§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
I beg to move,That this House, recognising the great importance of a free and independent Press, views with concern some recent examples of newspaper reporting, and is of the opinion that a vigorous effort by the industry itself to maintain a high standard of conduct is desirable.Before I proceed, Mr. Speaker, may I ask you which of the Amendments to my Motion you propose to call?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am not selecting the second Amendment, in the name of the hon. Members for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) and Deptford (Sir L. Plummer), to leave out from "reporting" to the end and to add:also the reduction, actual and threatened, in the number of newspapers and periodicals and the many restrictive practices in the field of distribution; and therefore urges the Press Council to make a vigorous effort to maintain a high standard of conduct and to arrest a concentration of ownership ".I want to discuss the question of the first Amendment, to leave out from "concern" to the end and to add:the failure of most national newspapers to deal fairly or adequately with industrial, political, and international news; and urges the strengthening of the Press Council which should include representatives of the peoplewith the hon. Members for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) and Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), who have tabled it.
§ Mr. Kershaw
I take the liberty of assuming that the House will agree with the first part of my Motion, that relating to the liberty of the Press. I doubt 726 whether I shall have very much difficulty in trying to convince the House of the general concern felt in many quarters about the state of the Press today, which is shared, I believe, by the profession itself—indeed, it might be said that it feels more anxious about it than do members of the public. I have not, therefore, come to the House armed with a large number of examples of reporting which we might consider to be not quite satisfactory, except in so far as I have with me reports issued by the Press Council from time to time which specify some examples that we may wish to consider.
I would wish rather to propose some remedies than to rake up the past, but it is perhaps necessary to say what are the complaints, not in detail but in general, if the House is to form any judgment upon the remedies which I wish to propose. The complaints, as we know only too well, are that pornography and crime are unreasonably exploited, chat the pursuit of the exceptional and sensational has been carried too far, and that there have been intrusions into private grief. Furthermore, the elevation of the trivial to a position of importance in each day's issue of some newspapers has reached a point at which it is almost impossible for readers of those papers to form any coherent idea about public affairs and that is a disservice to our democracy.
Even if these charges, which sound very serious, are proved, just how serious are they? What is the influence of the Press today? I think it a commonplace to say that readers habitually vote against the views of their newspapers to a very large extent. After all. President Roosevelt, in the United States. was consistently elected with ever-increasing majorities against almost the combined Press of the whole United States. Hon. Members opposite had a resounding success in 1945 and, if I remember, the papers were not exactly favourable to them. Almost everybody reads theDaily Express,but it would be an exaggeration to say that everybody agrees with what Lord Beaverbrook thinks. It must be that the influence of the Press is larger than it appears. The unnoticed influence of competition must have its effect. One cannot put from one's mind the most disturbing experiment carried out in the United 727 States the other day when an advertisement was flashed on a cinema screen for so short a time that none of the audience realised it had been there, but it was an advertisement for ice cream and, after it had been put on the screen. the sales of ice cream doubled in that cinema. One can only visualise the possibilities for propaganda which might open in the future.
It is right that these charges made against the Press should be taken seriously and we should consider them as deeply as we can. Who is to blame for the situation that has arisen? Is it the journalists? I wish to make it clear that I am not making an attack on journalists in general. They are the people, as I said a minute ago, who are most concerned by the developments we are discussing.
The ethical standard is as high as that of any other profession. Furthermore, I think there are no people less suitable to criticise journalists as a body than Members of Parliament. After all, many journalists are hon. Members of this House, and many more, perhaps. would like to be. People who have been in the House often return to the profession of journalism. The rise in influence of this House in the country has undoubtedly been almost entirely due to the public Press. Had it not been for the advertisement which the public Press has, over the decades, given to the proceedings of the House, we should today be regarded as an organ of Government. We are still entirely dependent on the Press for the dissemination of the views of the House. Therefore, for Members of the House to criticise journalists as a whole would, indeed, be for the pot to call the kettle black.
What about the public? Are they to blame? We must face the fact that newspapers must sell if they are to stay in business and, also, that some people prefer the contemplation of the picture of Miss Diana Dors to reading the debates of the House. There are many people who look at the Flook cartoon in theDaily Mailbefore turning to the headlines. But what I think we must realise is that a large number of the public do not regard their newspapers as a means of absorbing news about serious events. They regard them rather 728 as magazines, from the perusal of which they desire to divert themselves for a time.
I have here the edition of a Sunday newspaper which, like most Sunday newspapers, I would expect to deal with the serious matters of the week. But, looking through the edition of this paper from cover to cover, I can only find one reference to matters which we should generally regard as being of public interest. It appears on the last page and it is about a lady who is to launch an "Institute of Dreams." It says:'Some of the best dreams,' she says, ' come from typists! ' What are most people dreaming about these days? Sex and the H-bomb, she says, with the H-bomb leading by a short head. ' You see,' she explained. ' We don't dream about sex so much, because we no longer have to repress our thoughts about it.'That is the whole reference to any matter of public affairs in that edition.
We must ask ourselves how far ahead of public opinion the newspapers can afford to be. I do not wish to appear to condemn that newspaper too much because, although it does not deal with public affairs, it certainly does not deal in an offensive manner with the affairs with which it does deal. No doubt the people who like to lie in bed in the morning, sipping their tea and reading that paper, take other newspapers which discuss more serious events.
Perhaps it is the newspaper proprietors who are to blame. After all, the industry is only partly a public service. It has two functions. One is to sell newspapers and the other is to sell news, and from the proprietor's point of view it is particularly his function is to sell newspapers, because, otherwise, he could not remain in business for long. If they can only stay in business by selling entertainment and excitement, there is consequently little room for serious news in the papers.
These complaints, of course, are not new. Queen Victoria was constantly complaining about that "cheap rag"The Timesin her day, and the complaints have gone steadily on more or less on the same lines. They led to the establishment of the Royal Commission on the Press, in 1947, and out of that Royal Commission sprang the Press Council.
729 I should like to discuss now how the Press Council is working and whether or not it is the success which it was hoped it would be. First, of course, we know that the Press Council has no sanctions at its disposal. It can only censure. It claims in its latest Report that these reprimands and censures are taken very seriously. It says, in page 6 of its last Report:Our reprimands are neither made nor taken lightly. Any journalist must hate being held up to public condemnation on grounds that are clearly stated. This may well affect his professional future. It will not make life easier for his proprietors.I wonder about that. I have not heard that any professional disaster has overtaken the editor of theSunday Pictorial,who was so severely criticised in the last Report of the Council in April. I do not know whether the editor of thePeople,in whose paper some of the most notorious articles have appeared, such as those about Hitler's human stud farm, has had any particular setback. It does not appear so, because he is at the moment a member of the Press Council and sits in judgment on his fellow journalists who may lapse in taste.
