PARLIAMENTARY POWERS AND PRIVILEGES
BROADCASTING OF PROCEEDINGS OF HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: WHETHER MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT ARE PROTECTED IN RESPECT OF BROADCASTING OF DEFAMATORY STATEMENTS MADE DURING PARLIAMENTARY PROCEEDINGS: BILL TO PROTECT AUSTRALIAN BROADCASTING COMMISSION AND COMMONWEALTH AGAINST PROCEEDINGS IN RESPECT OF DEFAMATORY STATEMENTS IN BROADCASTS OF PARLIAMENTARY PROCEEDINGS: OWNERSHIP OF PHYSICAL RECORDS OF BROADCASTS OF PARLIAMENTARY PROCEEDINGS
I refer to your letter dated 26th June, 1946, in which you quote two questions asked by members of the House of Representatives concerning the experimental recordings now being made of the broadcasting of the proceedings of the House. You asked me to examine the questions and to advise you as to the legal position.
Mr Sheehan, in his question, refers to the fact that no legislation has been passed ‘to confer on Honourable Members privilege in regard to matter broadcast from Parliament’. In view of this statement, it seems to me that Mr Sheehan may be under some misapprehension as to the legal position. The legislation in question has been brought down not for the purpose of conferring privilege on Members of Parliament, but to protect the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Commonwealth – who are jointly responsible for national broadcast programmes – against proceedings in respect of any defamatory statement which may be made in the course of the broadcast of Parliamentary proceedings.1 Members of Parliament are, in my opinion, already fully protected in respect of any defamatory statements they may make from their places in Parliament, and do not incur any liability by reason of the fact that Parliamentary proceedings are broadcast.
It follows from the foregoing that I do not consider any amendment of the Bill to be necessary to give full protection to the rights of members.
I am not aware of the precise arrangements which have been made for the taking of the experimental recordings and am rather puzzled by the statement in Mr. Sheehan’s question that the proceedings are being recorded by a ‘private company’. My impression was that the recordings were being made by the Australian Broadcasting Commission either solely or in conjunction with the Postmaster-General’s Department. In any case, I think that the ownership of the physical records is in the Australian Broadcasting Commission and I doubt whether, as a matter of strict law, the commission could be compelled to destroy the records on your instructions or compelled to place them in the Library. No doubt, however, the Commission would be prepared to consider any request made by yourself or the Library Committee in the matter.
I have assumed that, when you gave permission for the records to be made, you did not reserve to yourself the right to direct how the recordings should be disposed of. If you had reserved such a right, of course, it would be open to you to decide that the records should be destroyed or placed in the Library, as you thought fit.
I assume that your letter is concerned only with the protection of the rights of Members of Parliament and that you do not desire me to advise you as to any possible liability of the Australian Broadcasting Commission or the Commonwealth if defamatory matter in any of the records now being made were publicly reproduced.