the Government announced the extension of the ABC and commercial television services to the other four capital cities. It also stated that it had made no decision on the number of commercial licenses to be granted in each capital city, and would not do so until the Control Board had made recommendations based on further public hearings.
In the Control Board's Report on the Brisbane and Adelaide hearings it noted that much of the evidence was devoted to the interest and development of the existing stations in Sydney and Melbourne, and that GTV's evidence indicated the station should be allowed to develop television in country areas through the establishment of relay stations.
So, the Control Board addressed itself particularly to two issues: whether the existing licensees in Sydney and Melbourne should be allowed to exercise substantial influence in the establishment of the new stations in Brisbane and Adelaide; and to what extent newspapers, which already had interests in television broadcasting stations in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, should be allowed to exercise control over television stations in Brisbane and Adelaide, if licenses were granted to them.
The Control Board answered both questions negatively. It recommended that there should be only one license. issued in either city and indicated that a locally‑owned company, not controlled in any way by companies already holding licenses, would be preferred.
The Government, however, rejected these recommendations and requested the Control Board to choose two licensees in each city from the original Applicants. This decision was another blow to the independence of the Control Board, and ensured that the existing Sydney and Melbourne television licensees, with their powerful radio, newspaper and magazine interest groups, had a strong influence in the Brisbane and Adelaide stations.
There was no difference of opinion in Perth and Hobart. All applicants stated that only one license should be granted, and TVW (in Perth) and Tasmanian Television (in Hobart) were recommended by the Control Board.
By 1961, television had been extended to 33 country areas, which had been allocated one ABC and one commercial television channel. The Postmaster‑General had directed that, where possible, licenses would be allocated on the basis that they were local independent companies and not associated with the metropolitan services. Two of these licenses were in the large conurbations adjoining Sydney and Newcastle and Wollongong. The Sydney licensees attempted to prevent these two independent stations from: getting overseas programs. The Board tried to impose conditions. on the Sydney stations to stop this embargo, but the stations took the Control Board to the High Court and they succeeded. However, when it became clear that the Government intended to support the Control Board with legislation, the stations gave in.
In March 1963, the Government announced that a third license would be allocated to the four capital cities and a second license for Perth. This decision appears to have resulted from a number of pressures: the advertising industry wanted greater competition; other commercial interests wanted a piece of what appeared to be the profitable television cake (between 1959 and 1961 net profits increased from $1.5 million to $2.8 million, yet the Control Board made only a token effort to enforce regulations relating to the amount of Australian content).
Other pressures included the need to break the media monopoly which was building up with existing metropolitan stations (in the previous year Consolidated Press, owners of the TCN license in Sydney, had taken over GTV Melbourne) and the Government's concern that if Labor won the next elections it might allow the trade union movement to have the third license.
The reason the Minister gave, however, was that there was room in the airspace, and that "great competition would result and benefit residents and the development of the television service".
There were nine applications for the Sydney license and six for Melbourne. GTV Melbourne tried unsuccessfully to intervene in the Melbourne hearings to protect its network interests, should the Control Board decide not to grant a third license in Brisbane and Adelaide, having already granted a third in Sydney and Melbourne. The Control Board disallowed their appearance on the basis that they had not been able to show an interest, and recommended that the third licenses in the four capital cities should to the applicants with no newspaper interests.
The granting of the 1963 licenses is significant because it brought Ansett into television. The Ansett company, Austarama, got the Melbourne license but not the Brisbane license for which it also applied. The Board recommended Universal Telecasters which had no other commercial television interests, and claimed that the stations would be run by Queenslanders for Queenslanders. Ansett then bought up the shares in Universal Telecasters and controlled the company. The Melbourne Herald commented: "If an applicant rejected by the Board can gain his ends by buying his successful rival's share on the stock exchanges, it seems to make the Board's hearings a costly but rather ineffective form of indoor recreation."
In recommending South Australian Telecasters Ltd. for the license in Adelaide, the Control Board noted that the majority of shares would be held in South Australia except for some held by Ansett. This station (SAS‑10) was taken over by TVW Perth in 1971, however, and now the majority of shares are held in Western Australia. In Perth, Ansett also had a small number of shares in Swan Television, the successful applicant for the second license.
So, by July 1965, when the third stations in Brisbane and Adelaide went on air (the last of this group to do so), the structure was completed in its present form, and what Richard Boyer feared in 1953 had arrived ‑ endless hours of airtime to be filled.