There is, therefore, I think, a certain amount of complacency in the Reports of the Press Council. That complacency was noticed by the Royal Commission, and I think that, to some extent, it still pervades the Council's deliberations. In the same Report of 1956, the question is asked rhetorically: what is the Press Council doing about defending the freedom of the Press? The answer given is "Nothing," because there has been no attack upon the freedom of the Press. Having said that, it goes on to say that the doctrine that papers have a right to say what they believe is a doctrine elementary to journalists, but that many members of the public have not yet grasped it. I think that is a slightly "holier than thou" attitude on the part of the Press Council and a little complacent about its position.
One of the purposes of the Council is to further the education of journalists, and there is certainly nothing more important to the proper presentation of important matters than that it should be done by persons intellectually qualified in the highest degree. I should like to know what the Press Council is doing about that. I have not been able to dis- 730 cover that much is being done. I ask, therefore, whether the Press Council is working as well as was hoped. To some extent, the answer is to be found in whether or not public concern about the state of the Press has been allayed. I think that the answer to that must be "No."
I wish to propose two improvements which might help the Press Council to do the work it wants to do. The first is in its constitution. The Council is the judge of professional ethics. But those who sit upon it have various interests, and not all of them are professional interests. The managerial representatives are there to sell their newspapers, and, whether we like it or not, pornography pays.
It may be that the journalists themselves who sit on the Council in the presence of the managerial representatives are slightly inhibited by the presence of, so to speak, their bosses. Many of the functions of the Press Council—some of the most important ones, indeed—demand the presence of managerial representatives if they are properly to discharge their duties. They are charged with the recruitment and education of journalists, with technical research and with the task of watching the tendency towards monopoly. Furthermore, we should realise that it is the managerial representatives who pay the bill. It is not a very large bill—£7,000 a year—but they have to dip into their pockets for it.
I suggest, therefore, that the Press Council should refer matters of professional ethics to a sub-committee of itself which should consist only of professional journalists. I believe that they would be able to come to decisions on purely professional considerations and without any influence being brought to bear upon them, or any suspicion that their motives were other than professional.
Secondly, about the Press Council, would it be desirable that it should have a sanction other than mere reprimand? That is a question that has been canvassed often before: whether it should be allowed to expel from the profession or suspend from the profession? Other professions have it. The Bar, doctors and solicitors all manage to run their affairs in that way. The difficulty about journalism is how to define a journalist.
731 Some journalists have no recognisable qualification except that of long experience. I believe that there are editors who believe that experience is by far the best and, indeed, the only qualification they need consider.
Many journalists are only part-timers and I suppose that hon. Members who write articles for their local papers are part-time journalists. That, obviously, does present difficulties which other professions have not. Often, of course, a story that appears in a paper is not handled exclusively by one journalist. It is handled by the reporter and sub-editor and perhaps several other editors may have a hand in it, and it may be difficult to fix responsibility, but I believe that it could be done. I believe that some sort of qualification should be introduced, based upon experience or technical qualifications. Those who are to reach that standard should be apprentices. The Institute of Journalists, before the war, made proposals on those lines, and perhaps there could be some form of registration of journalists and qualifications could be introduced to make sure that only those suitable were accepted.
Whether the difficulty is there or not—and I grant that there is a difficulty—there are certainly professional standards in the profession. Anything which exists can be defined. Certainly, if we could do this nothing would benefit more than the educational projects of the Press Council. Clearly, that would be one of the by-products which would be extremely desirable.
I do not think that the difficulties, which have been noted before, are anything more than the normal processes of organisation in a developing profession, such as have been met, and, indeed, overcome, in the past by other professions. The Press Council objects that sanctions of this sort would mean bringing in the Government and lead in the end to Government censorship. I cannot see why that should be. I am entirely opposed to the Government having anything to do with the Press. I wish to make that quite clear. The organisations of lawyers and doctors which manage to maintain discipline in their professions do not bring in the Government and I see no reason why this one should, either.
732 The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) has tabled an Amendment. It being a Friday, I should like to take this fleeting opportunity to agree with the hon. Member, but I cannot wholeheartedly do so. I wonder whether lay members really would be the assistance to the Press Council that he thinks they would. I do not see why journalists should not be able to handle the discipline of their own body as well as other professional men. Lay people on the Council would, I think, be necessarily regarded rather as watch-dogs, regarded with some suspicion, and the things that they were trying to prevent might well go on behind their backs without their knowledge merely because they were there. I think that it is rather too technical a profession for lay people to be able to help. Perhaps the editorial board of theDaily Heraldhas greater experience of what lay people can do to help than other papers.
There is a further anxiety which I think is present in many people's minds and to which voice has been given by the Amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) and the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) this morning. That is the declining fortunes of the provincial Press. I suppose that no part of our Press is held in greater affection and respect than our provincial Press. In my own constituency, only a fortnight ago, theStroud Newsand theStroud Journalhave been forced by rising costs to amalgamate. They are both papers with a rising circulation and both have been in existence for over hundred years. In the Metropolis itself, we have unfortunate instances of the decline in the fortunes of all but a few of the very large papers. We hear only this week thatPicture Posthas to close down, one of the most honest and bold weekly papers that we have had in this country for a long time. It is a great pity that so important an organ will go.
I suppose that competition from television, which, after all, is pictures, just like the Picture Post,is really proving too stiff. I suppose that all the picture papers will find that competition very serious before long. The advertising revenue which the papers have lost through independent television. and in other ways as well, must be very substantial. I have heard a figure of about £20 million a year 733 mentioned. If that is so, one can understand that a very high circulation is absolutely essential to be able to keep a paper financially healthy today. Every one of these papers which disappears means that there is one less organ for the promotion of public opinion, for the expression of views of different kinds, and we must regard it with apprehension.
The tendency to monopoly in all our industrial affairs these days is natural with the rise in costs and the exploitation of machinery. But this is extremely dangerous when it is applied to the Press. These very large combines bear a big responsibility and I should like to pay passing tribute to the way in which the combines which own or influence the provincial Press have, in many cases, sustained those papers and saved them perhaps from extinction in a way which has done a great service to the people living in the provinces who have affection for those papers. I am bound to admit that on the question of the growth of combines and monopoly I have no remedy to suggest. I do not know what to do about it. Perhaps the hon. Member for Dundee, East will be able to be more constructive than I, but I am sure that we all regard this tendency with apprehension.
I have these two suggestions to make about the Press. First, that the Press Council should hive off some type of subcommittee, consisting purely of professional men, to judge professional standards and, secondly, that it should be armed with sanctions, which it would probably never have to use once it had them, to make it possible to suspend or expel from the profession. I believe that the ethics of journalism are very well known and can be defined and enforced. If that can be done, I believe that the rise in prestige and, therefore, in the influence of the Press would be a great service to democracy in this country.
§ 11.29 a.m.
§ Mr. J. A. Leavey (Heywood and Royton)
I beg to second the Motion.
Before making any general observations on this subject, I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) on his good fortune in being successful in the Ballot and, which is much more significant, to congratulate him on choosing 734 this subject to bring before the House today.
