§ Mr. TINKER
I beg to move,That, in the opinion of this House, the maintenance of independent organs for the
§ dissemination of news is vital to the preservation of the standard of public life in the country, and that the consolidation of the newspaper Press in the hands of powerful syndicates, and some of the devices employed by these syndicates to extend the circulation of the newspapers under their control, are contrary to the public interest."
§ I think I ought to thank the hon. and gallant Member for Dulwich (Sir F. Hall) for the opportunity he has given me this evening. When the ballot took place for Notices of Motion, the hon. and gallant Member for Dulwich refused to take the number that he ought to have taken, 2053 the first number in the group, and took another one for the lucky number chance, leaving me the even number, which I took, and thereby secured this opportunity. The House will notice that the Motion deals with the syndicated Press, that is, the power that is passing into the hands of a few combines or syndicates. I think, at this juncture, I ought to try and point out what I take to be the functions of a newspaper. To my mind, they are three. The first is the collection and distribution of news, that is, events that have happened and events that are likely to happen. There will be no question about the first function. The second is the printing of advertisements, that is, the use of the Press by business men in advertising their wares, so that the public may get to know what is going on the market. I understand that the newspapers depend largely upon that source. From the information that I have received, it seems that many millions of pounds pass into the hands of newspapers annually from that source, and that if that were knocked off, probably we should have to pay much more for our daily newspapers than we do at the present time. The third function of a newspaper is the moulding of public opinion. That is largely in the hands of the editor, through leading articles, and also by getting articles from various people, and by that means to a certain extent moulding public opinion.
§ I want, in order to show the gradual development of the Press, to try and mention to the House some of the events that have taken place in the building up of the newspaper. I find that the first intimation of the really active interest of this House in newspapers was prior to 1695. Before that period there was a censorship of the Press, which means that the Press was bound by the House of Commons and was not allowed to print certain things. In 1695 that censorship was removed, and from that period much printed matter was put on the market, because there was more freedom. I take it that that would bring about the publication of the first daily newspaper, which happened in 1702, when the "Daily Courant" came into being, but it was in 1704 that we got the first active paper, the "Review," which was edited by a great journalist, who is recognised even now, namely, Daniel Defoe, and who was 2054 one of the men who began to exert political influence through the Press.
§ We then pass to a later period, when the name of John Wilkes appears. He edited the "North Briton" in 1762–3, and at the same period a man named Woodfull brought out the "Public Advertiser" and "Letters of Junius." Wilkes was the first man to challenge the Ministry, which, he stated, was putting lies into the mouth of the King. I expect he would mean that what we call the King's Speech was not really the King's Speech, and he challenged the country on that issue, with the result that the House of Commons decided that John Wilkes had no right to do that kind of thing, and he was expelled from the House. Then we get, in 1771, following on Wilkes' agitation, the Commons issuing a Proclamation forbidding the publication of Parliamentary reports. Some printers were called to the Bar of the House, because they had violated the conditions laid down by the House of Commons, but public opinion got so strong that the House of Commons quietly dropped the matter, with the result that from that time onwards Debates in this House were made public. I am speaking personally when I say that I want to thank John Wilkes for his agitation, because as a result of it the whole atmosphere of the House of Commons was changed, and now, when I do get a speech delivered, I am glad to think that some of the newspapers might take notice of it and that my name might appear in the Press on the following morning. It does not appear very often, but in anticipation of the possibility of its appearing, I get some 24 hours' enjoyment! Therefore, John Wilkes did some good in that respect. I find that a man named Astley Cooper, at a later period, made it a condition with the editor of the "Lancet" that he should not have his name attached when he wrote in that paper, saying that he felt himself "disgraced and degraded for ever appearing in the Press." Evidently he had not got the modern feeling on this subject.
§ We then pass to one of the great newspapers of the present time, namely, the "Times," which appeared in 1785, but took its present name in 1788. It took upon itself to represent what we call the democracy. It represented the middle-classes at that time, who were agitating for greater electoral power, and the "Times" almost got the power to which 2055 I am objecting now, in being a paper that practically controlled public opinion, because I am told that in regard to the advertising tax which had to be paid then, the "Times" paid £70,000 out of a total of £170,000, so evidently they got a strong vote. The "Times" got foreign news independently of the Government. Up to then, papers were dependent on the Government for foreign news. It was also responsible for the agitation which led to the granting of the franchise to the upper middle-classes.
We pass on to the "Daily Telegraph" in 1855, and I mention it because, as the result of the abolition of the duty, it was the first paper that came out at a penny. Then we come to the change, if I may so term it. In 1870 we had the Education Act. Naturally, people were developing their minds, and it is from that time that we begin to get some semblance of combine, and the names of Newnes, Harmsworth and Pearson become known. We are all familiar with the control they had over newspapers, and it is from that period, when people were becoming better educated, we see the attempt that was being made to get hold of the Press. I want to quote a comment of the late Lord Northcliffe. At that time, Mr. Carnegie threatened to buy up the British Press, and I believe that Lord Northcliffe was one of the men approached. He made these remarks:
We journalists have no objection whatever to capitalists owning newspapers and thus creating employment, but I object to being a member of a combination in which capitalists, ignorant of Fleet Street, dictate terms to those who have spent their lives trying to understand the complex question of a newspaper. The prominence of the list made me realise for the first time that behind every single London daily newspaper, with the possible exception of some sporting journals and a Labour publication of which I know nothing, there is a multimillionaire, a millionaire or a very wealthy colleague—a shipping king, a cotton waste king, coal kings, and oil kings, and the rest of them.
Lord Northcliffe, therefore, would not be a party to a combine. It shows that at that period an attempt was being made to get a combine, and to get control of the British Press. The "Manchester Guardian," which is one of the few papers that has remained independent, was approached about that period. The "Guardian," founded in 1825, six years
after the Peterloo trouble, is well worth mentioning in connection with the purchasing of papers to control public opinion. This is a paper which, since the founder, John Edward Taylor, set it going, has been recognised as opposed to anything like aristocratic dominance or reactionary foreign policy. Perhaps it is not so well known that an attempt was made to purchase the paper from the late Mr. Taylor for £1,000,000 sterling. At that period, this would have been much more than it was actually worth, but this offer was refused with scorn. Independence of opinion was preferred. So we get, at that period, a real attempt being made to get all the newspapers into one hand. It has been staved off for a time, but now we are getting a little nearer to that point, because we are getting what is termed "the Big Five" in operation. One is called the Rothermere group, controlling five large newspapers; then there is the Beaver-brook group controlling four the Cadbury-Cowdray group, controlling three; the Berry group controlling 24 in London, Lancashire, Wales and Scotland; and the Starmer group, controlling 30.
§ Mr. TINKER
That is one of the few papers that is independent. Now the Harmsworth Press are trying to control the evening newspapers. I have here a prospectus showing the attempt that is being made to get all the evening newspapers—of course, by legitimate means, but not by means which I think are the very best means. Lord Rothermere in a statement which preceded the prospectus shows that he is not out for a combine. He says:We have no desire to bring all such newspapers under t he control of one group. I am convinced that this view is shared also by Sir William and Sir Gomer Berry, who are already established in that field to the extent of controlling the 'Manchester Evening Chronicle,' the 'Glasgow Evening News,' the 'Newcastle Evening Chronicle,' the 'North-Eastern Daily Gazette,' the 'Yorkshire Telegraph and Star.' and the 'South Wales Evening Express and Evening Mail,' in addition to four provincial dailies and four provincial Sunday newspapers. Sir William Berry and his brother will be, I am sure, the first to admit the undesirability of any form of Press monopoly, and to welcome experienced and powerful competition in the industry to which they had devoted their energies.2057 I want to draw the attention of the House to the means adopted to get control of public opinion. I have here some of the advertisements. First of all, there is the football competition. Just imagine what this means. The "Sunday Chronicle" last Sunday offered £10,000 as a first prize, and it tells where readers can get expert guidance to pick the winners; they have to look at another paper, where there will be somebody picking out the likely clubs, and, by that combination, there is a chance of getting the £10,000. Much as we all like a gamble—most of us like a gamble [Interruption]; I am speaking for myself, but we are all safe until we are found out—I do not think that it is the right way to do it to offer such big prizes. In addition the "Sunday Chronicle" run a racing competition in conjunction with nine other papers, and readers are referred to the "Sporting Chronicle Handbook," price 3d., and the "Racing Handbook," price 1s., so that competitors have to buy these to keep in touch and win the prize. Then there are the big schemes of free insurance. I wish the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) were here, because during the Debate last Thursday she let off steam about some of the papers, and she made this remark:It is one of the most pitiful things in public life that so much of our Press is given up to insurance, and, where they stop stating how much they have paid in insurance, you have to look at the picture of a noble lord who owns the Press and read what he thinks, when probably the only thing he has seen of the article is his photograph."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th March, 1928; col. 1449, Vol. 215.]I agree with the hon. Lady that it is deplorable that the newspapers of the day have to pay regard to that kind of thing. This matter is being taken up by the people in the provinces, who are looking with some dismay at the idea of newspapers being taken up by the big combines. In the "Yorkshire Post" of 19th March last, Dr. James Graham, Director of Education of Leeds, is reported as saying:The provinces are threatened with an invasion by a great London newspaper syndicate. It is a proposal that vitally concerns the general public. Suppose the syndicate does succeed in setting up these proposed evening journals, it can only be at the cost of existing local newspapers, which means that, instead of the organs locally controlled, that are really native to 2058 the city and the country, there will he a ring of gramophones that have their inspiration from a high and mighty potentate in London.Again, I agree, because the Syndicate will only be voicing what London has to say, and it will be controlled by the head of the combine. We have greater opinion that that, and I will quote Lord Hewart. In a speech, which he made at a dinner given by the London Institute of Journalists, on 3rd December, 1922, he said:Suppose a man has acquired a great deal of money, and he puts that money into soap, tobacco or any other household commodity, his opinions, likes and dislikes are of as much consequence to the civilised world as before. But suppose that the same man chooses to put his money into double rotary printing machines. The merest caprice and whim of that man, by the mere force of that mechanical duplication, may become a danger to the peace of the civilised world.That is very fitting from such an able man as Lord Hewart. The "Spectator" has stated:In a few years' time we might witness the formation of one great combine or newspaper trust. A special obligation rests on all remaining independent journals to safeguard their independence.Only on Saturday last the editor of the "Manchester Guardian," speaking in Manchester at a meeting of newspaper people, passed this comment:People have different tastes in newspapers, as in most other things. Some like to be amused, some to be instructed, others prefer a judicious mixture of the two. But on one thing we shall all be agreed: the newspaper is now a necessity of life. It comes with our breakfast, and there are some enthusiasts who have been heard to profess that they could better do without the meal than the paper. Be that as it may, it is certain that the newspaper has come to be the support not only of our breakfast but of a large part of our existence. It. is an essential instrument of our whole public life. Democratic Government—the Government of a free modern State—has been described as government by discussion; and how are you to discuss affairs of State unless you know just what there is to discuss, and have full and free means of discussion? There you get to the very foundations of popular government. …. The State is no longer jealous of its power, but the public would do well to be jealous for its character, and, above all, for its independence.We have there independent opinion as to what is likely to happen if the Press 2059 8.0 p.m
gets into the hands of a few people. I want to show the object of the attempt of the syndicates to get control of the Press, and again I wish to quote one or two opinions. Here, again, I quote Lord Northcliffe on the question of Press control:Some of the provincial papers, like some of the London newspapers, are maintained by wealthy men for the purpose of political and social advancement. There is nothing wrong in that.He is pointing out what happens, and he says that there is nothing wrong in it. Mr. A. G. Gardiner, writing in "John Bull" on 10th June, 1922, said:During the past half-dozen years it has rained titles in newspaper articles. Almost anyone who owns a powerful journal can have a peerage for the asking or without the asking; and almost any journalist who can influence what the papers say can have a knighthood on the same terms.There is no question at all about the influence the Press can wield. It can influence politicians of Cabinet rank, and can influence Cabinet opinion by its power. I am not speaking now of Conservatives or Liberals. Our men are human, like anybody else, and they can be influenced in the same way. I will give another comment of an able man, Lord Rhondda. The life of Lord Rhondda reveals a frank statement of his own opinion as to the desirability of owning newspapers:A newspaper in London is a source of political power, and I am prepared to spend money on it.Those extracts sum up the power which can be wielded by the Press, and which is passing into a few hands. This Debate is not brought forward from any party standpoint at all. It is submitted with the object of bringing to the attention of the House how important it is in these things that we should maintain a balance and keep things as fair as possible. There is the question of the women's franchise, for example. We have now coming forward a body of young people whose opinions may not have been moulded in any way at all, and, as Mr. Scott, the editor of the "Manchester Guardian," has said, these young people will be searching for opinions from whatever source they can get them. We Members of Parliament may go round speaking, but we cannot get everybody 2060 to come to our meetings, and, if we get them there, they are not always influenced, and so a large field is left open to the Press. Just imagine what the effect might be if the control of the Press got into the hands of people who were opposed to women's suffrage, and wanted to create a position which is opposed to the whole trend of public opinion? That could easily be done, because we have all these young women whose opinions can be moulded, probably in any direction. Therefore, it is up to us to try to keep the Press independent, so that the people may at least have an opportunity of forming something like a fair opinion of the work of the House of Commons. The Prime Minister, speaking the other week, made a remark which, I think, bears on the point I am trying to put. Addressing the Junior Imperial League on the 12th March, he said:You are starting your political life in a wonderful age. The whole world since the War is trying, however feebly, and with whatever stumblings, to start a new life. At the next election we have had our first election under complete man h no d suffrage, and the lesser term includes the greater. There is a catchword that has been running round the world since the War, and it is this: 'We must make the world safe for democracy.' I will give a truer catchword: 'You have got to make democracy safe for the world.'When I read those words, I thought that if we are trying to make democracy safe for the world, and know that the Press plays such an important part in building up opinion, it is time that we as the House of Commons, in face of this trend towards combines, considered what can be done to stop it. If we are of opinion that by voicing our views in the House of Commons we can put a check on this kind of thing, I shall be satisfied, but, if we felt that was of no use, from the very fact that it is wealthy people who control these combines, then I should expect the House at a later date to take some effective steps to put a stop to this state of affairs. This is only my personal opinion, but I am against men of wealth controlling the destinies of our people. In a short time, the men now controlling our independent journals will pass away and a younger generation may say, "I am going to be bought by money." Then we may see those independent journals joining the combine. Finally, it will be only a question of the three combines determining 2061 to come together, and then we shall get at the head of the combine—it may be a good man, or it may be a bad man. If it is a bad man, the whole trend of public opinion will be influenced in a certain direction, and it will take us many many years to alter that trend of opinion. I do not want that to happen, and I have brought this Motion forward in the hope that the House may feel that it ought to give a warning to those who are attempting to gain control of the Press.