The major concern with the standards for television has always been over the amount of Australian‑made programs (which is measurable), rather than their quality (which is not). At the Royal Commission hearings, the case in favor of Australian content was frequently argued in terms of showing Australian culture, and the need to employ Australians and develop Australian talent.
A large number of submissions from parents and teachers were concerned about the amount of American programs which might be shown, and the commercialism that that went with them. Other witnesses cited American research which showed that the number of hours children spent viewing television was beginning to equal that spent at school; that there was a considerable reduction in the time children spent at play; that television watching induced depressed mental activity; and that the amount of violence on television was having an effect on children.
Addressing himself to the quality of the programs, Richard Boyer again made some pertinent comments in his submission:
"The hours of telecasting and the number of stations operating should be strictly related to the availability of material of good quality. As with radio, it is possible to put programs of a sort at small cost on the TV screen. The interests both of the public and of the prestige of TV require limitation of hours to a point where standards can be maintained."
In the light of the subsequent development of television it is interesting to note that Boyer quoted to the Commission an article which had appeared in the New York Times, written by Jack Gold, a radio critic:
"Television is getting pretty bad. The high hopes which were held by so many are vanishing before our eyes. The medium is heading hell bent for the rut of innocuity, mediocrity and sameness that made a juke‑box of radio. What of the endless procession of crime thrillers and of the panel shows with the same faces appearing over and over again with monotonous regularity? And the children's programs? Is there no sure ease from the nauseating trifles whereon the younger generation sing the praises of cereals and candy bars? Are these programs to be the sole measure of the child inheritance, the riches of the library and the treasure of the arts? Television take heed! It is blindly and short‑sightedly selling its ultimate greatness for a batch of synthetic popularity ratings that are boring into TV's foundation like termites."
The Royal Commission, commenting on standards, stated that there was strong evidence from two groups: those who saw themselves as potential licensees favoring self‑regulation; and those who believed that self‑regulation would not be an "adequate means of maintaining standards", because commercial pressures would encourage mediocrity, and the paucity of Australian talent would encourage the introduction of cheap and inferior overseas programs to save costs. The Commission recommended that:
"The most effective method of raising standards is through the licensing system with provision for a public hearing where the Australian Broadcasting Control Board does not think that it is in the public interest that a license should be renewed. If the public puts up with inferior television, it will only have itself to blame if it fails to take advantage of the means provided for the expression of its dissatisfaction. What is needed is
a vocal public which will offer constructive criticism and refuse to be satisfied with inferior programs. In the United Kingdom the public and press are very active in expressing from week to week opinion on each particular type of program. In the United States, many organizations have been set up with the sole object of using public opinion as a means of improving quality. An active policy of constructive public criticism is essential in Australia if television is to reach the standard desired."
The history of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board's regulation of television, until its demise in 1976, indicates that it did not at any time believe it should set up an open hearing to provide a forum for the public to voice their comments on television programming. Secondly, the result of the Government's interference in the licensing system in 1958 was that the press, the other possible medium for a critical voice was not impartial.
Another reason the employment argument has tended to swamp the one for high quality is a clause introduced into the legislation in 1942, and retained since. It requires the commercial licensees, and the ABC, to "as far as possible use the services of Australians".
The Royal Commission Report in 1953 had stated that Australian artistes should play a real and steadily increasing part in Australian television; but it also stated that it was not possible to recommend a quota of Australian content until actual experience had been gained on the amount of talent available.
At the public hearings for the granting of the first license in Sydney in 1955, Clive Evatt QC appeared for Actors Equity and asked the applicants what were their intentions in relation to Australian programming and the employment of Australian artistes. He made a very strong plea to the Board to require as a condition of the license not less than 55 percent program hours of Australian content
The Control Board stated, however, that it did not intend to recommend any such condition, as it was sure licensees would discharge the obligation of ensuring that best use was made of Australian talent. It did recommend, however, that the granting of licenses should be on the condition that the licensees complied with any program standards the Board determined.
Although there was no Australian content quota during the first month of operation, there were severe restrictions on the amount of overseas programming permitted because of the shortage of overseas currency. The Government limited each organization's expenditure on overseas material to
60,000, of which not more than two‑thirds could be spent in U.S. dollars. This meant a lot of programming was local live material (there were no video recording machines until 1959).