In so far as the Amendments tabled to this Motion support it, I welcome them, also. Though it may be rather too much to claim that anything which concerns anybody concerns this House, I think it reasonable to say that something which concerns everybody certainly concerns this House, and therein lies part of the great strength of our House of Commons.
Everyone reads newspapers. There can be hardly an adult, or perhaps an adult with the mind of a child—or a child with the mind of an adult—who does not regard newspaper reading almost as a routine; almost like taking food daily. Indeed, both functions are very often performed together. In a sophisticated society such as we live in today, were a list to be made of the desirable things in life I suppose that close behind food, clothing, housing, work and companionship, would come newspapers. In my references to the Press I wish, like my hon. Friend, that it be understood I am referring particularly to the great national daily newspapers mostly published from London and, in some cases, in Manchester.
§ Mr. Leavey
They may be included in some of the references I shall make. I should not wish specifically to exclude them.
Newspapers would come high on the list to which I have referred. I suppose we, who seek to play some part in public life and exercise some influence upon our fellow men as politicians, are particularly slaves to this industry which we call the Press. In this Motion, we ask, among other things, that the Press shallmaintain a high standard of conduct…Therefore, we are not asking that this industry shall do any more than a great many other industries in this country are doing today. But if there is to be the faintest chance that our hopes are to be realised, I believe we must have a close look at the body upon whom we are urging our opinions.
I wish, therefore, to follow to some extent what my hon. Friend has been saying in our consideration of the Press.
735 I am sure that we have to see it for what it really is—at any rate, at this stage—and not for what we should like it to be. I am sure we must recognise that it is a great industry and one which sells newsprint for a living. It would be a grave mistake, though, indeed, a mistake which I believe we are all guilty of making, that we, who are both customers of this industry and, in some cases supply its raw material, should unwittingly set the Press on a pedestal.
In some capacity or another we all earn a living and justify ourselves by rendering services to our fellow men; by making ourselves useful to those among whom we live. Some industries may make things to wear, others things to eat and other things to use among the whole range of products required by mankind. The Press supplies things to read. Of course, if it is true, as I believe it to be, that a nation gets the Press it deserves, it follows that we British people have got the Press we deserve. Newspapers set out to sell three things on their newsprint—news, views and advertisements; and I think that in this context views can be taken to be both opinions and pictures. To do so necessitates continually the exercise of great skill and energy and quite remarkable organising ability which would be commended in other fields. It is a question whether those energies are misdirected.
Like every other industry, the Press offers what it believes its customers want, and not necessarily what its customers need or ought to have. That, perhaps, would be a dangerous judgment. Like so many others, the Press seeks the repeat order, the regular customer, and adopts the devices and practices usual for achieving that. A lay-out or format is preserved which becomes familiar to the readers. There are feature writers and sports writers who, like the people they write about, acquire "fans". There are the cartoonists, usually men of great skill, who provide each day a "titbit" which, indeed, may be a major consideration among those who buy a particular newspaper.
There are the familiar and sometimes much criticised strip cartoons which never end, and to which we have become accustomed in the other medium of sound radio, as personified by the activities of 736 Mrs. Dale and her diary and the Archers. Then, of course, there is the leading article which, over the years and upon thousands of topics, says what the reader would like to have said only perhaps he has not the ability or the time to do so.
In doing this, the Press is doing what in other fields we are urging other industries to do. It is going out after the business. Sales or circulation is its slave-driver. I believe it a myth, and a somewhat dangerous myth, to imagine that the Press is concerned, or wishes to be regarded as being concerned, with a noble vision of enlightenment; or that it is the first concern of the Press that we should have freedom of expression for its own sake; or that in supplying news those who serve the Press are first missionaries and only, as it were, by chance newspapermen; or that they should occupy some privileged condition in our society; or that they should have free access to their raw material; or that they should in any way be able to pillory those who frustrate them.
I believe that to be a myth which must be brushed aside. I believe that it is an attitude of mind. If it is, and if a people, or a nation, or a community, deserves the Press it has—or any other industries it has—I think we should hesitate to be unduly critical of the Press. Perhaps we should consider whether a very large part of the blame, if blame it is, rests on us. Circulation and sales are the slave-driver of this great industry, and I use the word "great" advisedly. Perhaps there is room for criticism in that term, but it does make an enormous contribution to the daily lives of the people.
Circulation is something else. It is not the only yardstick of commercial success, but it is the yardstick by which power is measured. Today, among our national daily papers, I suppose theDaily Mirrorand theDaily Express—certainly, the Daily Mirror—hold the supreme position as far as circulation is concerned.
I realise that to draw a comparison between the Press as an industry and the huge range of other industrial activities there are can be carried too far. I readily admit that it is at this point that there must be a parting of the ways in that comparison—at the point, that is, where 737 recognition has to be given to a principle, which I think is universally recognised, that with power must go responsibility, and with great power must go great responsibility.
What, then, can we do here in this House by debate and discussion and by those means which are available to us by taking an opportunity, which I commend my hon. Friend for taking, to bring such a matter before the House, to ensure, or to try to achieve, the desirable conditions to which he has referred, in face of the very plain fact that, taken by and large, the greater the sense of responsibility and the more sober-minded the approach of the newspaper, the fewer the people who read it?
I hope I have the support of all hon. Members in saying that on this subject preaching is really no good. That is why I very much welcome the positive and I believe constructive, helpful and realistic proposals which have been put before the House by my hon. Friend, but I dare to hope also that a plea may not be entirely hopeless or entirety unavailing.
As a nation we have gone through a good deal, and much of what has happened in our long and turbulent past can give very real grounds for pride just as much as it gives ground for regret. I suppose that, among the many lessons we have learned, it is fair to say that we have learned one thing, and that is that it is never very much good telling people what they ought to do without at least persuading them that there is one—preferably more than one—good reason for accepting that advice.
We know that expediency, unhappily, takes precedence over ethics in many human activities. We know that men and women buy newspapers not to be educated. but to be entertained. We know that people like reading about crimes and the tragedies and disasters of their fellow men. We know that rows, unhappily, are better news than reconciliations. We know that people want to read about sporting activities and, as my hon. Friend said, about the sexual adventures of those who, from time to time, appear in the news. The vital statistics that they wish to study are not those which appear in the Economic Survey and other documents.
738 We know, and I think we welcome this, that political partisanship is absolutely vital to the form of democracy which we cherish; but is it really too much to hope that in our struggle for higher real standards, intellectual and material standards, we might still have a vigorous competition for circulation but that, somehow, the bait might be changed, or are we really for ever to perpetuate the shameless practice of condemning our ancestors who flocked to Tyburn Hill to see a hanging when, every day of the week, and more so on Sundays, for 2d. or 4d. every man woman and child can buy these same sensations?
What lies ahead will not be the survival of the fittest; it will be the survival of the most intelligent and the most scientific. We have gone a long way over the years in replacing brawn with brain. I suppose we can claim that, with all our failings, we are making some progress, but can we not find time, in the context of my hon. Friend's proposals, to educate our taste, as well as educating ourselves in those arts or sciences by which we shall achieve greater material standards?