§ Mr. CHARLETON
I beg to second the Motion. I cannot say how glad I am that my hon. Friend has given me the opportunity of seconding this Motion dealing with the syndicated Press. If there is a danger springing up within the community, it is the duty of this House to examine it, and to state quite definitely what its opinion is about it. It seems to me that this syndicalism which is grasping the Press of our country within its paw is crushing out the real journalism of the country. In England we used to be noted for the free and sturdy independence of our Press. We have had struggles over the freedom of the Press, but eventually we got a free, sturdy, independent Press, able to state its opinions, able to guide opinion in the country, and able to give news; but with the growth of this syndication of the Press we are getting something different. It has been said that these great Press magnates found journalism a profession and turned it into a branch of commerce. You cannot deal with the newspaper industry and profession in the same way as you deal with the selling of cabbages, potatoes and things of that sort, because journalism is something far greater, more psychological. In every district we have a paper which has grown up with the district, which has been bound up with the life of the district; now we have these syndicates, which are proposing to permeate the whole journalistic life of the country and, perhaps, to push out some of the great organs which have existed for so long. What a tragic occurrence it would be if the "Yorkshire Post" were pushed out of Leeds and out of Yorkshire. It is a newspaper with whose political opinions I do not agree, of course, but it is a great newspaper, and all Yorkshiremen and all Yorkshire Members take an interest in that great organ—as Lord Balfour said when he was 2062 Mr. Balfour, "That great organ of public opinion." It is a newspaper we can all respect, as we can respect the "Manchester Guardian" or the "Scotsman," and other papers like that. With the coming of the great syndicates things are altogether different.
What does the syndicalist Press write about most? Usually they are boasting of their circulation and, as my hon. Friend the Mover has said, talking about the number of prizes they give, and all sorts of stunts, such as standard bread, "grow sweet peas," "cook your food in paper bags," and all that nonsense. It seems to me that it is as was said by Hosea Bigelow:
Mr. Wickham Steed, who was appointed by Lord Northcliffe as Editor of the "Times," has dealt with the position of the Press, and I think what he says is worth hearing. He says:
- "I du believe with all my soul
- In the gret Press's freedom,
- To pint the people to the goal
- An' in the traces lead 'cm."When newspapers become solely or chiefly money-making machines for their controlling proprietors they cease to fulfil their true function.Any of us who know anything of the history of our newspapers know that in the past they were respected, but they were not money making machines, and I believe they usually lived on overdrafts rather than on their profits. He went on to sayOverloading with capital charges—albeit on capital largely watered—and condemned to seek huge profits in order to meet them, newspapers tend to compete more and more keenly with each other for the circulation which means advertisement revenue, to pander to the lower public appetities.That seems to me to be the worst feature of it all. With the growth of this syndicated Press I can imagine that, instead of having journalists with various lines of thought, brought up in different ways, looking out on the world with different eyes, expressing their views in their different papers, we shall have a little syndicate of two or three men in London, having huge interests in oil, coal, and other things, disseminating views which they call news, sending out opinions and calling it news, drawing up leading articles here in London and sending them broadcast—with, 2063 all the time, their economic interests behind them.
This Press is subsidised by us, by the State. The recent report on the telegraph system shows the charges for hiring a single telegraph wire, the maximum being £350 a year for the user of that wire for 12 hours a day. These newspapers have the use of a single wire for 12 hours every day throughout the year for about one-third of what they get for a full-page advertisement for one day. We are subsidising these people to do this sort of thing. The smaller papers would have no need of it; they could not afford to pay the price for it. The position of the journalist is also in danger. The ordinary working journalist on a newspaper outside the syndicated papers is riot sure of his job. He never knows when this great octopus is coming along to swallow his paper. In those cases where the journalist is controlled by the syndicate he never knows when he is going to get another job. Many working journalists are working under such conditions that they cannot give of their best.
We want newspapers run and organised so that journalists do get some security in regard to do their job, and when they know that they cannot get on with their particular editor they should have the whole field of journalism at their feet to get another job. If these combines go on purchasing up all the newspapers or running other newspapers in opposition, in the end they will be looking at one another like Alexander with no more fields to conquer. In this way, they will inevitably form one huge trust, arid the whole of the news and the ideas of the country will be in the hands of one small group of men. I am sure the whole House stands for the freedom of the Press, but to have the freedom of the Press we must have a free Press. If the Press is shackled by being owned by one combine it cannot be called a free Press, and it will be dominated by just a few people. The Press has a great tradition behind it, and it seems to me that it is in very great danger of losing that tradition. I have here a remark made by St. John Ervine, who said:We know there are certain demented millionaires who own newspapers and will write for them, and when one of these 2064 men writes an article the staff hides its head, and goes about the rest of the week explaining it away.What a humiliating position this is for the editor who has to run the paper and follow it up year after year. They never used to do that sort of thing in the old days. Sir Robert Donald, the editor of the "Daily Chronicle" from 1902 to 1918, speaking as the president of the Institute of Journalists, said:During the last 20 years the Press has become commercialised under syndicate ownership; the main concern of shareholders was that their dividends must be earned even if principle had to suffer.Sir Robert Donald is a lifelong journalist, one of the best, at his business, and that is what he tells us. It seems to me that it would be criminal on our part if we did not take notice of such opinions as those I have quoted. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion referred to the way in which some of the newspapers obtain a great circulation, and he spoke about insurance of the people who do not understand these things, and who are made to believe that they get their insurance for nothing by buying the paper. The very papers that talk so much about certain industries charging more for labour than pre-War rates are charging 100 per cent. more than pre-War rates for their newspapers. They tell people that by buying their newspapers they get insurance for nothing, but of course they do not. The purchasers of the newspapers have to pay for the insurance every day they buy their papers. There are competitions in some newspapers which are called sport, but they are not sport at all, and really it is gambling. The "Daily Sketch" is offering £20,000 for a free travel scheme, and so they trap the unwary. T will give the following quotation from the Biglow Papers:
The more the Press becomes syndicated the more the news Will become unfair. If you take the "Manchester Guardian" or the "Yorkshire Post," when dealing with a Debate in this House, they do 2065 give it very fairly, although not so fully as the "Times." I noticed a little while ago in the case of the "Times" how many lines the reporters gave to the speakers in a Debate in this House. To the Mover of the Motion who belonged to one political party they gave 61 lines; the Seconder got 35 lines; the Mover of the Amendment 11 lines, seven of which were taken up by his Amendment; and the Seconder of the Amendment also ran, notwithstanding that the Mover of the Amendment spoke six columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT and the Seconder four columns. That seems to me to be very unfair.
- "In short, I firmly du believe
- In Humbug generally,
- For it's a thing thet I perceive
- To hev a solid Vally;
- Thus heth my faithful shepherd ben,
- In pasturs sweet heth led me,
- An' this'll keep the people green
- To feed ez they hev fed me."
I think in matters of this kind we might take a leaf out of the book of the French people. In France, when important speeches are made in the Chamber of Deputies, they have them printed and sent round to all the municipalities to be posted up. In that case, the people at least get the truth. [An HON. MEMBER: "They get the speeches."] Yes, they get the speeches, but I am sure that if they were the speeches delivered in this House they would get the truth. As we get more and more out of the hands of the syndicates, perhaps we shall be able to do the same thing. Under the present system, all sorts of misunderstandings are constantly arising, and there is no check upon them when their own economic interests are concerned. Hon. Members opposite believe in regulating the utterances of Communists, seditious teaching and so-called blasphemy. We have all heard of the outrages in Hyde Park caused by painting the hydrants the wrong colour.
§ Mr. CHARLETON
It may be that after all the bulk of the syndicated Press supports the party opposite. [HON MEMBERS: "No!"] I was going to say that hon. Members opposite have no guarantee when the syndicated Press will desert them. It is not, long ago that a Minister of Agriculture was driven out of public life by one of the syndicated papers. All things considered, I think the syndicated Press is a danger, and I hope this Motion will be adopted in order to show to the world that we are concerned that the life stream of news 2066 should be kept clean and not fouled as it is likely to be by a syndicated Press.