But in July 1957, the Government released this restriction, despite public pressure for its retention as an Australian content control mechanism. It is significant that the percentage of Australian content before the restriction was lifted was ATN: 66 per cent; TCN: 45 per cent; GTV: 61 per cent; and HSV: 45 per cent. By September 1958 programming hours had increased, but Australian content had dropped to below 45 per cent for all stations, with TCN the lowest at 37 per cent. 27
Public pressure for more Australian content continued to grow, and in 1960 the Minister introduced the first quota. He advised licensees that the proportion of Australian programs televised by each station at the end of three years of operation should be not less than 40 per cent, and must include at least one hour a week, between 7.30 p.m. and 9.30 P.m. However, the annual report of the Control Board for June 1962 showed that neither of the Sydney commercial stations had reached that 40 per cent when the Postmaster‑General announced the proposed introduction of a third channel in the other four capital cities.
Throughout 1962. and during the public hearings for a third commercial license in Sydney and Melbourne, the Control Board heard evidence from applicants about their plans for Australian programs. In choosing the two successful applicants for Sydney and Melbourne the Control Board stated that it was impressed with the Sydney applicant (United Telecasters) and quoted from its submission: "A real and persistent effort should be made to bring a fresh, original and Australian approach to all types of entertaining programming".
The Board, in recommending the Melbourne license to Austarama Television Ltd., stated that it attached great importance to the nature of the program proposals of this applicant. These proposals included 24.5 hours of programs of Australian origin, or 5$ per cent in the first year of operation, and a gradual increase in the second and third years. The company also sought to create "a strong Australian image in its programs", and that "the content of the program would also need to reflect an Australian environment encouraging awareness of the achievements of Australian and advance the arts and crafts culture of the nation."
The hearings for the third license in. Brisbane and Adelaide, however, attracted considerable evidence arguing that an additional channel would have deleterious effects on the existing commercial stations. The Control Board stated in its Report that it recognised this, and that there may be some reduction in the local production of Australian programs, but the curtailment would not necessarily lead to serious results. It stated that:
"Any reduction of the amount of Australian programs produced locally would we consider be largely offset by the use of some of the increasing quantity of good quality Australian programs which will become available particularly as a result of the productions of the new Sydney and Melbourne stations."
To appease the growing pressure for more Australian content from the unions, independent film producers, and the public, the Government set up the Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television, chaired by Senator Vincent. It took evidence in all states and generated a great deal of interest and expectation, and reported to the Government in 1963. This Committee was very critical of the Control Board's regulation of commercial television and made a number of recommendations, some of which are only now coming into effect:
(a) That applications for a license renewal should be heard in public;
(b) That the renewal period for a television license be extended from one to three years after the first five years;
(c) That tax reductions be allowed for companies producing and investing in films;
(d) That the overall volume of programs depicting crime, violence, horror and antisocial behavior be considerably reduced;
(e) That there be a quota for Australian drama programs of not less than 9 per cent of total time devoted to programs of Australian origin to be imposed progressively over the next ensuing three years; and
(f) That an Australian Television Council be responsible for planning and coordinating a national research program.
The Vincent Committee made other recommendations to encourage Australian programs and filmmaking, which had never seen the light of day. So, while the recommendations were well received by the public, they were not taken seriously by the Government, which adjourned its parliamentary debate on the Report in April 1964 and never returned to it.
The Vincent Committee was the beginning of the slow process of raising awareness to media and film issues within industry organizations and with the public. The Control Board could no longer turn a blind eye to the Australian content issue. It set up research into audience attitudes to programming and gradually raised the percentage quotas as the pressure continued to grow (see Table 1). However, it appeared incapable of strictly imposing these quotas.
The lack of media publicity for the Government's inaction gradually stimulated awareness of the problems of media monopoly. Some unions responded by demanding a break‑up of media control. The recommendations for funding the film industry and breaking up distribution and exhibition monopolies led to growing pressure from film makers which resulted in a Unesco seminar in 1968 on film and television training, and the Film Committee of the Australia Council of Arts recommended an Australian Film Development Corporation, an Experimental Film Fund, and a Film and Television School. The Vincent Committee's recommendations for a national television council were taken over by interested unions which formed a council to get the recommendations implemented.