Surely my hon. Friend's proposals deserve very serious consideration by those to whom they are directed. Surely the Press can have the courage to rid itself of what I believe is perhaps the most dangerous of all the restrictive practices by which, in serving the public by criticising everything and everybody, it none the less never criticises itself. It seems to me that that is a weakness and a fault which need not exist and which must attract the criticism of everyone, including those who are well-wishers of the Press.
Surely the rights of the individual, which men of all parties in this House have over the years sought to protect, should be protected against the activities of the Press as against the activities of any other body of people. Surely it is not right that there should be this intrusion into private grief, to which my hon. Friend referred. Surely it is wrong that the unspoken principle should be supported that because people want to hear about their neighbours' disasters they have a right to do so and that, therefore, those who seek to collect this information and disseminate it have in some way a right to trespass upon people's personal sorrows, upon the privacy of their homes 739 and upon their sentiments in a way which would not be permitted of anybody else.
Surely, and this is my final hope, as we progress in education it really is not necessary that we should have the inverse degradation of the very element in our public life which could do so much to aid progress in the field of education in its broadest sense.
I recognise that in making these general observations I have not added one specific proposal. I have expressed hopes. I hope that the House will not take that amiss, but I add the sincere hope that my hon. Friends and, indeed, the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), will find it possible to give their general support to the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and that note may be taken, and, more important, some action may follow.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have discussed the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) with the hon. Member. I have come to the conclusion that the best course to adopt is to select neither of the two Amendments but to rule that the considerations which both of them urge upon the attention of the House would be in order in discussing the main Motion.
§ 11.51 a.m.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
My hon. Friends and I agree with most of the criticisms of the Press that have been made this morning, but we wish to go considerably further.
When young people leave school today the four most powerful influences on their minds are the Press, the radio, the cinema and television. Probably television is the most important of these because it combines the other three. These four media have today become industries. We could call them the "propaganda" industries. The same tendency is at work here as in almost every other industry. Just as in chemicals, banking and the manufacture of motor cars the big boys oust the little fellows, so it is happening in the propaganda industries.
740 We see the outstanding example of the film industry where Mr. Arthur Rank. the millionaire in flour milling, controls the cinema in its production, distribution and exhibiting sides.
In the Press industry there are seven groups which control nearly all the national and Sunday papers we read. Within these seven groups there is a handful of men with controlling interests who dominate public opinion today. These newspapers, as they become more and more extensive, also become more and more expensive to own. Lord Southwood once said that it cost £2 million to set a new national newspaper going in London. That was before the war. It would certainly cost three times that amount today.
One of the most important items in cost is newsprint. The pre-war price of newsprint was approximately £10 a ton. The price today is very nearly £60 per ton, a six-fold increase. Why has there been an increase almost greater than in the cost of anything else? Because the newsprint industry is dominated by four combines, which made a trading profit last year of £27 million. That is the reason why many long-established newspapers have been driven out of existence in the last twelve months. A Question asked some months ago of the President of the Board of Trade was whether this case could not be brought before the Monopolies Commission. He turned it down flat. If ever a case existed which should be brought before the Monopolies Commission, this is it.
We are approaching a most fantastic situation in newspaper history. A couple of newspapers, whose names I do not want to mention, are in difficulties because they have less than a two-million circulation. It is estimated in the newspaper industry, in which I have been employed for a fair number of years, that one buyer of a paper means, on the average, three readers, that is to say that a two-million circulation newspaper has six million readers. We have now arrived at the stage when any group of newspaper readers fewer than six million cannot have a newspaper of their own. This is a strange freedom of the Press.
It boils down to this: to run a national newspaper takes a tremendous lot of money, so that behind these powerful groups of newspapers we have a handful 741 of men, extremely rich, extremely powerful and, with very few exceptions, extremely reactionary. I am not saying that morally they are any better or worse than the average individual. They sincerely believe that they are acting in the country's good, but it is so easy for them to confuse the interests of their country with the interests of big business. It would be surprising if these men did not run their newspapers to bolster up a form of society under which they are doing very nicely indeed.
I intend to show, with examples, how this attitude is not confined to editorial policy. After all, we do not blame a newspaper for having a bias, but when it enters into the news columns, as I propose to show it does, that is a different matter. Because of this vested interest it is only to be expected that when the Rent Bill is under discussion in this House the Press Lords will be on the sides of the landlord and against the tenants, and that when great wage issues are being discussed they are naturally on the side of the employers and against the workers, as we saw in the recent engineering dispute.
If any hon. Member doubts that the Press proprietors take an interest in the policies of their papers let me quote the words of Lord Beaverbrook who, in his extremely frank evidence before the Royal Commission on the Press said:I ran the paper"—theDaily Express—purely for the purpose of making propaganda and with no other object.He used the past tense, but I do not think his connection with the paper has been entirely severed.
I suggest that the dice are loaded against the common man and that this form of ownership of the Press is vitiating our democracy. "Freedom of the Press" is becoming an empty phrase when it means the freedom of a few millionaires to print news that suits them and to omit what does not. It may be said that there is a grain of truth in what I am saying but that I am going too far. It may be argued that people do not buy theDaily Sketchor theDaily Mailto learn the political views of Lord Rothermere, or the Empire Newsto get the views of Lord Kemsley, or theDaily Expressfor the views of Lord Beaverbrook. It may 742 be said, "That is not why people buy those papers. They buy them to see pictures of Diana Dors, tips for the 2.30, or the gardening hints."
I quite agree that in the first case that is probably why most people buy those newspapers, but I seriously suggest that we cannot keep buying those newspapers day in and day out for the pictures of Diana Dors, the tips for the 2.30, or the gardening hints, without becoming affected by the glaring headlines—the emphasis on this, the omission of that, and the complete distortion of the other. It is this chocolating of the pill which is so effective, so that the man in the street who starts out to buy his newspaper for quite other reasons finishes up with the political outlook of the millionaire Press proprietor.
§ Mr. John C. Bidgood (Bury and Radcliffe)
Does the hon. Member include theDaily Mirrorand theDaily Heraldin that castigation?
§ Mr. Allaun
I propose to mention that. I am not suggesting that either theDaily Mirroror theDaily Heraldis a perfect paper, but what I intend to show is that they have not been guilty of some of the things with which I am going to deal. I suggest that the diversion of people's minds from things that matter to things that do not explains a good deal of the triviality that we read in the newspapers, and that it has its purpose, too.