From some points of view, I suppose, the Motion that we are discussing to-night is non-controversial, because I take it that hardly a Member of this House, no matter in what part he may sit, would disagree with the general motives and underlying principles of this Motion. All parties have suffered, as we know, from time to time, from what they conceive to be the misplaced and mischievous activities of the Press, syndicated and otherwise. No better example could be given than the experience that some of us who sit on this side of the House are having at the present time in regard to the suggestions that are being made with reference to what happened at the Division last Thursday night. I see in one of the syndicated papers to-night the statement that definite instructions have been issued, to those of us who, for very good reasons, were absent from that Division, to say nothing about it. If that be the case. I can only inform the House that unfortunately, so far as I am concerned, those instructions must have miscarried in the post, because they certainly have not reached me. A more mischievous example of the way in which some Press organs to-day endeavour to represent, or misrepresent public opinion, it would be difficult to find than that, and I think that no one knows better than the political correspondent of that particular newspaper. who is responsible for that article, that the suggestions he is making have very little relation to accuracy. [HON MEMBERS: "Where were you?"]
Nevertheless, however desirable may be the object underlying this Motion, the difficulties of carrying it into effect are, I think, insuperable. The Motion endeavours to lay down three propositions—firstly, that the maintenance of an independent Press is vital and essential to a healthy public life; secondly, that the consolidation of the newspaper Press in the hands of powerful syndicates is undesirable; and, thirdly, that the devices employed by some of these syndicates to increase their circulation are contrary to the public interest. Broadly speaking, those are three propositions which I think would commend themselves to all of us; it is when we begin to examine them in detail that difficulties and queries arise. 2067 We all desire, as I believe the hon. Member who moved this Motion said, a free and independent Press. I was a little amused, if he will forgive me for saying so, when he began to explain what he considered the functions of the Press to-day ought to be. He said that, first of all, they should collect news as to events that had happened, and also as to events that were going to happen. It is just because the syndicated Press, in particular, endeavours to obtain too much news with regard to events which it thinks will happen, that we take the strongest exception to it.
§ Mr. TINKER
Perhaps I did not put it in quite the right way. What I had in mind were events that it is known will happen, such, for instance, as a certain international event which is coming off next Saturday. The point covers more than public opinion.
§ Mr. RENTOUL
I do not think that in principle I was misrepresenting the hon. Member, but I only made that reference in passing. I think that everyone desires to see a free and independent Press; in other words, we all agree with a very well known Liberal journalist, who, a short time ago, said this:There is only one safe guide for the Press—public interest. Once that is put aside, then the Press becomes a dangerous trade like white lead, to be scheduled under the Dangerous Trades Act.I notice that even Lord Beaverbrook, who is one of the magnates to whom reference has been made in this discussion, in a very instructive and significant little work, which some hon. Members may have read, entitled "Politicians and the Press," emphasises the need for an independent Press, and uses these words:An independent newspaper should be in a healthy relation of give and take with its readers. It can guide honestly, and yet be guided by popular sentiment. If it abuses public confidence, it will be punished by loss of influence and circulation. It is necessary for such a newspaper to be incorrupt, impartial and clear-sighted to tell the rulers what the people are thinking, and to check any Ministry which tries to run the nation on the rocks.Those are very admirable sentiments, but, so far as a great part of the Press to-day is concerned, I am afraid they are more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Never has there been a time in the history of this country when the 2068 need for a truly independent Press was more essential than it is at present, when we have this enormous electorate, a very large portion of whom are politically uninstructed, and are far too prone to take their political views from their favourite newspaper, whether it be the "Daily Mail" the "Daily News" or the "Daily Herald."
The first question, however, that I should like to put with regard to this Motion is: What exactly is meant by independence? Of what is the Press to be independent? Powerful syndicates, after all, may be of different kinds. They may be financial; they may be industrial; they may be political; and control by any one of these may, as I think will be admitted, be fatal to the independence of the Press. The Mover of the Motion fulminated against certain sections of what he described as the syndicated Press. I felt that it required a little audacity on his part to overlook one of the most striking and, to my mind, mischievous examples of the syndicated Press that we have in this country at the present time. I refer to the "Daily Herald." The "Daily Herald," as it is proud to boast, is owned and controlled by the organised Labour movement. I would ask, is not this control by a powerful syndicate? What is the moral difference between the syndicate who run the Labour movement and a syndicate such as controls another portion of the Press which happens to be directly interested in industry? In the one case the policy of the syndicate is to try to promote their gospel of Socialism; in the other case the syndicate is interested, no doubt, in endeavouring to uphold the capitalist system. From a national point of view, I venture to believe that a syndicate such as controls a, newspaper like the "Daily Herald" is considerably the worse, because it is governed by men who are inclined to look at matters entirely from a narrow and partisan standpoint, whereas that is not the case, after all, with these other syndicates.
The "Daily Herald" has been at some pains in its columns to collect information with regard to the occupations and interests of men who control what it describes as the syndicated Press. They comprise men directly interested in banking, insurance, chemicals, electricity, coal, oil, tea, shipping, railways, rubber, groceries, films, motors, beer, gas, tramways, cocoa, 2069 biscuits, cotton, printing and paint. That is a fairly comprehensive list of industries. I should imagine that men who are directly concerned in so many and such widespread industries would not be so likely to take a narrow and partisan view. At all events, there is no desire, so far as we are able to judge, on the part of the syndicated Press to bolster up the present Government. Consequently, hon. Members opposite need have no grievance on that score, because only last week I notice the "Daily Mail" referred to the Rip-van-Winkles of our Cabinet and said:Unfortunately, the British Government muddles whatever it touches in connection with industry.I am sure that is a sentiment which would commend itself to many hon. Members opposite. Speaking for myself and for many who sit on this side of the House, it is some gratification to us to reflect that if we have not to-day a truly independent Press we have at all events a Government which, unlike its predecessors, is reasonably independent of the Press.
When you begin to speak about an independent newspaper, I should again like to ask what exactly is meant by that. Of what are they to be independent? Independent of political parties? Certainly the "Daily Herald," for example, will not stand that test. Independent of shareholders? I feel it is better that a newspaper should be owned by a large number of people than that it should be owned and controlled by one person. Independent, you may say, of advertisers. Considerable reference has been made to advertisements. Some newspapers, of course, are more successful than others in keeping themselves independent of advertisements, but it generally has rather detrimental results on their financial prospects. There are some newspapers which have been completely successful. There is, for instance, the "Sunday Worker," which has been able to adopt an entirely independent attitude. It has had no need whatever to worry about dividends, presumably because it is able to subsist on part of the proceeds of the 690,206 roubles which were received as subsidies to party papers, publications and educational work, according to the summary of the balance-sheet for 1927 issued by the Secretary of the Communist Internationale and published in the "Workers' Life" on 23rd March last.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Is the hon. Member aware that the "Sunday Worker" attacks the Labour party far more than any other paper?
§ Mr. RENTOUL
I did not make any reference to its politics I was merely admiring its attitude of independence. If you talk about independence, do you mean independence of Press agencies? There, again, the syndicated Press, owing to its enormous wealth and ramifications, is gradually making itself independent of Press agencies and is building up its own news service throughout the world, thereby beating its rivals in promptness and accuracy. Consequently, when we begin to talk about the independence of the Press, we immediately find ourselves in a certain amount of difficulty. To my mind, the acid test of independence on the part of a newspaper is whether, when occasion demands, the newspaper or the journalist is prepared to adopt an independent line according to his best judgment, even though it is going to entail his own direct financial disadvantage. I fancy there are very few newspapers which would pass that test. That is why many of us in the House, however much we may disagree with its political views, deplore sincerely the disappearance of such a newspaper as the old "Westminster Gazette," for example, the independence of judgment of which, and the attitude of which were excellent, as well as the skill of its editorial work, and the high literary quality of many of its articles.
The Motion goes on to speak of devices that are employed by the syndicated Press contrary to public interest. Are the devices employed by the so-called syndicated Press any different from the devices employed by other newspapers that are not syndicated? Are they essentially different, for example, from some of these purely independent newspapers, as we are now assured the "Daily Herald" is? On reference to the "Daily Herald," of which I can claim to be a fairly constant reader, it publishes racing news and selections, thereby directly encouraging betting and gambling. It encourages greyhound racing, which many hon. Members think is so undesirable that it ought to be abolished. It publishes fashion news. Only yesterday there appeared a design 2071 of a coat for a flapper, which I conclude is an insidious attempt to appeal to the new feminine voter. It publishes cartoons of Bobby Bear, apparently a feeble rival of the Dot and Carrie, Pip, Squeak and Wilfrid, and Mutt and Jeff of the syndicated Press, and, worst of all, it regularly publishes stock exchange news, and has financial news, and reports of industrial companies, which many hon. Members I am sure, especially some on the opposite side of the House, consider most undesirable and entirely contrary to the public interest.
If the suggestion is to deplore the newspaper stunts from time to time, there I think, the hon. Member who moved the Motion will have our entire sympathy. But unfortunately, all newspapers indulge in these, and all parties have suffered from them. I have referred to the flapper vote stunt that is going on at present, and most politicians have suffered from time to time from these so-called stunts. Even so entirely blameless an individual as the Home Secretary has not altogether escaped, owing to the fact that a short time ago, in the course of his duties, he happened to be present at an entertainment at a well-known restaurant in the West End. In spite of the fact that that entertainment was to raise funds for what one might describe as one of the most important and admirable causes from a national standpoint, he has been represented as going there in the guise of a mere pleasure seeker, although those of us who know him well must realise that it was only a stern sense of duty, and that it must have been most uncongenial to him. After all, men in a public position have to carry out these duties sometimes. We know that even an under-sheriff has to be present occasionally at an execution. I can imagine it was in some such spirit that the Home Secretary attended this function.
Therefore, while most of us would favour the underlying motives and principles of this Motion, I suggest that it is altogether an impracticable one. The remedy certainly does not lie with this House. Some time ago the Leader of the Opposition, in the "Daily Herald," used these words, when speaking of the syndicated Press:The situation is an alarming one, and the public should take steps to protect itself, even by legislation if necessary.2072 He did not tell us exactly what kind of legislation he had in mind, and that is a point on which both the Mover and Seconder have been very silent. What steps could be taken by legislation to deal with these evils? In spite of their enthusiasm for nationalisation, I doubt whether hon. Members opposite would favour the nationalisation of the Press. That has been tried in Russia with what I understand are not very satisfactory results. You might say that no one should be permitted to hold shares in a newspaper or that he should be permitted to have shares in more than one newspaper. I doubt very much whether these suggestions would get to the root of the evil. In fact, I believe that no action that this House could take is possible without opening the door to far worse evils than those aimed at by this Motion. The Press of this country, on the whole, as we are glad to know, enjoys a very high reputation for fair dealing and accuracy; a very much higher reputation than the Press of many Continental countries.
The real remedy for these evils, it seems to me, is for all parties to try and educate the people of the country to take a more serious and active interest in politics and not to be so prone, as undoubtedly they are, to take their opinions ready made from the columns of some newspapers. Finally, to try and make them realise that the political opinions they see expressed in the newspapers under present conditions merely represent the views of a certain individual and therefore are of no more importance than the views of any other member of the public. I think that this process of education is gradually going on. I believe that the newspapers to-day have far less influence in political affairs than they had in bygone years. Therefore, while most of us might be inclined to agree with the Mover of the Motion in general principle and sympathise with the object he has in view, I for one have yet to be convinced that any effective restriction could logically be applied which would not violate some of our most cherished liberties and which if imposed could possibly be enforced in actual practice. It is for these reasons, while sympathising with the hon. Gentleman opposite, that I beg to oppose this Motion.