All this activity spawned the ''TV. ‑ Make it Australian" campaign in 1971. Media unions, film makers and individuals working in the film and television industry organized petitions in marginal seats in Melbourne and Sydney. They sought an inquiry into the structure of Australian television and . assistance for Australian :films. These petitions were presented to the Senate and had two results: in August 1971, the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts was given the reference to inquire into "all aspects of television and broadcasting including Australian content of television programs" under the chairmanship of Senator Davidson; and, in March 1972, the Minister for Trade and Industry requested the Tariff Board to inquire into and recommend on, the assistance needed for production in Australia of motion picture films and television programs. These bodies took evidence throughout 1972 from the film and television industry.
The Tariff Board reported in June 1973 making recommendations to assist Australian film production, distribution and exhibition, including the setting up of a government body to invest in films, and a strategy for breaking up the distribution and exhibition monopolies. The Tariff Board did hear evidence from‑the television licensees on the financial problems involved in improving the quality of Australian programs, but it was not interested in recommending subsidies or tax remissions because it stated that the number of channels and hours which had to be covered by advertising revenue was far more than in most other countries. However, it did recommend that the government film body should operate an agency to buy all overseas television programs and control their distribution equitably. In so doing it hoped that the reduction in costs of buying overseas programs passed to the stations would result in the latter allocating its savings to programming, thus raising the quality.
The Senate Standing Committee took evidence for three years, providing a continuing forum for public criticism of broadcasting over that period. I also produced three reports which further opened up the debate on the structure and control of television, and recommended a system of public radio broadcasting.
THE FAILURE OF THE LABOR GOVERNMENT
The change in government in December 1972 brought all sorts of promises and a new Department of the Media. The Government's media policy was outlined at the Australian Labor Party Conference in July 1973 by the Minister for the Media, Douglas McClelland, a former member of the Vincent Committee, who promised that employment of Australians in film and television would be increased, that the Government would give priority to breaking up the monopoly of the airwaves, and would provide public access to the broadcasting medium. The pressure groups and unions waited for things to happen, but it was not long, however, before they were uniting to fight the Government they had fought so hard to put in.
The Minister made key appointments to the new department from commercial television and this began to destroy the confidence the pressure groups had in him. He then abolished listeners' licenses ( a possible method of freeing the ABC from direct government financial control) without any public discussion, and appeared to court Jack Valentine, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, who visited Australia after the change in government, and who was on record as saying his objectives were to fight foreign governments which were attempting to strangle American motion picture business abroad. There was also no action on the early announcements of the revocation of one television license in the four capital cities, and no adequate discussions with the unions on the introduction of a points system to regulate Australian content.
The Union pressure which had built up over the previous 10 years never left the Minister alone. The Film Industry Action Committee, formed to oppose the visit of Jack Valentine, became a strong force, and added a new film dimension to the media lobby. There was a growing feeling of distrust towards the Minister, exacerbated by the lack of consultation about the legislation setting up the Australian Film Commission; the lack of action in relation to breaking the media monopolies; and the lack of success with the points system, which resulted in the compilation of a dossier on the Minister requesting his removal, and reorganization of the department. The campaign was successful and the Minister was replaced. But before the new Minister, Dr Moss Cass, could do any more than suspend for two hours a commercial television station in Hobart (TVT‑6) for carrying too many commercials (the first time a television license had been suspended), the Government lost office.
The Labor government's achievements in the area of television were not very great. Certainly, there was more Australian content and more money for experimentation, but greater public access to the medium turned out to be a few programs on the ABC; breaking the ownership monopoly became setting up public radio stations; and greater employment led to a paper war between the unions and the Minister about the Control Board's report on Australian content.
The solid achievements were in radio and the film industry, the setting up of the AFC, the Australian Film and Television School, and the Film Radio and Television Board, and the introduction of public broadcasting. The first two of these, however, were in hand before the change of government, and all were additions to the existing system rather than changes to that system.
The Labour government can fairly claim that its legislation to put teeth into the Control Board was blocked by the Senate, but the need for this legislation was disputed by Senator James McClelland. The Government did appoint to the Board two strong, outspoken members ‑ Dr Geoffrey Evans end Dr Patricia Edgar ‑ but failed to review or overhaul the broadcasting system.