I come to one or two of the examples to which I have referred. A friend of mine—a very experienced industrial correspondent working for one of the important Press groups in this country—was told by his chief to write a report that the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions was, because of political division, about to break up. This was some time ago—before the present dispute. My friend said that he was very surprised to learn this as he had been with the leading officials only the previous day and had heard nothing about it. However, he said that he would make inquiries. He went into the matter, saw the people concerned, and found that there was not a grain of truth in the story. He came back to his chief and said so. He was then told that it was his job to make the story "stand up", as it is called; in other words, he had to justify 743 the story. The journalist replied that it was not part of his job to say what was untrue. He stuck to his guns, and the story did not appear. Shortly afterwards that journalist was sacked. I cannot give his name for obvious reasons. He has a wife and children to support.
The second example concerns something that happened in London last Sunday, when 2,000 women with black sashes marched through the streets of London to Trafalgar Square in the pouring rain to protest against the H-bomb tests. As a journalist, I would have said that that was news. I have looked up the London editions of theDaily MailandDaily Expressand I find that theDaily Mailgave it three lines and theDaily Expressfive. If it had been the Housewives' League that had marched through London I think that the event would have received considerably more prominence.
Recently theSunday Expresshas printed several articles attacking the Co-operative movement, which it is perfectly entitled to do—but those articles have contained incomplete and phoney trading figures. The President of the Co-operative Union and also the Chairman of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society, Mr. John Corina, wrote a letter to the editor correcting these misleading articles. The letter was not printed. Since then he has made repeated approaches to theSunday Express,but not one word of correction or one word of his letter has yet appeared in that newspaper. Whatever one's views of the Co-operative movement—with its twelve million members—may be, I think it is entitled to a correction of misleading reports of that kind.
Now let us look at the Press attack upon nationalisation, which one must expect in view of the ownership of the Press. I would remind hon. Members of the front page headlines which dealt with the loss of the Coal Board in its first year. Now let us consider, in contrast, the £64 million net profit made for the nation in the Steel Board's first—and only—year. I have checked the matter up fairly carefully, and I find that most newspapers discounted it in two or three inches, with a single column head. I find that theDaily Sketchachieved the feat of dealing with the account of the Steel Board and completely omitting the salient 744 fact, which was that a profit of £64 million had been made for the nation.
Steel nationalisation will come into the news again—I would say within the next two or three years. Certainly when it came into the news earlier one of the great opponents of it was the Berry Press—the Press of Lord Kemsley, Lord Camrose and the third brother, now dead, Lord Buckland. It is only right that it should be known—and it is not generally known—that the Berry family have more than sentimental interests in the steel industry. The Berry family had—and as far as I know still have—large financial investments in Guest, Keen and Nettle-fold and other leading steel firms. Human nature being what it is, one must expect the Berry Press to be biased against steel nationalisation, because the Berry family are steel owners themselves. It is as simple as that.
I shall quote only one other case, although I would like to go on all morning. This is a case of deliberate character destruction. A prominent member of the Conservative Party recently walked out because he differed on international policy. The following Sunday theSunday Expressprinted an article under the pen name of "Ephraim Hardcastle" which delved into the domestic life of this man and printed a photograph of his wife and children in a way which must have been extremely painful to everybody concerned. What is more, all this information, which they had obtained by following him about for weeks, had been in their possession for a long time. It was only when—whether rightly or wrongly—he took a strong and courageous attitude over the Suez war that they smeared him in this way. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw), in what I thought was a very fine speech, dealt with pornography. I think that there are worse things than that—and this is one of them. This is the gutter Press at its very worst.
There is one other case that I must mention. The correspondence columns of newspapers are carefully selected. In the evidence submitted to the Royal Commission on the Press a journalist who had worked for thirteen years on the Kemsley Press told the Commission—I know the man personally; his word is his bond—that the editor of his newspaper had asked journalists to write letters to 745 the editor in conformity with the political policy of the newspaper. and that one of these journalists signed his letter "Mother of Six." One cannot. therefore, believe even what one reads in the correspondence columns.
§ Mr. Allaun
I am coming to journalists. That was a male journalist.
Recently, I gave a talk on trade unions to the sixth form boys in a Manchester grammar school. It was obvious from the questions they asked to what extent their minds had been influenced by the newspapers which they had read. I got this kind of question: Did trade unionists who go on strike realise the implications of their actions? I had to remind the boys that a worker who goes home at the weekend to his wife and family without a wage packet probably realised the implications more clearly than anybody else.
I was asked how shop stewards were appointed. It came as a shock to the boys to know that shop stewards are elected by their fellow workers. They had rot the impression from the Press that they were appointed from above and that there was a sort of general dictation to the workers by shop stewards. They knew all the evils of the closed shop, but they did not know anything of the evil of the man who is willing to accept the benefits that a trade union obtains for him without paying a penny towards it in dues.
It seems to me that many of those boys—and intelligent boys they were—will go into the professions and have little contact with industry. Even before they leave school these young people are having their attitude towards trade unionism and politics decided for them in this way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis-Smith) asked about journalists. The question arises, Can we blame the journalist? In my view, we cannot. The journalist does not decide the policy of the newspaper for which he writes. Consider a reporter working on the Beaverbrook Press. If he submitted news about the Co-operative movement which was favourable to it, however accurate it was, it would not be printed in the Beaverbrook Press. He 746 does not, therefore, bother to submit it. If he submitted it and did so regularly, I imagine that very shortly he would be walking down "The Street" looking for another job.
Not only is it true that journalists do not decide the policy of the newspaper for which they write. In many cases even the editors do not decide it. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and he who pays the piper is of course the proprietor. It is he who ultimately decides the policy of his newspaper. I can think of fine editors—Tom Hopkinson and Ted Castle, editors at one time ofPicture Post—who had to leave because of disagreement on policy with Sir Edward Hulton.
I am proud to be a member of the National Union of Journalists. In that union we have a code of conduct. I am glad to say that the union is prepared to back its members against coercion of the kind to which I have referred. It can also take action against wrongdoers within its own ranks, and recently a fine of£50 was imposed on one of its members by the officers of the union.
§ Mr. Allaun
I am sorry, I thought it was£50.
Something else on which I feel very strongly is the question of war propaganda. If tomorrow morning the newspapers came out with the story that busmen were wicked villains, very few people would believe them because they would say, "Well, I meet busmen every day of my life, or there are busmen in our street, and they do not appear to me to be that kind of person "; and so the story is not attempted. It is far easier, however, to deceive people about what is happening in foreign countries with whom it is more difficult to establish contact.
In addition, I bitterly resent the disgusting appeal to Jingoism of such papers as theDaily Sketch,which during the Suez crisis carried the front page headlineLet the cry babies moan ".the cry babies being people who disagreed with war on Egypt. When the bombing of Port Said took place I am afraid there were other kinds of babies who were moaning—Egyptian babies and British babies, the children of the, fortunately, few British casualties concerned.
747 It was the editor of theDaily Mail—incidentally, the father of a present Member of this House—who in 1914, in a cable to that newspaper's war correspondent on the Western Front, Hamilton Fyfe, made famous the phrase,The only good German is a dead one ".I fear that we are reaching a somewhat similar situation today, except that it is "The only good Russian is a dead one."