With much that has been said on both sides of the House I find myself in agreement. But my first words are words of disagreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Rentoul) who has just sat down, because it is precisely because this Motion does not seek to do anything that I propose to support it and to support it, if necessary, with my vote in the Division Lobby. There are occasions when merely to enunciate propositions without doing anything further is of value, and I think that the mere enunciation of the concern which a great many people feel in this country at the operation of the syndicated Press can be of considerable value even although it does not pretend, and none of us want to see it followed up by, anything in the nature of action. I was intensely amused at the complete volte face which appears invariably to occur in the Socialist party when any problem of practical importance emerges. The curious and almost sentimental attachment to the old days, to the dignity of individualism, was really almost pathetic, coming from the source from which it did come. It was really quite touching to hear the tender way in which the great pioneers of modern journalism were extolled by the hon. Member, who, in a most entertaining speech, took us back to the earlier traditions of journalism. It is, unfortunately, I believe, true that we have lost that decorum and that decency of touch which characterised journaiistic enterprise in the last century in the hands of those more robust individualists who managed the great papers of the 19th century. That is our misfortune. What I wonder is, whether it does not follow from something inherently garish and commonplace in the whole outlook of our present democracy.
I am very much afraid that may be the case, and, if it be so, what my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft said before he sat down is intensely true, that you can do nothing until you have educated the democracy, so that it shall discard false standards, discard the reeking, sloppy sentimentality that we see all round us in the Press, and seek to set a truer standard whether in art, in politics, or in any other manifestation of our national life. Short of that, I confess I do not see very much hope for the Press. The ruthless and 2074 reckless way in which modern journalism is prepared, for example, to dissect even the most intimate private sorrows must be a thing that brings a shudder of shame to any of us who have the misfortune to have to read the evening papers and come across it. For my part, I think I have said enough to show that on many grounds I feel the greatest possible sympathy with a good deal that has been said on the other side, and I venture to express a hope that, although it does not tend to do anything, this Motion may command the sympathetic attention of the House of Commons, and that, through the House of Commons, a warning may be expressed to, possibly, the greatest potential power for good or evil in civilisation at the present time.
My hon. Friend said, and said quite rightly, that there is no institution in the country that has greater potentiality than the Press at the present time. Unfortunately, it has power without responsibility, and, in my opinion, it is beginning to have to face a position when it is not likely to have either power or responsibility. I do not mind the expression of views in the Press. I do not think that any of us do, provided that they are confined to the columns in which views ought to be expressed, but what one does resent is that news should be constantly coloured with view s from the front page to the back, from the advertisement columns down to the accounts of the Stock Exchange. You cannot get rid of the predominating plan which, you feel, some master mind is endeavouring to instil into the paper from one cover to the other. We have heard to-day the statement of the Prime Minister on the subject of rubber. Tomorrow, you may be perfectly certain, that in those organs the design of whose proprietor it is to depreciate the position of the Prime Minister in the country, not only will you find his statement on rubber has been the subject of attack in the editorial columns, but, if you look in the sports columns, you will find that it has gravely upset the race meetings, and you will find it is going to have an alarming effect on the future of lawn tennis. And from one end of the paper to the other you will find, intimately interwoven by a cunning thread, the whole of the organisation of the paper so employed as to give a wholly false picture to its readers.
It has, I am not disputing it. But the fact that it has upset the City will be completely lost sight of owing to the fact that it is distorted in all the other manifestations. That is a device not confined to the so-called capitalist Press. It is equally strongly indicated in the "Daily Herald." I have a most amusing example of that which I happened to see only the other day. The Duke of Westminster made what was a most munificent gift to the city of Westminster—and it was accepted with the greatest possible gratitude by the city—of land on a long building lease of 999 years for the purpose of re-housing. This munificent gift—from whatever source it came, it was a munificent gift—was given proper publicity in most of the papers, I saw in the "Daily Herald" the following account of it:The Duke of Westminster has agreed to lease to the Westminster City Council for the term of 999 years at one shilling a year ground rent an area of about 2½ acres for a re-housing scheme on the Grosvenor estate at Millbank.That is an accurate and precise account of what occurred.The property was flooded in the recent Thames overflow.That is one of the most concise examples of the way in which the policy and the whole opinion of the paper is utilised to distort and prostitute an item of really important and interesting news, specially so, presumably, to the people who read the "Daily Herald." It attempts to make the whole thing facetious by putting in the stupid tag at the end, as if the Duke of Westminster had been getting rid of something which was no good to him at all.
I do not agree with one hon. Member who said that remarks in the "Times" should be recorded according to their length. God forbid that that standard should ever be set up in any newspaper office in this country! I do not mind so much about the people the syndicated Press or the other Press drive out of the public life of this country, but what I do object to is the people that it drives in. I think it sets up false standards even in our deliberative assembly, so that by specious publicity, we get a type of 2076 reputation built up which is not in the best interests of democracy or of the country. Perhaps one of the greatest vices of the syndicated Press and one of the greatest disservices that it can do to the country is the distortion of standards. So much of the modern newspaper consist in the clever art of distortion alone. The art is to choose the simple things of life that are not worth bothering about, that are not worth expressing in detail, and to elaborate them, distort them and colour them in a vicious atmosphere of false romance, that might even so deflect the lives and outlook of some of us here as, in a sense, to degrade public life. For that and many other reasons, I feel that if this Motion goes to a Division I shall go into the Lobby in support of it.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. SNELL
The House, I am sure, is grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Luton (Captain O'Connor) for bringing the discussion back to a level which is worthy of the subject. I could not help feeling moved by the care with which the hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Rentoul) started his speech with the excellent intention of desiring to say something about the importance of the subject. But he was not able to refrain from making a complete burlesque of the whole situation by trying to turn it into purely political channels. If the purpose of to-night's discussion was to level charges at newspapers belonging to this party or that party, hon. Members on this side would have a very easy task before them. Nothing would be easier than to reply to the charges made about the "Daily Herald." The fundamental difference between the "Daily Herald" and what we call the syndicated Press is this, that the "Daily Herald" is not owned and is not controlled by mineowners, shipowners and arms manufacturers, who are willing to run this nation into danger in order to promote their own personal profit. The "Daily Herald" may, conceivably, be mistaken in its ideas, but it has no profit to make out of its ideas. It is not run for the purpose of filling its pocket. That is a sufficient distinction between the "Daily Herald" and the other newspapers to which we have referred.
I would like to deal with the point which has been raised, and which is of 2077 importance, as to what we mean by the word "independence." By independence we mean that a newspaper, whose purpose it is to educate and influence the country should be independent of the great economic machine; that the people should feel that when they see something in the newspaper that it does represent an honest view of a public problem and that it is not merely the view of millionaires who are influencing the editor to produce something which may bring economic benefit to them. I feel sure that I shall be voicing the opinions of all my hon. Friends on this side when I say that if the "Daily Herald" were ever able to control the whole of the newspapers of this country and become as great a menace to the free expression of opinion as we think the syndicated Press is to-day, the "Daily Herald" would be just as big a danger to the community as we think these particular papers are.
I regard this subject as one of singular importance because the daily Press influences both our individual and our public policy. It can make and unmake Governments, and it has a power for good or evil, as the case may be, which in the old days was held by the Church alone. The purity of the Press is as important to the future of this country and to the present condition of this country as the purity of the pulpit. A free, a clean, a responsible Press is a necessary condition of the mental and spiritual health of the community in which we live. When we see that editors and journalists who by their vocation should be the trustees of the public conscience are becoming the creatures of the economic machine, there is arising a spiritual condition, a menace which this House cannot ignore. The modern Press has developed features which many of us on this side, and I think the hon. Members in all quarters of the House, distrust, and which create some alarm. It is the man who possesses a million pounds, who has the craft or the cunning, who has the directive monopoly over people's labour, who can make his voice felt throughout the country in a way altogether out of proportion to its individual value, to such an extent that the journalists become the mere intelligent tools of capitalist operations. Therefore, we have misgivings that the free Press for which our forefathers 2078 fought so valiantly is becoming in reality a slave Press; a slave to the economic forces which are operating.
If the House will allow me I should like to refer to the struggle our fathers had to give us what they thought would be the priceless inheritance of a free Press. Their aim was to remove the barriers which then existed against the free expression of opinion. They tried to safeguard public liberties, to free the minds of men from interference by Government, and ensure that opinion should have a free channel in which to run. The conditions which then existed were the same as those which exist now in Russia and Spain and Italy, and Richard Carlyle, who was the editor of the "Poor Man's Guardian," spent over nine years in prison editing his paper and being sentenced month after month and year after year for the sole purpose of being able to allow an honest man to say what he thought was right in regard to the religion he believed in and the Government under which he lived. I had the privilege of knowing some of those who in later years have carried on that struggle. I had the privilege of knowing Mr. George J. Holyoake, who was sent to prison, and Edward Truelove, who was perhaps a lesser known figure in the movement, and Charles Bradlaugh who fought for the freedom of the Press. Many times I have heard them say that their desire was not that any man should dominate public opinion but that every man should be free to contribute what gifts he had to the public welfare, as he saw it.
The hon. and gallant Member for Luton is astonished that we on this side should revert to what he calls the old individualism. Let me assure hon. Members that in regard to the individual soul and conscience we have never believed that the State has any right to interfere in any man's beliefs or do anything in regard to his worship. The State can do many wonderful things for us. It can take care of our bodies, give us better material surroundings, create an environment in which it may be a joy to live, but any State which tries to interfere with the souls of its citizens may do irreparable damage. That is the distinction between our attitude on these spiritual things and our attitude on the general material things which may be manipulated 2079 for the good of mankind. It is because of these misgivings which I have expressed that we feel that a new danger is developing in regard to the spiritual life of the community. The Press is theoretically free. Any man with a few thousands can start a newspaper if he likes. We have got rid of Government control, and I do not want to see it restarted. But it is not the Government, it is the voracious capitalist who is going to manipulate the forces around him so that he may use the nation, not merely the individual citizens but the nation as a whole, to fill his own pockets and promote his own desires.
If I had time to criticise the method in which the Press works, I would say that it appears to undertake no impartial research into problems, to come to conclusions on their merits, and then declare a policy and stick to them, whether it is sight or wrong, whether it pays or otherwise. No. It makes a careful calculation as to what it thinks is the mast extended prejudice in the community and then it writes down to that prejudice; it supports it, whatever it may be. If the people want dog-racing or night clubs, then the Press is at their obedient service. If it wants a war with Egypt, or some other place, it will set itself to prove that a war is long overdue. That is the evil of it, and we have had the illustration already mentioned in regard to what is called the Flapper vote. Do not let hon. Members opposite be afraid because they have voted for young women being admitted into an equality of citizenship. To do the right thing never brings discredit on anyone or any penalty in the end. What we object to is that these events are dressed up for the purpose of promoting ends that are not always obvious, and the moral law—I say it with a great deal of hesitancy but yet with sincerity in regard to a certain class of newspapers in this country—appears to mean no more to them than the criminal law means to the criminal who breaks the law of the land.
The campaigns of unmitigated slander that are undertaken are really sometimes a disgrace to our common manhood. Let me illustrate this with names that will command respect in this House. There was never a more wicked campaign than that which was undertaken against Prince Louis of Battenberg during the 2080 time of war, unless it was the campaign undertaken against Lord Haldane and Lord Oxford and Lord Kitchener at the same time. What for? Not for the good of the nation, not because they had evidence, but because it happened to feed the malice or prejudice of ignorant people. It was a crime at that time to be able to read German, and for anybody to express his obligation to Hegel and Schopenhauer was to make himself the target for their ignorant malice. That is something which is not in the interests of this country. My interpretation of the function of journalism is that it is to tell the truth and give an impartial judgment on the facts as it sees them. The criticism we have to make against the modern Press is that it dopes the jury, which we call the nation, and then exploits its prejudices for its own purposes. This is a terrible thing. If I lie in a Court of law about a trivial thing affecting my neighbour's cow or horses I may be put in prison, but if I lie to a million people on an issue that may mean war or peace, death and disaster, a lack of prosperity to the country, then I am entirely free from punishment if I choose the right series of lies.