Senator James McClelland, who had in April 1973 taken over the chairmanship of the Senate Standing Committee looking into broadcasting, described the situation in January 1975 in a plea for a Royal Commission. We said that the media was a disaster area, with the institutions in disarray and the future murky, and added that:
"The Australian Broadcasting Control Board is a bad joke, the ABC is a dithering, timid, old fuddy duddy, commercial television and radio foster mediocrity and decry quality and the Department of the Media, if I may put it neutrally, has yet to prove itself"
THE SYSTEM CHANGES
All the agitation for an inquiry, the changes in ownership and control, and the revocation of the points system persuaded the Control Board to set up an advisory committee to look into standards. The Committee was chaired by Dr Patricia Edgar, but did not report until February 1976, after the change in government. Its report echoed the Tariff Board Report by linking standards with the structure of the television system and its economics, and recalled the earlier promises of the Minister of the Media in the Labor government by recommending the revocation of a license in each of the four capital cities. There were protests from the licensees who felt that under the new government (which was busily dismantling the Department for the Media) they did not have to take the recommendations seriously. However, the Government set up an inquiry, conducted by the new Department of Posts and Telecommunications, now made responsible for broadcasting. The terms of reference were "to inquire into the Australian broadcasting system with particular regard to the machinery and procedures for control, planning, licensing regulation, funding and administration of the system."
Under its chairman, Fred Green, the secretary of the new department, the committee took written evidence from interested parties and produced a report in September 1976 which had a stormy reception. When it was properly examined, however, the Green Report proved to be a document which could provide a philosophy for broadcasting and a blueprint for reorganization. The Report stated that the inquiry had "full appreciation of the need for the commercial sector to seek to serve community needs within the context of private enterprise operations, which have a responsibility to shareholders to achieve an appropriate profit result in relation to capital investment ...However, in addition to directing their efforts to the presentation of relatively stereotyped styles of programs which are known to attract high numbers of viewers and listeners, it is most desirably that the commercial sector should at the same‑ time attempt to introduce a measure of innovation and experimentation in programs catering to more sizeable, if not mass, audiences. This would also assist in achieving a diversity of programming over all three sectors of the broadcasting system."
Within a year, the pressure groups which had supported the Labor government for its promises, and then criticized it for not reorganizing the broadcasting system, now had a government which had lost no time implementing one of the Report's major recommendations: namely, the dismantling of the Control Board and the replacement of it with the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal to provide a forum for the public voice over license renewals ‑ the linchpin of the Royal Commission recommendations for improving programming, back in 1954.
Lack of discussion with the unions and the pressure groups on the new legislation, and the appointment of commercial broadcasters as Tribunal members, again raised distrust about the motives of the Government. The Tribunal's first task ‑ to conduct an inquiry into self‑regulation by the broadcasters ‑ was therefore met with cynicism.
Still, the public and unions came forward in their hundreds, demanding more Australian content, and more and better Australian children's programs. The Tribunal reported to the Government on self‑regulation in July 1977 and, to the surprise of its opponents, did not go all the way with the commercial broadcasters but recommended stronger control for children's programs, and the setting up of a Broadcasting Information Office to gather information and represent the public at Tribunal hearings.
Throughout 1977 the public also gave evidence to the reorganized Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts, which was looking into "the impact of television on the development and learning behavior of children". And by the end of 1977, the Government had drafted legislation for public hearings into license renewals. Then in a surprise move, without any public discussion, it introduced a new concept in broadcasting: the Special Broadcasting Service, a statutory authority which offered the possibility of providing yet another type of government funded television service.
Those who welcomed a government which was prepared to provide, and stand by, a philosophy and a blueprint for broadcasting, began to wonder whether action and reaction to pressure had not again taken over government policy.
Last year saw the beginning of the Tribunal hearings, the Government's acceptance of the Self‑Regulation Report (and, therefore, a Children's Program Committee and the Broadcasting Information Office), the Report From the Senate Standing Committee, "Children and Television" and the tabling of the Report, "National Communications Satellite System", written by the Task Force the Minister had set up. All of which raise these questions:
(a) Will the Royal Commissions 25 year old concept of public hearings, as part of a strategy to provide the public with a voice, be sufficient without the other part a critical press?
(b) Will the Broadcasting Information Office help the. public train that voice, so that it is capable of making an independent contribution, rather than providing the chorus for the media and union pressure groups?
(c) Will the satellite provide commercial television with the national network which was hoped for by some licensees in the early 1960s, but thwarted by the Government's policy towards country station ownership?
Perhaps the most important question which this history reveals, however, is when will all interested groups and political parties stop looking for instant solutions and expedient palliatives, and discuss the real problems of broadcasting which Sir Richard Boyer identified in 1953 namely, how to provide a service to all interested parties, commercial, educational, religious, political etc., who may now or in the future want to participate in television on a commercial basis?