I hope hon. Members will not misunderstand me. I have not come here to defend the Russian Government. I do not like the Russian Government any more than I like the American Government, which is precious little. My own view is that our country, and articularly the Labour movement, should take the lead and say, "We want peace, friendship and trade with both blocs, but we are not going to fight for either of them." I believe that this would lead to the avoidance of a third world war.
I protest, however, against the day by day propaganda against people in Russia, China, and so on, which is having the effect, or is attempting to do so, of creating such a war hysteria that millions of decent people in this country would be prepared to tolerate the dropping of the hydrogen bomb on similar people in other countries. As a journalist, I am not prepared to play that game, and I hope that other journalists will not do it either.
Whenever one goes to the cinema, watches television or reads a newspaper, one cannot avoid the stories of sinister Russian spying and the like. It is getting painful on television. In fact, I feel that there must be some purpose behind it.
I should like to mention a rather enlightening incident. Hon. Members may remember the case of an American bomber, said to be engaged on purely routine operations, which was shot down near the Baltic. There were angry diplomatic exchanges and even angrier headlines and editorials in our papers. It transpires that shortly before he flew for the last time the pilot of that aircraft sent to his wife in America a letter saying how proud he was to be flying on that operation as it was a secret mission. I think that it will be agreed that that puts rather a different light on the situation. This letter was printed in 748 two local weekly newspapers in the town in the Southern States of North America where the widow lived. I have the photograph of it with me. But very few people in this country have ever heard about it because, although our newspapers knew about this, only three of them printed it.
That was sometime ago. The rearmament programmes of all the world's great Powers had not then started—no world war resulted—but I do seriously suggest that it might be some such small incident as that, about which the people of the world learn only half or even less of the truth, which may be the match that sets off the explosion in which we all perish.
I feel that the Press lords are not the best people to advise us on foreign policy. At the Nuremburg Rally in July, 1939, six weeks before the last war started, Lord Rothermere, father of the present Lord, and Lord Kemsley attended as guests of honour. I suggest they are not our best guides to foreign policy. Not long before his death, I heard the late Ernst Toller, the great German anti-Fascist, playwright and poet say:Murderers are hanged for their crimes, but great newspaper proprietors who poison the minds of millions and, through great wars, cause the deaths of whole generations, are awarded the greatest wealth and title of the land.I believe that that is as true today as when he said it.
What can be done to get the Press into a better and more honest way of living? I fear that in present society, dominated as it is by great industrialists, there is no complete solution. I have come to the conclusion that the most immediate and most practicable thing that can be done is exposure. As has been said on the other side of the House this morning, exposure is valuable. It is more valuable in two ways. First of all, it puts the readers on guard and makes them more critical of what they read. Secondly, it makes the offenders more cautious.
There has been some improvement in the Press since the setting up of the Press Council. The Press Council has done an excellent job. It has built up, or is in process of building up, a case law—a code against which it is wrong for newspapers or journalists to offend. It has 749 dealt largely with cases of intrusion into personal brief; into very bad Press treatment of the Royal Family and so on, but I suggest that there are even more serious things with which it should deal, not merely offences against individuals but offences against ideas and organisations of the kind that I have mentioned.
One obvious weakness of the Council is that it is dominated by the newspaper owners. Of its twenty-five members, there are only four representatives of the National Union of Journalists, and even more serious, of the public not a single representative. The hon. Member for Stroud is optimistic. If he expects the wrongdoers themselves to put the Press right, I think he is expecting too much. Of those organisations represented on the Council, only the National Union of Journalists has asked for public representation.
You see, Mr. Speaker, the Press lords regard this as a sort of private interest, but surely the Press should perform a public service. It receives many facilities, but it is entitled to those facilities only as long as it operates as a public service. Therefore, to be democratic, there must be representatives of the public on the Council. It has been said that laymen do not understand the problems. Let those critics read the thirty-seven volumes of evidence submitted to the Royal Commission on the Press and they will find that the lay members of that Commission, and especially the chairman, asked the most intelligent and searching questions. Again, the Council is only a £3,000-a-year body, which is too little. It has other weaknesses too, but I feel that its main need is for public representatives among its members.
It may be thought that I have taken rather a gloomy view of the future of democracy. That is not my view because, fortunately for mankind, there is something even more effective than newspaper propaganda, and that is the experience of men's lives. The lessons men and women learn in the workshop, on the battlefield or in the home are, in the long run—and I stress that—more effective than anything that the Press lords can tell them. Ultimately, as Emile Zola said, the truth will out, particularly as people who believe in progress are not frightened of telling the truth about the change in the world that is taking place.
750 I believe that the Press lords can, and do, delay progress, but they cannot prevent it.
§ 12.27 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
One way and another, Members of Parliament receive a good many admonitions from the newspapers, and I cannot believe that any newspaper with a sense of humour will grudge this House a little reciprocity today. It is not an exercise in which we very often indulge. We have every reason to be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw), and so, I would add, have the newspapers for the very fair and balanced way in which he put the case for this Motion—and a very friendly way, too.
It has always been my view that in the best-ordered societies, relations between Press and politicians, if not exactly strained, are some way from being cordial. I think that that is altogether to the good. Societies in which one finds the Press and the politicians in the same camp are not always well ordered—they tend to be totalitarian. Therefore, I do not think that either side should resent a little criticism by the other.
I do not want to add to the washing list of faults which has already been drawn up by a number of hon. Members, nor do I want to try to wrap the dirty linen in a white sheet. I myself have been associated with a London newspaper—theDaily Telegraph,or theMorning Post—for over twenty-five years. We have a saying in Fleet Street "The editor who writes for his own newspaper has a fool for a contributor." I think that newspapermen do not make good critics of their own profession—nor the best defenders, even after a year's training at the Home Office.
It is fair to say that, unlike some of our institutions, many of the grossest faults of the newspapers are there for all to see. They go out of their way to proclaim them. The Press is not ungenerous in exposing some of its own vices, such as those which have been discussed this morning. Of course there are vices. What I should like to add, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud has said, is that those vices cause at least as much anxiety and distress to the majority of the members of the profession as they do to Members of 751 this House; not only about what is published but about the methods of getting the news which is published.
The temptation to seek strong remedies is, of course, overwhelming. There is a great temptation to seek the advantages which, I think, both sides of the House acknowledge, of a free Press and, at the same time, to get that free Press without the blemishes which such freedom tends to engender.
Before saying anything about remedies, I think it is fair to say a word about the background to some of the factors operating behind this industry today. The economic climate in Fleet Street is rigorous, and more than one hon. Member has referred to it. The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) has quoted the price of news print. A six-fold rise in price since before the war is, I think, probably not equalled by the raw materials of any other industry.
Fleet Street has also suffered extraordinary confusion over the newsprint rationing system, for which both Governments must take some share of responsibility. The political planning of this commodity has been the planning of Bedlam. It has bedevilled the sensible planning of newspapers in a time of acute financial difficulty, of which we have had quite recently fresh evidence.