My criticism is that the syndicate Press is not a mirror of the world as it is. It is not a reporter of facts as they are. It is a selector of facts. In this House, if I had the courage, Mr. Speaker, to defy your ruling, which I have not, and were to make certain remarks to hon. Members opposite, or express my real opinion of His Majesty's Government, the Press would most certainly take notice of what I said, but it does not; it selects, and it selects the things which it thinks will suit the prejudices of ignorant people in the country. I do not believe we can go back to the old state of things. I do not believe the Government can control the Press. We do not want to re-institute a censorship. We have, in the end, to trust to the honour of the craft of journalism itself.
The appeal made to education rather leaves me cold. How can you wait until the people are educated when the Press is engaged in perverting that education? We have to take an easier way than that. Therefore, I feel that in the end we have to rely on the journalists themselves. It is a significant thing that the workers on the mechanical side of newspaper 2081 production have been able to enforce their standard of a living wage and the conditions under which they shall work, and that those conditions have been accepted even by the syndicated Press. Only on the intellectual side is there work that is something like slavery. These people can teach, but they cannot learn. They have not learned that they have to protect their own craft if they are to remain free men and to do their best work. Only quite recently three great and distinguished journalists, all of whom have been known to Members of this House—Mr. Spender, Mr. Gardiner, and Mr. Massingham—were chased out of Fleet Street and out of their profession because Capitalism needed duller minds and more obedient tools than they were. I think that the workers on the mechanical side have set an example in proclaiming standards below which they will not fall. They will not debase their occupation by living upon lower standards than those they have reached. Whenever the journalists get together, all of them, and regard their vocation as something sacred which may not be debased, and stand up.for that level of it, the public will have in this matter the only protection which can be given to them.
§ Sir MARTIN CONWAY
I have listened, as we must all have listened, with great interest and sympathy to the speeches of the Proposer and Seconder of this Motion. They were interesting and they were moderate, and they carried the general assent of almost every one in this House. I propose to make only one or two observations which occurred to me in listening to the hon. Members. I think that they over-estimated the power of the Press. I think that every one is liable to over-estimate the power of the Press. The late Mr. Kennedy Jones wrote a book, a copy of which is in the Library of this House. Mr. Kennedy Jones was a Member of this House, and I have always understood that he was the man who made the "Daily Mail." His book set out to prove this thesis—that the platform can always beat the Press. No matter how united the Press may be, if the platform is against it, if the platform is used by men of definite views which they are able to impose upon people, the 2082 Press is always powerless to resist the platform. We had a very clear instance of that in the General Election of 1910. In that year the Press was almost unanimously on the Conservative side; yet the Liberals came in with a majority almost as big as that which now crowds these benches. That was an example that it is well worth bearing in mind.
It is easy to over-estimate the power of the Press. In proportion as the Press, is grouped in the hands of syndicates, so, does it lose its power. The power of the Press has been much the greatest when there has been the greatest variety of ownership, of opinion, of exposition and of principles. The larger the variety of the Press the more influence that is exercised. But once you get the whole of it—if you can conceivably get the whole of it in England—in the hands of a syndicate and that syndicate directs one policy and expresses one policy throughout all the papers, it would have no effect and no influence whatever. People would know at once what they were to find, and they simply would not read the articles designed to uphold this policy. A single policy supported by the whole Press of the country would have no chance whatever. It is only when the Press represents all the different phases and varieties of opinion that it has legitimate and great influence. I do not think that the Press ever educates the public at all. As a matter of fact the Press reflects the existing opinion of parties—large parties, small parties, or whatever they may be, but always parties. The endeavour of an editor nine times out of ten is not to impress his views on the people, but to find out what they want and to say it. There axe two kinds of crowds. The Liberal party is not an assembly of individuals, each of them possessing views. It is a body of opinion,. The Labour party likewise more or less represents a body of opinion. The newspaper does not address itself to individuals. The newspaper is not a voice" attempting to impress individuals. It is, a thing that addresses crowds, and it addresses them not from the point of view of intellect of mind, but from the point of view of prejudice and emotion. You do not appeal to a crowd by reasoning with it; you appeal to a crowd by assertion.
When I first entered politics the late Mr. Labouchere said to me, "Now, 2083 young man, you are going into politics, and I will give you a, tip. Do not reason with them. Hardy assertion is the secret of all political success." That, I think, is the principle that governs most publicity in this country. Newspapers do not, for the most part, reason with people; they endeavour to impose their views upon people. There are two kinds of impositions of views, two kinds of relations between the individual and the crowd. There is the individual who impresses the opinion of the crowd, and there is the much rarer individual who imposes his opinion on the crowd. People like Napoleon and Bismarck were people who formed a certain view of their own, and had a theory of their own and principles of their own, and they gradually imposed these upon the popular mind. They were crowd compellers. Other people are crowd exponents. A newspaper is essentially an organ that expresses the opinion in a crowd. It depends for its circulation more or less on doing so. If it states what a large number of people think, they buy it.
There sometimes comes a great journalist who imposes his will on his readers, but these men are few. They are great men, and they deserve to obtain the effects which they produce. They are strong-minded, original-minded men who look at the world from an individual point of view. Such men, however, are so few that they need hardly be reckoned with. Supposing the entire journalism of this country were brought together in the possession of a single syndicate, dominated by a man of masterly power and great individuality, one could just possibly conceive then that such a grouping of the journals of the country would produce a very great effect; but, as a rule, that is not the case and we can brush it aside. In all the ordinary circumstances of life newspapers do not impose their views on the crowd, but merely express the existing views of the crowd. That is why I am not so frightened. I do not think that syndicated newspapers held in that way—with an individual at the head of them, be he rich man or strong man—have any influence at all worth mentioning.
People do not go to newspapers for education or to have their opinions formed. They form their own opinions 2084 in conversation one with another. The great nursery of opinion is in the speech of man to man, and that is where converts are made to ideas and where public opinion is gradually built up. When it is built up, it finds expression in the newspapers. There are some newspapers—I will not mention names—which have tried to form opinions. There was a newspaper which had a definite policy for many years, then changed its character and kept using its columns for stunts and attempting to impose its thoughts and ideas, but it lost its influence at once. I am not afraid that the syndicates will, in practice, produce the evil effects which they might. I think that the interest of a newspaper proprietor is in keeping the circulation and the respect of his readers. That is to say, the industry is to be the expression of the views of a party, and as long as there are three parties the newspapers will always express the views of those parties. That is about all they can hope to do.
I do not believe that this is a very great danger. At the same time, I view with great dislike the diminution in the number of owners of newspapers, because I think it makes for unity instead of variety. I am one who likes nothing so much in life as its infinite variety. In journalism I should like that same variety to be maintained. I am afraid that the influence of syndicates may be rather hostile to that, but otherwise, as to it being liable to injure the country materially, or to impose the views of wealthy and stupid individuals, I do not think it can do it at all or that there is that danger. I sympathise with this Motion, because I think it is in the right direction, and I should be sorry indeed to see the vast number of different newspapers expressing all kinds of views in the country planed down to express the views, say, of a particular party platform and being multiplied in different parts of the country and crying out each of them its shibboleths. That is a danger which is not very threatening. I shall give my support to the Motion, but I am not really afraid that the evil results which were so admirably put forward by the Proposer of this Motion are likely to arise.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I am glad to have the opportunity of discussing this matter as affecting journalism. First of all, let 2085 me say there is undoubtedly a menace to the public interest by this combination of Press power in the country. We are to-night presented with very great evidence, which is not challenged at all, as to the financial power that is getting its grip upon this agency which is of so much importance to the public interest. I submit that if there is any special concern, from the public standpoint, that ought to be carefully safeguarded, it is the Press. Speakers on the other side have made a strong point of the concern of the advertising aspect of Press power. There is no doubt that that great advertising factor suggests the very means whereby they are able to sell their paper at a very cheap rate, but, at the same time, that advertising power comes into the exchequer of the Press and that to a large extent provides what is to be said in the way of explanation of some particular business or other that has been largely advertised. But, outside the advertising aspect, from the public standpoint, there is undoubtedly a very clear proof of deterioration as to the value of the agency, in that the trend to-day is not to inculcate in the public mind that which is to be advantageous to the general body of the public, but to play rather on the weaknesses of the human element of the country and to make money at whatever cost. That was proved to a large degree in the Debate in this House when there was passed an Act of Parliament restricting the power of the Press in publishing some of the worst elements produced in the Divorce Court.
Coming to the political situation, I want to say, as a Member of the House, that my experience long before I entered the House was a very severe one, and submit it world be the same with any other man in any constituency who had to undergo the experiences which we have had to face in the City of Dundee. We had, for some time, two papers, one of which was reckoned to be a Liberal paper and the other a Tory paper. The Liberal paper advertised that it had the largest circulation north of the Forth. One day it was discovered that the paper had a poor circulation and eventually, not so very long ago, it got largely swallowed up by what is known as the "Dundee Courier and Advertiser." I am here to state—and I thank God for the opportunity of stating it in this House—that that is the experience of anyone outside 2086 any of the three great political parties, and of anyone striving in that community to serve exclusively the public interest. What have I to testify here to-night? That Press, deliberately, set itself metaphorically to bludgeon me out of public life.
I made investigations and succeeded in proving that certain things were seriously wrong with the municipal department. Would they give the slightest scope to a citizen who was discharging his duty in the public interest? They would not. They put practically as much on their posters to sell the paper, as they had in the paper about the developments which were taking place in that public work. During 14 years, we have had five Parliamentary elections in which we have advertised creditably. We have raised our money from the general body of the people and have advertised well with that Press power, but we got no more in it, about largely attended meetings, than sometimes half-a-dozen or a dozen lines. What is the situation even since we have come here to the House of Commons? It is to the absolute discredit of the City of Dundee and its public representatives, ministers and otherwise, that their Parliamentary representation so far as the person now addressing the House is concerned, has been treated in such a way. We have endeavoured in years gone past, and are endeavouring now in the House of Commons, to raise a great national issue in a way that has not been done by any other organisation, and that Press deliberately sets itself to exclude anything of the kind from its columns. Within recent weeks developments have taken place in connection with our churches putting forward their views on the question of betting—exclusively directed towards betting on horses. As one of the representatives of the city, I have received, and am still receiving, protestations on that point. We have said on the Floor of the House and I have had to write it to these ministers, that our view on the matter is the more comprehensive view, but that Press has deliberately excluded any single word of our statement of our case.
I admit that in a discussion on a national issue, this may not be of particular importance, and I am not presenting the matter from a personal standpoint. What I say may not have much weight here, and I do not trouble 2087 on that point. What I am anxious to say is that in the next election when I find that a Tory candidate gets three-quarters of a column to enable him to unfold his views about the wonderful situation in which the country has been placed by the present Government, it is the right of the people to know all the facts. I am submitting to you, whether it be a Tory party, a Liberal party or a Labour party which is concerned, this is a question of the right of the people to representation and of the freedom of the people in the selection of their Parliamentary representative. They have the right to know what is the position of that Member and whether he is speaking in favour of or antagonistic to their views.
We know what is claimed for our franchise system which is about to be developed by this Government. How are we going to reach the great public in our constituency if there is to be a situation such as I am presenting tonight. Are we to be completely limited by the present arrangement, by which a candidate is enabled to send to the electors a printed speech in which he places his views before them? Under Act of Parliament that is delivered free by the Post Office to the whole of the 78,000 electors, in the case of Dundee—a number which will now be greatly in-creased. That emphasises the claim which we are making. We have heard it said to-night that it is the duty of the Press to be impartial. I make the statement as a representative and citizen of Dundee that it is an utter scandal that a man's lifetime should be, passed in going through such a severe ordeal and struggle to serve the public interest in the circumstances I have described. Public men and business men of varied political opinion have said in private to me, "You are doing first-class business for the community under tremendous difficulties." The editor of a paper confessed to me years ago that on a given issue I was fighting on the right side and in the proper way, but the poor fellow had to scribble something of an entirely different character—the most ignominious type of journalism you can find. With all the extension of our franchise, we have a tremendous difficulty from this point of view.
2088 Reference has been made to the "Daily Herald." I have had to say it in Dundee, and I say it here, that the "Daily Herald" has no room for Scrymgeour—no room for anyone unless he has the ticket. If you have the party ticket, then the Labour party Press plays the same game as the Tory and Liberal Press. That is my testimony here tonight, and my testimony publicly everywhere. Our partisanship has sunk to a low level, and I am sorry to think that the one Press organ of the Labour movement plays the same wretched game. That is not to say that I do not support the "Daily Herald." I recommend the workers to get the "Herald," because I believe it is a paper which, in a general sense, gives a considerable amount of information of the utmost importance to the Labour movement and I support the Labour movement. But I do say, seeing the peculiarities of our political system, and the partisanship of the organised parties, that it is very hard that any man should be treated in this way, who seeks to represent a constituency from the purely communal standpoint, and seeks to go forward in advancing the public interest backed with a mere bagatelle as far as membership of a, party is concerned.
We talk about making a great appeal in the Albert Hall to the body of the workers, and about the difficulties of organising the workers, but I am here to say that, from the independent standpoint, we have been able to raise thousands of pounds from the body of the people in the public halls and streets of Dundee. It is a deep-seated satisfaction that, in spite of all the unscrupulous acts of that wretched Press, that combined Press of the city of Dundee, we have been able to beat them every time, and the consequence is that they feel all the more annoyed with the situation as it stands. I am taking this opportunity of saying that there is a greater power than any Press combine. There is a Power which says in the old Book:I am the Way, the Truth and the Light,andHe stood in their presence, the doors being shut.We cannot shut the door against that almighty truth, and, if we follow where 2089 it leads, it will, beam and brighten more and more unto glory and eternal day.
§ Mr. AUSTIN HOPKINSON
I understand that the objection which the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) has to the public Press of our country at the present time is mainly that, for sonic reason or other, it fails to report the speeches that he makes. I may say, having been in Parliament a little longer than he has, although not a great deal longer, that I used to feel very much the same way. When I had made an epoch-making speech, either here or in the country, I used to be very much afraid that it would not be reported in the Press; but I may say that further experience has altered my view of that matter, and my one fear nowadays, I can assure the hon. Member, is that when I have made a speech I shall find that it is reported in the Press.
With regard to the Notice of Motion itself, I should like to take exception to its very first words: "To call attention to the Syndicated Press." I understand, that there are certain good works which, in the language of theology, are termed "works of supererogation." Surely, to call attention to, say, the Rothermere or the Beaverbrook Press, or even to what we may term the Lloyd George-Rufus Isaacs Press, seems, to use that same phrase, a work of supererogation. I think we may trust them to continue in the future, as they have done in the past, faithfully to call daily attention to themselves.
When we proceed further to read this Motion, we find that the Mover of it, and presumably the party of which he is an ornament, is of opinion that we should maintain independent Press organs. So far as I remember, during the present generation there has been only one really "independent organ for the dissemination of news" in this country, and that was a paper which was called the "British Gazette." But that independent organ for the dissemination of news was, I believe, extremely unpopular with the particular party from whose benches this Motion has been moved, and that distaste for the journal was shared by same of us, who were so evilly disposed as to take a particular side in that controversy, because I am informed, and I believe it is the case, that among the items of news in the very first issue 2090 of that remarkable newspaper, was one regarding the will of a certain coal-owner, who had left an estate of nearly £2,000,000; and it seems to me that an independent organ of the Press so hopelessly lacking in tact at a crisis of that sort constituted a national danger.
Underlying this Motion, I think, is really a great fear of what is termed "the power of the Press," and I think that fear is immensely exaggerated at the present time. I am getting on in years now, but I can just remember a time when the Press had some sort of effect upon public opinion. There was a time when the "Times" newspaper, for instance, through its leading articles, used to affect the opinion of quite 500 to 600 persons in this country. But those days are long past, and the influence of the Press has waned at an accelerated pace, so far as my experience has gone. It began to get very, very thin during those hectic days which followed the War, when the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), accompanied by his well-known troop of comedians, used to tour Europe and set up his circus tents in one health resort after another, going about the Continent making a wilderness and calling it peace. One of his star turns, if I may use a technical expression, was at a certain very pleasant spot on the Riviera, and I remember distinctly, when that particular Peace Conference was going on, reading an ornament of the Sunday Press which can perhaps be identified when I state that it is a newspaper which appears to be written from end to end, possibly including the advertisements, by its editor.
On this occasion, the gentleman question had gone to this particular spot before the arrival of the circus and its chief, and his leading article—and those leading articles, as the House will recollect, occupy about seven columns of the paper in question—started off describing the scene before the arrival of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. It described how the Mediterranean on that morning was shrouded in gloom—the sun was hidden behind dense banks of cloud, a bitter wind was blowing from the Alps, and the whole scene was lamentable and dreary in the extreme. Then he went on to describe how, at a certain hour of the day, suddenly the clouds were dissipated, the sun came out, and the 2091 sparkling Mediterranean spread an azure carpet before his feet, while balmy breezes blew from the North of Africa. Then he stated that, curiously enough, at that instant the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs had descended from his train at the station. It is that sort of thing that finally made an end of the power of the Press in this country.
Attempts have been made by the syndicated Press to regain that power. The House will recollect a recent occasion when an ex-editor of the "Daily Mail" contributed a long dissertation to one of the Sunday papers with regard to a thing which I believe is called the "Red Letter," and underlying the whole of his statement there was a very broad hint that one particular ornament of the public Press, the "Daily Mail," was informed of all confidential documents passing through any Office of State, and was able to obtain copies at a moment's notice. In view of what had happened, the simple public of this country and the simple Members of this House thought there was something in this. But, alas, the Prime Minister, a few days later, came down to this House and produced from one of his back pockets a letter, which he had nearly forgotten in the stress of the moment, and read that letter out; and, lo and behold, the power of the "Daily Mail" to obtain red letters and other confidential documents appeared to have disappeared altogether. For, unhappily, a gentleman, of the name of im Thurn, was the source of all these secret documents which the "Daily Mail" was supposed to have obtained by suborning the third or fourth washerwoman at the Foreign Office.
But there is one very serious point about the newspaper Press to-day, and that is that two groups of papers, at any rate, have come to the conclusion that it is a personal slight, a distinct personal slight, to their noble proprietors that the Prime Minister of this country at the present day should have a reputation—whether deserved or otherwise I will not attempt to state—for being more or less honest. Since the people of this country adopted this view of the Prime Minister, the attacks of those particular noblemen on the Prime Minister have been bitter almost to the extent of being ludicrous. I need hardly refer the House to various articles which have appeared 2092 in one of those newspapers dealing with the question of what it so delightfully terms "the flapper vote." Anyone looking seriously at the matter and reading those articles, and particularly the headlines, must see that the Press at present, or a certain section of it, has prostituted itself—there is no other word for it—to such an extent that its power must inevitably vanish altogether, and personally, I should be very sorry indeed if the activities of Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Rothermere should have that most disastrous result.
There is not the least doubt that in any civilised country at the present day, particularly in a country on so broad a basis of democracy as ours, it is highly desirable that the Press should, at any rate, have a modified power to guide and to inform public opinion. The result of the activities of some of these "syndicalmed Press Peers,' if I may use such a phrase, has been to discredit the whole newspaper Press of this country. It is a very good thing that this Debate has been originated from the benches opposite. The state of the Press is undoubtedly giving rise to great disquiet in the minds of men of all parties who love their country, and if this Debate has to any degree indicated to those who control our Press that. Parliament, and Members of all parties in Parliament, do really regard the present condition of affairs with uneasiness, it will not have been wasted.
In conclusion, I should like to put forward one other point about the Press which touches us very nearly in this House. When candidates are put up by one party or another for Parliament, it must almost invariably happen that the newspapers have some knowledge about the past activities of those candidates, and it is their bounden duty, not for party purposes, but purely on public grounds, when they know that ally of the candidates are men utterly unfitted to represent their fellow-countrymen in this House—they have a duty, which I am sorry to say at present they very often neglect, to warn the electors against them. If, for instance, a man has been responsible for untold misery and destitution in some great district in the north of England by his company promotions, which unhappily, in the present state of the law, have not brought him within the 2093 reach of the law, promotions where there has been the intention to defraud, but not that actual legal fraud which is necessary to bring retribution upon him—when a man of that sort puts himself forward to represent his neighbours, or his temporary acquaintances, in Parliament, it is the bounden duty of the Press to state the facts. If a man of that sort, having attained the honour of membership of this House, puts forward one of the worst of his jackals to sit for another constituency, it is the bounden duty of the Press, to whatever party it belongs, to condemn the jackal as much as they should condemn his lord and master.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
It is right and proper that we should consider in this House the greatest educational factor in this country; and it is right also that the most important feature of our national life should be discussed, irrespective of party. I speak feelingly on this subject, for I doubt whether any hon. Member here has had as many rejected manuscripts from these newspapers as in my early days I had, but even that must not prevent me from giving fair credit in respect of the enormous power that is, I believe, fairly wielded in the country to-day by them. We have been discussing the idealism of the Press, and it stands well for the outlook of men that this idealism has been voiced in the most efficient manner from most of the Benches. I was concerned once with such an ideal Press. My friends in the LiTieral party will agree with me that it was represented in a manner that had never been equalled. I refer to the paper known as the "Tribune," issued by Mr. Franklin Thomasson, who gave three-quarters of a million of his money to it; further, he sacrificed to such an extent that he was not able to enjoy the ordinary amenities of life in his desire to present to the British public a paper that would give the greatest thoughts and ideals in regard to commerce, organisations in labour, artistry, of form and letters as also international relations, which latter in later days have been more fixed under the great League of Nations. Franklin Thomasson, with a magnificent patriotism, gave his money and did something to lay the basis of our best modern journalism in this country.
I want to pay tribute to one or two great names in letters. I want to say a 2094 word about Delane. Not one word has been said about him to-night, he was the father of journalism in the world. Delane, in merging the great national policy of this country, gave more to fairness and equality between classes, the proper visualisation of view-point between a other lands and ourselves, than any other journalist. In regard to foreign policy, those who are older than I am could speak better than myself, and I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) is not here to pay his tribute to Blowitz, the great Paris correspondent of the "Times." When we visualise these matters, and pay our tribute to the power and strength of the individualism in earlier times, we must remember that the wider interest of the British public to-day calls for more organised and expensive catering than could possibly be always supplied by the single paper. Again, some of us have sympathy with the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour). Some of us have lived, as he has lived, in certain localities where that stern individualism has been applied to a viewpoint of politics opposite to that held of he who represented the constituency in Parliament. But in the hurly-burly of politics and in the rough and tumble of everyday life we must accept these trials. I might suggest to the hon. Member for Dundee that it acted as a mentor to myself and draws out the best that is in us in respect of the views we hold. Remember, the Labour party without a single paper to represent them—for, with all respect to the "Daily Herald," it is not a shining example of journalism in the country—while the Labour party had no paper to take their side, yet they came to office. Such an event proves that the British public as a whole has a fairness and clear balance—it may indeed be a dourness—as to what is clean and straight and true, and they will, in their own right and proper judgment, put to represent them in this House these men and women who nearest seem to them to hold these characteristics. How are we to obtain an ideal Press? That is the practical issue. One has in mind papers like the "Tribune" which, although a thoroughly well managed paper, was not able to do what it set out to do. When we are criticising 2095 and condemning the mass Syndicated Press—in which I have not one single penny share, and for which I can be supposed to have no sympathetic consideration, in view of the fact that I have probably had more of my valuable manuscripts rejected by that Press than any other man in the House—I say we must remember some of their splendid deeds. When during the War it was necessary to permeate some of the enemy countries with our point of view—because we realised that the valour and magnificent courage of our people were not alone sufficient to deal with the enemy and to cause the enemy to recognise the position to which we had brought them—we relied upon the magnificent secret intelligence methods of some of the great leaders and proprietors of the newspaper Press of this country.