As a consequence, not a direct consequence, but as an outcome of these economic difficulties, the margin between life and death of big national newspapers has been savagely narrowed. I do not say this in extenuation, but it is the fact that people fighting for their lives do not always scrupulously observe the Queensberry Rules. The trend towards bigger and fewer units, to which reference has been made, is frankly alarming, but it is not confined to Fleet Street. There are similar trends in big business in all industries in this country. and not only in this country.
§ Mr. Victor Collins (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
The hon. Member says that people fighting for their lives do not always observe the rules. Is it not the case that the national newspapers which are fighting most hard for their lives are those which do observe the rules and are attacked most?
§ Mr. Deedes
That may well be. I said that I did not put that forward in extenuation, but only as a passing thought.
The second, and perhaps less tangible factor, which it is fair to consider, but which, I believe, is no less significant, lies in certain consequences of the social revolution which has taken place in the last decade or so, consequences of which we have as yet barely appreciated. In 1900. at the dawn of Northcliffe, there were about 1 million newspaper readers. Today, the figure, varying according to the day of the week, must be between 30 and 40 million. That enormous emancipation has given the newspapers very great empires to conquer. Empire-building, particularly competitive empire-building, can be romantic, but it can also lead to buccaneering.
I believe that some of the faults which have been noticeable over the last ten years have arisen from this intensive struggle to capture that new readership which, in the last twenty-five years, the progress of education in this country has provided. This vast new readership in the mid-twentieth century has very largely been assimilated; it has been swallowed, but not digested. I think that that particular phase is now drawing to a close, though possibly not all the evils from it.
There are certain other currents from this social revolution which I think we ought to note. Populism, which the revolution stimulated, has its darker sides. One has given rise to the belief, which certainly some journalists tend to cultivate, that the public have a desire and a right to know the facts behind everything, including people's private lives. Let me add that there are a very large number of people who enjoy as well as resist publicity. Publicity, like the sword, has two edges to it. It is sometimes true that those who live by publicity run some risk of perishing by it as well.
I think that of the many charges generally preferred against a newspaper—pornography, sensationalism, intrusion and arrogance, which has been referred to by one of my hon. Friends—the prerogative to criticise everybody except themselves—the most serious, the most significant and the most difficult to meet 753 is the apparent obsession of some newspapers with trivialities. It is the accusation that false standards of values are created and sustained, and undue significance given to the grotesque, the melodramatic, the unpleasant and the horrific, with the inevitable belittling of serious issues, to which one of the Amendments before us refers, such as news. On that, there is much to be said. I will only touch on one aspect, not in extenuation of what has been said, but only so that we may see the Press with a little more balance.
It is exceedingly galling, not only to members of this profession, but to serious members of many professions, to see the antics of Miss Dors and other well-endowed young ladies given far more prominence than the more serious, and, they may think, more important, of their own activities. This is possibly a reflection not entirely on the Press, but also in part a reflection on the state of society in which we live.
There has emerged in the last twenty-five years—and we would do well to recognise this—what I would describe as a new aristocracy—the aristocracy of the film star, the mass entertainer, the prize fighter, the motor racer. I say "aristocracy" advisedly, because these people do share the privileges of the elites in other ages, even in this egalitarian age. They enjoy a certain amount of bipartisan tolerance. Nobody seriously questions their right to the very great wealth which I am sure they earn, and their right to squander their wealth in ways which, sometimes, in other sections of society, would provoke protest.
It is no good being upstage about these new figures which arise from the world of mass entertainment, or trying to belittle them. It is foolish to pretend that the public do not derive great satisfaction, great interest and great pleasure from them and their activities. They accord to these people what was accorded in earlier centuries to the so-called aristocracy at the time. In this connection, I regard Miss Monroe as a figure of real significance, and I say this in all seriousness. To me, Miss Monroe is Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, the Dubarry and Pompadour automationised for mass consumption in the mid-twentieth century. As such, she is a figure of significance, 754 to be taken due note of when we discuss this apparent obsession with trivialities.
We should not ourselves get too much out of perspective about this failure by a section of the Press to get things in the right perspective. I myself am not wholly despondent about this. I think we should be despondent and alarmed if the bad was manifestly eliminating the good. I suggest that there are signs of the reverse. Oddly enough, and adapting rather opposite tactics to those used by the hon. Member for Salford, East, I take one of the signals for my optimism from the opposite camp.
I wish to say a word about theDaily Mirror,which may perhaps come better from me than from the other side of the House. TheDaily Mirrorhas always been a little bit ahead of everybody in journalism's second revolution. What Northcliffe did forty years ago, his grandchild—for theDaily Mirroris a grandchild of Northcliffe—has to some extent succeeded in following. TheDaily Mirrorhas run the whole gamut—strip cartoons, strip tease, sensation, and so on—all the tricks designed to make the common man feel that he is the equal of his leaders, which is one of the highways to high circulation, and it has achieved and, indeed, earned enormous success.
It is noteworthy that in the past year, theDaily Mirrorhas taken a particularly responsible attitude on a number of serious national issues, and I say that, though, frankly, I am in disagreement with some of the conclusions it has reaohed. It is a significant pointer, and one which ought not to be overlooked. I say that believing theDaily Mirrorto be in the van of the newspapers which are mostly subject to censure here today. I would add, in parenthesis, that the pamphlets which it has issued, which, perhaps, do not enjoy as wide a circulation as its national newspaper, are an even more significant portent of what may be coming from that camp. It will assuredly be followed if it is successful. That is the sort of way in which one desires to see improvement achieved.
I do not share the pessimism of one hon. Member who referred to the provincial Press. It is perfectly true that the provincial Press is suffering from the trend towards bigness. But, at the other end of the scale, one must add that many provincial newspapers in technique, 755 presentation and quality of their work are galloping up very fast on the nationals. Fleet Street is no longer so much the Mecca of all journalists all over the country. A result is that the provincial Press is obtaining and retaining men of great ability. It is my belief that we may see the provincial Press—speaking nationally here—moving into a more significant period. These more hopeful signs that we ought not to ignore when discussing the future.
The third factor which has had a tremendous bearing on Fleet Street during the last ten years has been the influence of radio and, particularly, television. The effect on all newspapers has been immense. It has shaken to the roots the whole preconceived notion of what a newspaper should provide. All have been affected by it, and nearly all have met it in various ways. Some have seen the tremendous challenge of the news coverage now provided, particularly by television, and have met it themselves by giving a wider and more comprehensive news coverage. Others have answered it by giving no news at all.
I do not wish to make invidious comparisons between the respective methods. But the significance of television and radio in the lives and circumstances of newspapers and journalists and others who work for the Press has been immense. It will, I think, be a little time before equilibrium is achieved, judging from what one can already see in the United States of America, which is a little ahead of us.
It is, however, right to say that we have already had one significant lesson from the new rivalry. All my life I have been dogged by people telling me that the newspapers, without the sordid profit motive, without the sort of proprietors to which some hon. Gentlemen have referred this morning, would be free to give people not just what they wanted but what would be good for them, or, at least. a little more of what would be good for them and a little less of what they wanted.