Then there is the work which the Press has done in co-operation with one of the greatest professions in the world, the medical profession. I regret to have to appear to advertise the particular journal, but they have a right to a fair judgment. We all remember the Standard Bread campaign and also the cancer campaign. We used to read in certain journals advertisements of Dr. Jones' Blue Pills for Pale People, and we must realise what temptation there was for the leaders of those journals to traduce their columns thus. Knowing how easily the British public can he gulled on such matters, I say, all honour to the leader of a journal or a group of journals who put on one side the desire to make unjustifiable profits out of the gullibility of the British public by opening the advertisement column to these things, and these Press people do pick out the true advertisement from the spurious. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen must accept the position that the Press give the people what they ask for. If they call for uplift the Press will give it, in fact are most anxious so to do. It was suggested a moment or two ago that the type of newspaper which we have to-day is not giving us the moral or, shall I say, the ecclesiastical guidance which is so essentially necessary, but I would refer hon. Members to some of the columns even of the "Times," which every Saturday presents a sermon such as is not often equalled in some of our churches.
2096 Let us compare our own Press with the Press of the United States. If some of our Press is presumed to he questionable, I say the American Press as a whole is perfect drivel. No Member in this House can tell me of a newspaper in the United States which is equal to any one of our four or five leading national journals. What obtains there? If they find a man with a peculiar habit or a double life, some of those journals will play on that weakness for sensationalism rather than give the more necessary news, and if the editors of our papers are not always friendly to our statesmen, at any rate they do not expose the secret vices or weaknesses of our great people—[Interruption]—if they have any. Let us take some of the European newspapers. There are men in this House who are great linguists, and those of us who read the French, German and Italian newspapers know very well that in none of those countries is there a newspaper equal to any one of the leading five newspapers in this country. Like other hon. Members, I would like also to pay my tribute to some of the great journals in the provinces, though some of them have pilloried me even worse than the hon. Member for Dundee. I say that we ought to rely upon the splendid commonsense of the British public and patriotism of the proprietors of the Press. I would advise those hon. Members who are complaining about the Press to try their hands at presenting that which they desire other people to have to read. The cruellest thing that can happen to any Member of this House is that he should be reported verbatim; and the second cruellest thing is for a man to burn the midnight oil in an endeavour to produce something in the form of poetry or literature which he fondly hopes will live for future generations as an example of what literature was in his day. Let them try their hand at it, and see what they can do. I doubt whether there are two Members of this House who would read the efforts of any other two hon. Members who undertook to produce a newspaper. I have noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Sir B. Lynn) is present. He is a great specialist in providing what the people in the North of Ireland like to read, and I pay my tribute to his great powers of editorship, but if 2097 even he, with his trained intelligence, were presenting something for the hon. Members of this House, I think it is doubtful whether he would receive very many letters of congratulation.
Let us put these things in their proper perspective. Let us understand that the Press is doing a magnificent service in this country, and if it be true that there are three or four large groups, commercial competition will keep the balance between them. These great magnates of printers' ink do not all love one another commercially. There is just the same rivalry between them as there is in this House between hon. Members on these benches and on the benches opposite, although we appreciate one another's points. We ought not to overlook the great value of the Press as an adult educational factor internationally, and we have also to remember that newspaper men have to live, just as other individuals, and therefore they give the public what the public are asking for and yet try to guide them to the big vision of life. We have secured the elimination of improper reports of divorce cases in the Press, and we are trying to wipe out legally obscenity also in our newspapers. If we remember the public service which journalists have rendered to the country and Empire, if we support them and help them—for they desire it—I believe that in the future, as in the past, they will carry on their useful mission as one of the greatest factors in the world.
§ Mr. J. JONES
It is very interesting to some of us who are not journalists, but simply readers of newspapers, to note that everyone in the House seems to be agreed that it is necessary to have a clean Press. A clean Press means a clean mind, particularly on the part of those who control the Press. It used to be said at one time that the Press was the organ of public opinion. It has now become the barrel organ of millionaires' opinions. The source of public knowledge is to a large extent being controlled by a small handful of people. Some hon. Members have been talking of the daily Press. Let us remember the weekly Press, which has become a poison gas factory so far as the great mass of the people are concerned. The "Daily Herald" has been mentioned this evening. I hope it will be a good 2098 advertisement for it. We publish our paper every day, but we cannot make a profit on it, although we are supposed to be part and parcel of the general journalistic system. We are not able to buy readers by offering them fancy advantages in the way of new stunts and gambling.
The other day we were discussing the Betting Bill, and arguing about the morality and immorality of gambling. As a matter of fact there is not a newspaper outside the "Daily Herald" that does not live on gambling, and more particularly the daily Press. So far as the "Daily Herald" is concerned its circulation has not been built up by gambling and stunts. Such a policy is not honest journalism. I am not a spoil-sport or a kill-joy, but I do say that it is bad for journalism when a newspaper cannot live upon the honest expression of public opinion. There aro some newspapers which do give an honest expression of opinion regardless of what other people may think. We must all appreciate the fact that newspapers, like joint stock companies, are run for profit, and they have to be run for profit or they would soon be turned down.
Lord Rothermere is not in business for the goad of his health, neither is Lord Beaverbrook. Lord Beaverbrook is there for what he can get out of it. He thinks he can run the Government, and he believes he is cleverer than all the Members of the Government, and I believe it. I believe Lord Beaverbrook could give the Prime Minister a good start and beat him if he had not to go before the electors; so long as he sits in the editor's chair the whole country is at his disposal, and even Napoleon was either a non-starter or an also ran. When the Government find themselves in trouble they go to Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Rothermere to help them. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The Red Letter came through that channel, and the red herring for the next election will come from the same source.
Of course, if this source fails, the Government can depend upon the "Daily Mail." As far as the Labour party are concerned, newspapers cannot run us. We run the newspaper and the newspaper does not run the Labour party. The Press to-day is simply a combination of capital which gives expression to 2099 the opinions of coalowners, mineowners, railway directors, and the big financial interests of this country. The Press is simply their mouthpiece and their master's voice. That is what is the matter with this Motion. You can never clear the Press of capitalistic control. The Press is the mouthpiece of those interests, but now the workmen are beginning to think for themselves. They may buy your papers, but they do not swallow your politics. Labour can get 5,000,000 votes, almost as many as you can get, and we have only one paper, with a circulation of a quarter of a million. You have millions of circulation, daily and weekly, and cannot poll many more votes than we do. Hon. Members opposite know that 135 of them did not vote the other night on the extension of the franchise. Why? They are afraid. They are afraid to express their opinion. They did not believe in "Votes for Flappers," so they said, but, when they were challenged, only a dozen of them turned up—the 12 apostles of reaction, showing how powerful their Press is. That big organ, the "Daily Mail," and other papers, claimed that the Tory party should go into the Lobby against that particular Measure, and they did not turn up, showing the great influence of the "Daily Mail." It has turned out to be the "Evening Wail." So far as we are concerned, it leaves us absolutely cold.
The Press to-day is part and parcel of the manufacturing system, owned by the people who own the factories and workshops, and the workers have found it out; they do not believe in it, To-day it is not merely a matter of ordinary journalism; every department of public life, social, religious or political, has an inspired daily, weekly or monthly. If you are a Roman Catholic, Lord Rother-mere can provide you with a Roman Catholic newspaper; if you are an Orangeman, he can provide you with an Orange newspaper; if you are a Bush Baptist, he can provide you with an organ to preach Bush Baptism. It does not matter what your social, religious or political views are, you will have them from Lord Rothermere, all provided at so much a week, and "Comic Cuts" into the bargain, with "Tit-Bits" as a kind of entrée. [An HON. MEMBER: "What 2100 about "Answers?"] "Answers" does not matter; you get your answer when you buy your "Tit-Bits." We say that the Press has become a trustified syndicate of other people's opinions, doled out to the working classes to keep them just where they are.
This Motion is simply an expression of our opinion. The newspapers of this country do not represent the opinion of the people. There are a few for which I have a great respect. I sometimes read the "Times"—by accident; I read the "Manchester Guardian" by design, and the "Daily Herald" by choice. When I get away from those three papers, I think I have got away from real journalism down to the gutter. The others do not touch me a bit. My brain may not be great enough to include the leading articles of the "Daily Mail" or the "Daily Express," because the people who write those articles are writing to order—not their opinions, but what they are told to write. "On your knees, dog!" So far as we are concerned, we want a free Press. I hope the day will never come when a Labour Government in power will tolerate a machine Press, a Press which is to express the opinions of its owners. We want a free Press, with the right of every section of the community to express its opinion freely and fearlessly.
According to the opinions expressed to-night by every section of the House, it is a bad thing for journalism, which used to be looked upon as a great expression of public opinion, that it should become trustified and syndicated as it is to-day. Therefore, I hope that this Motion will be carried. That will give notice to these great gentlemen who think, not merely that they can organise public opinion, but that they can control it, and will tell them that the game is up, that the workers of this country, and the people of this country generally, are not going to have their opinions stereotyped. Their views are not going to be given from barrel organs, but are going to be expressions of public opinion in reality, and we will freely express our views in this House and tell those people to mind their own business, as we are able to look after ours
§ Mr. PONSONBY
The House owes a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member 2101 who introduced this Motion, and the unanimity shown in all parts of the House in supporting it is something that will be noted even by the Press themselves. I hesitated in getting up, because I hoped someone on the Government Bench would have said a word to show that the Government themselves realise that this is a great question which ought to command public attention and the attention of the House. I suppose this is the first time this House has taken this growing menace to the freedom of the Press into account, and it would have been a fitting occasion for the Government to say something which would have shown us that they were aware of this danger. I think we must admit that we are living in an age in which vulgarity, regulated by commercialism, more or less holds the public field, and when we find the newspapers gradually getting controlled by fewer and fewer people we at once see the menace to the freedom of the Press. If this movement continues we shall be worse off than the Press in Italy and Russia, because after all in Italy and Russia the Press is owned by the State, and everyone knows exactly where he is. In this country, we are by way of having freedom, and at the same time just a few individuals are playing on their various newspapers, giving the public the impression that a great many different views are being expressed from all over the country by different agencies, whereas one individual or a very small number of individuals are talking all the time. This domination of a group must operate against public opinion having the chance it ought to have of learning the state of affairs of the country.
I agree with the hon. Member for the English Universities (Sir M. Conway) who said we ought not to overestimate the influence of the Press. My choice of newspapers is something on the lines of my hon. Friend who spoke last. Occasionally, when I feel, politically, dull I read papers like the "Daily Mail" and the "Daily Express," because they want to make me agitate in exactly the opposite sense to that in which they write. In fact I think the newspapers are finding that., so far from influencing the country, they are producing a spirit of opposition in the readers to whom they appeal, and that can be shown in the way in which the party to which I belong is growing year by year and month by month in the 2102 teeth of the opposition of this huge syndicated Press. I do not want to introduce a party note after such a Debate as this, but when hon. Members talk of the criticism they receive from some parts of the Press, after all we know that is only just on the surface and just for the moment, and that in the long run they have got the whole mass of this Press behind them, and we have got it against us. It is one of the most valuable weapons they have got in their armoury and it is used by them on every conceivable occasion in order to prevent us either from coming into power again or from remaining there should we get a majority of the votes on our side. This Press, with all its apparent differences, with all its allurements and the admirable way in which a great part of it is made up, with its articles on art, on literature, on science and on the drama, has underneath and underlying it a great and ever-growing political determination that the Labour party shall not be allowed to remain in power if it ever reaches power.
Though only tackling this question tonight superficially, though only making a statement with regard to this syndicated Press being against the public interest, we are really embarking on a great crusade against an agency which is going to operate, as time goes on, more and more powerfully against free opinion, against progress, and against the establishment of the new social order which we as a party desire to establish. A good deal has been said to-night about the vulgarity of the Press and about the low tone that it adopts. I am very much afraid that this Motion, which is going to be passed, I am glad to say, without a Division, will be laughed at to-morrow morning by the very gentlemen who have the power in their hands at present. They will realise that the House of Commons is for the time being powerless, that legislation cannot be brought about, that the Government are silent and that they can go on in their own way encouraged by the thought that their power cannot be touched. But I believe that we as a party, in raising this question, have started public discussion, and public discussion all over the country is likely to ensue from this Debate, and after a time, it may be after a year or two, or after a few years, we shall find this House forced to deal with an evil which, if it is not tackled, is likely, as the Motion says, to 2103 be detrimental to the best interests of this country.
§ Captain BOURNE
The hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. Ponsonby) is, I believe, a fairly recent convert to the party of which he is now an ornament, and, like all converts, he is very fervent. He seems to be under the impression that the syndicated Press, as it is called in this Motion, is inherently bound to be hostile to the party to which he belongs, and, therefore, as a matter of course, is friendly to the present Government. I am not a student of the syndicated Press, but on such occasions as I take up and peruse the various organs for which, I believe, it is responsible, I cannot find any great favour shown towards the present Government. Though it seems to me to be somewhat hostile to the present Government, its one idea appears to be to play off each political party in turn against the other. I fail to find the sinister manoeuvring which the hon. Member seems to discover in favour of the Conservative party as against other parties. On the whole, I think the House owes a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) for bringing forward this question. I am more inclined to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Sir M. Conway) that as it increases its extravagancies the Press has less and less influence on public opinion. I cannot think that the wild articles we see about certain topics can really impress the public mind in favour of the Press which publishes them. I cannot help thinking that the vast majority of people, although perhaps they may be slightly amused at those articles and may read them with a certain amount of pure curiosity, must, at the bottom of their minds, regard those articles as nonsense, and, consequently, they lose respect for the organs that publish them. I do not think that the extravagant football competitions, to which more than one hon. Member has referred to-night, really tend to raise the value of the Press in public estimation, or tend to make its opinion as expressed in leading articles more carefully studied by the public, or more likely to be followed when they want the public to make up their minds on any questions of public policy.
2104 The thing which I think is, or may be, a danger is not what the Press says but what it does not say: the habit of putting a certain amount of information, quite accurate information, into its columns and very often omitting a large section of the context of that information which if published in full would completely alter the impression caused on the mind of the reader. I do not know whether hon. Members opposite are very careful students of the Press and whether they would take the trouble to read the accounts of the Debates in this House as recorded in most organs of the Press. If you take the "Times," you get a pretty full account and a pretty accurate account of the speeches made in this House. They are necessarily condensed owing to lack of space, but very often even in the "Times" the condensation of a, speech may very materially alter the impression formed on the mind of the reader from that which the hon. Member who has made the speech makes on those who hear the speech in this House. When one turns to the other newspapers and reads an account of the Parliamentary Debates one often finds that it is compressed into a very short space, and the general atmosphere and view of this House is so completely distorted that no human being reading the account. could possibly realise what the House had done, what hon. Members had said, and what was the prevailing opinion in the House. That sort of information may be profitable or otherwise from the point of view of the proprietors, but it is hardly likely to help in forming a really sound public opinion.
The hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Snell) said that it was the duty of the Press to be impartial. I think he was, perhaps, patting the case rather too high, because in human society where people have divergent views and where men tend to see opposite sides of questions, and to see those opposite sides perhaps from a partisan view, it follows that as a matter of necessity the different organs in the Press will stress one point of view rather than another. I do not think that, taken as a whole, that attitude does any harm. What you do want is that the Press shall report its facts impartially and accurately, and then it is perfectly entitled to draw such deductions from the facts and put them in front of its readers as they may think 2105 good. It is also very desirable that there should be many shades of opinion in the Press itself. You do not want ten or a dozen newspapers expressing the view of one owner or one group of owners. It means repetition. You get a repetition in the evening paper of precisely the sentiment you have seen in the morning issue, and they go on repeatedly harping on some topic which seems to be good policy to the noble lord or to a group of gentlemen who control these papers.
On the principle that continual dripping will wear away the hardest stone, some little impression must be made on the minds of the readers of these journals by the reiteraticn of certain themes and certain themes only. Where you have groups of papers, both local and London morning newspapers, and evening newspapers controlled by the same people, you are bound to get an almost monotonous reiteration of certain themes which, if it does not convince the readers of the papers, must drive them nearly into the lunatic asylum or force them to take refuge in the sporting columns of the paper for their intellectual enjoyment. That is the worst side of this tendency to syndicalism. I prefer the paper mentioned by the hon. Member for Silver town (Mr. J. Jones). I often read the "Manchester Guardian," and I also find a general amount of interest in a paper which I think is partly controlled by the hon. Member on the front Opposition bench, the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). However much I disagree with the opinions expressed in this newspaper which puts forward a definite point of view and expresses the opinions of the people who control it, it is not part of a vast scheme for influencing public opinion on such particular subjects, the object of which we cannot understand. We owe a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member who introduced this subject. A discussion on private Members' time is perhaps apt to be a little academic. This discussion is somewhat academic, but this is a subject on which an academic discussion is not wasted and it may have some influence if it is reported in the Press. It has not run very strongly in their favour and perhaps it will not be reported, but if it is it may produce some result if it is 2106 known that the vast majority of Mem' hers of this House, no matter to what party they may belong, is of the opinion that a complete control of the Press by one or two interests is not to the advantage of the country.
The only drawback to this discussion is that no hon. Member who has spoken has indicated a remedy. It is not easy to see what remedy there can be. Interference with the Press in any form would be going back on our historical tradition. The freedom of the Press in this country was won for us after a long struggle, and it would be difficult for any Government, of whatever political party, to impose any form of censorship or restriction on the Press without raising the cry that it is proposed to muzzle public opinion. I do not see what action this House can take. We can express our opinion and say it is in the interest of the country that the Press should not be controlled entirely by one or two people, that there should be a full expression of the view of all shades of opinion, and that, in consequence, it is desirable that the organs of the Press should not be controlled by one or two people but that each organ should be under one absolute head, and shall express perhaps one shade of opinion or the other, without being necessarily co-ordinated with other organs which, by repeating the same statement, may hope to influence public opinion. I agree with an hon. Friend who expressed the view that on the whole the Press is not gaining in power, and that perhaps we are rather over-stressing its importance.
§ Sir ROBERT LYNN
It is with some diffidence that I rise to take part in a discussion of the Press, because I find that those who know least about the Press are those who have made the longest speeches here to-night. Their knowledge of the subject is in inverse ratio to the way in which they have dealt with it. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bright side (Mr. Ponsonby), who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench a moment or two ago, pointed out that probably the Press would laugh at this Debate in the morning. I should be surprised if any newspaper were so foolish as to laugh at this Debate, because there was nothing even amusing in it, not even the speech of the hon. Member for Silver-town (Mr. J. Jones). Of all the Debates 2107 I have listened to in this House for wellnigh 30 years, I have never listened to one more futile than this. We have had one superior person after another getting up to tell us that the Press has got down not only into the gutter, but underneath the gutter altogether. If the Press is so futile and so harmless and so useless, why waste a night of this House in discussing it?
If hon. Members think that the function of the Press can be better discharged by themselves than by those who control the newspapers, by all means let them do it, for there is nothing in the world to prevent anyone who wishes to do so from starting a newspaper. Why do not these hon. Gentlemen who know so much better than we journalists how to run journals—why do they not do so? Certainly I stand, not for syndicated newspapers, but for independent newspapers that give free expression to the mind of the editor and at the same time are not afraid to give a fair publicity to political opponents. In my judgment, the position of a newspaper ought to be that of giving a fair summary of the views of every political party, and then for the editor to comment as he thinks right, and for the public to take whatever advice, or none of the advice that may be offered. Taking the newspapers in Great Britain as a whole, we can claim for them that they do give a fair summary of the views of different political parties, and of public men, not only in this House but outside it. I think the main charge against newspapers to-night proceeds from vanity; you find vanity even in the House of Commons. We find Members complaining that their speeches were not properly understood. If any newspaper, even the "Daily Herald," with all its virtues, tried to publish verbatim the speeches of members of the Socialist party only, I should say that it would die within a very few weeks.
There was a time when the public did like to read long Parliamentary reports, but, believe me, to-day the general public wants only summarised reports, and those very brief, of the majority of the Debates that take place in this House. Do right hon. and hon. Gentlemen suggest that newspapers should spend their time and their space in publishing speeches that no one but the speaker wants to read? That is really what it 2108 brings itself down to. I think that this Debate will do no harm, but it will certainly do no good, and will not raise the prestige of this House as against the Press. For generations there has been a more or less friendly rivalry between this House and the Press. There was a time when anyone publishing speeches made in this House would have been sent to the Clock Tower, but now you permit the Press to publish your speeches, and I think, on the whole, it must be claimed that this House is treated fairly well in the general class of newspapers
I listened very carefully for someone to produce a new scheme. They are complaining of syndicated newspapers. As I have said, I have no sympathy with syndicated newspapers, and I do not even know the distinguished journalist who has been referred to so often to-night. But what remedy have hon. Members got for the new situation which has developed? Surely everyone knows that every one of these things carries with it its own remedy. If you get a syndicated Press which outrages public opinion, you will find that public opinion will insist on getting a Press that fairly represents its views. If the syndicated newspapers are giving views which the general public does not want, surely the general public is strong enough to find means of producing newspapers that will represent their views? Look back over a century into the past when the power of the Press was terribly handicapped by one difficulty and another! Yet in spite of all those difficulties, a free independent Press rules in Britain, and I do not believe that that spirit which led to the establishment of the free and independent Press is going to be stifled by one or two wealthy people. You will always find independent newspapers all over the country expressing the views of the community and this House is rather losing, shall I say, its influence by indulging in puerile Debates like that we have had to-night. It can do nothing. It has no power. Suppose thé Press of this country, instead of being syndicated or being controlled by private individuals, was handed over to the leaders of the different parties in this House, what sort of a newspaper would you have? I should like to see a newspaper produced by the Members of the Socialist party. Then we on this side would see, much more clearly than we do already, the 2109 differences which exist. The same applies with regard to our Friends below the Gangway. They have all their differences and have their newspapers which give colour to their opinions as a whole. You cannot possibly change that sort of thing. I think the best thing this House can do for its own sake would be to pass from the subject and forget what has been a particularly foolish Debate.
That, in the opinion of this House, the maintenance of independent organs for the dissemination of news is vital to the preservation of the standard of public life in the country, and that the consolidation of the Newspaper Press in the hands of powerful syndicates, and some of the devices employed by these syndicates to extend the circulation of the newspapers under their control, are contrary to the public interest.