Looking back upon the quite recent developments within the B.B.C. affecting the Third Programme and the Light Programme, and considering the policy which the Corporation has adopted in its reaction to Independent Television—I do 756 not question that policy—I wonder whether those who have dogged me all my life with that assertion were as right as they thought they were.
The B.B.C. is not governed by financial considerations as are the newspapers. I do not wish to make heavy weather of this, but I think it fair to give just a thought to recent B.B.C. policy in regard to the Light Programme and Third Programme. There is, indeed, some irony in the fact that theDaily Mirror,a profit-earning organisation, should have shown the sort of trend to which I have referred in the same year as the B.B.C. has taken a turn in its policy which is not along the same road. At any rate, these things should act as a caution for us against too much idealism.
What are we to do? The answer is, I think, probably a little less than we instinctively want to do. I should not have got away with that answer six months ago, when I was in the place now occupied by my hon. Friend who will, I suppose, reply to this debate. None the less, it is my innermost conviction. We are not in a static, unchanging situation; it is changing all the time. I have said, and I hope that I have given some reasons for it, that the trend is not entirely a downward trend; it is a little more upward than otherwise. Some time ago we had a discussion on the Press Council. The achievements of the Press Council, which I do not belittle, should be judged in this light. Such a body with teeth, too many teeth, could be the end of the freedom of the Press in which we believe. Without teeth, such a body is limited to admonition and censure. We chose the second. We discussed it at great length and chose such a body, with its limitations recognised. Within them, I believe that the Press Council has done a very good job in spotlighting bad practices. Its influence will, in my view, whether or not my hon. Friends suggestions or any other suggestions are adopted, tend to increase and the had practices will tend to diminish.
At the risk of being complacent, I feel confident about that, and I feel confident, too, about the general future. The fact is that the empire-building of the future will be in the world of ideas. The battle of the future, not only in this country but abroad, will be concerned with the conquest of the human mind, and a great 757 many human agencies, quite apart from Governments, will compete in that struggle. There is room for them all. Apart from television and radio, the Press will have a bigger rôle to play. There will be a search to find new keys to the human mind, and that task will require more than one locksmith and more than one technique. The Press will have its own high rôle in that.
It is for the Press to match itself to its share in the task. Our job is to decide upon one of the oldest problems in the world, the margin between liberty and licence. Journalists do not like quotations. They think that their own words are better, but I should like to quote from something written some many years ago by De Tocqueville:In order to enjoy the inestimable benefits which the liberty of the Press insures, it is necessary to submit to the inevitable evils which it ingenders. To expect to acquire the former and escape the latter is to cherish one of those illusions which commonly mislead nations in their times of sickness…I do not say that that should be the last word, but it is something which, in the course of this discussion, we should bear in mind.
§ 12.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
When the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) admitted that he had been associated with theMorning Post,I was reminded that theMorning Postwas the last newspaper I used to deliver at 6.30 in the morning when I was ten years of age. I gladly associate myself with almost everything which has been said in this debate so far. Concrete evidence to support our understanding of what is at stake in today's discussion was provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). I am the son of ordinary working-class people living in one of the greatest industrial areas of the world, and it is for them that I desire to speak.
In my view, thanks not to ourselves but to our forefathers, we have built up the finest standard of conduct in individual relations that there is in the world. Our form of democracy is the finest of its kind, and our standard of education will bear comparison with that of any other country. Our democracy is as well informed as, if not better informed than, people in most other parts of the world. The standard of conduct between indi- 758 viduals—and the more one moves among them the more one realises it—is as high as it possibly can be, having regard to the difficulties under which they are living.
It is against that background that I feel uneasy about the way things are going in the Press. Twenty-six years ago it was my privilege to fight the greatest and most able demagogue this country has yet produced. The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) spoke about theDaily Mirrorwith its pamphlets, whereas my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East was good enough to tell us of conduct which journalists themselves admit.
I am reminded of the demagogue I fought in those days, who, like certain sections of the Press, challenged the British standards. He had a handsome appearance, he had had the benefit of all that this country could bestow upon him, he had great social status, he had financial support which certain people in this country could bestow upon him, and he was standing in support of black reaction. We were battling away with only coppers in our pockets trying to defend the high British standards and all that was best in life.
It is to the everlasting credit of British democracy that it staved off that menace to its standards. Later on it was challenged by his associates in Italy and later in Germany, but in Britain now we are clear of all this. In my view there is, however, another menace on the horizon. It is for these reasons that I want to make my contribution to the debate.
We did not achieve our standards by an easy road. We achieved them only because our forefathers were prepared to make sacrifices in life and were prepared to work for better standards than they found when they came into this world. We must now courageously and without hesitation be prepared to accept the challenge which is being made by certain sections of the Press and by the policy which they are following.
In considering this question, I did a little research in my home and came across one or two documents which I want to produce. First, I came across a book entitled "The Roaring Century", published by theNews Chronicleto 759 celebrate 100 years of its history. In that book I found the sentence:British policy must be in harmony with the primary interests of the majority of mankind.I know of no better philosophy to guide people in their approach to modern problems than that, and the first question I want to ask is this: are the last ten years of the British Press in harmony with the interests of mankind?
The book deals with twenty-five momentous years, and it has a chapter entitled, "The Politics of Disillusion". I passed through that period. Again we are being involved in the same disillusion. I remember our old friend Ernest Bevin first of all becoming associated with Odham's. A proposal was made that Odham's should take over the financial side and the management side of theDaily Heraldwhile our own movement should make a contribution towards the editorial. When this was put forward in London it was carried in that way.
Later, it was arranged that Ernest Bevin should come to Manchester. He asked a few of us to meet him. We spent some time in a Manchester hotel. and the following day he addressed a large meeting in the Manchester Free Trade Hall. Towards the end of that speech Ernest Bevin said. "I know that my good friend Ellis Smith is uneasy about the proposals which are being made. I can give the assurance to this audience that we will run theDaily Heraldon the same lines as theManchester Guardian." That finished me: The roof of the Free Trade Hall nearly came off in applause. That was the beginning of the support which was obtained in Manchester.
Later, in 1930, we had one of the largest processions and demonstrations ever held in Manchester, when the northern edition of theDaily Heraldwas first to be published. Some of the finest characters in this country were present, including—and I put this man first among them—our old friend J. R. Clynes, Ernest Bevin, Lord Lawson, Gracie Fields and many others. There was a very large audience, as these photographs which I have here will show. TheDaily Heralddevoted most of its paper to the meeting and stated that it was the largest audience ever gathered in Belle Vue.
760 We thought that we were beginning to see new standards and that this newspaper would reflect the ideas which were responsible for the great sacrifices made by men and women who had built up the trade union, Labour and co-operative movements of this country. There was enormous good will behind that paper—more good will at that time than any newspaper has ever had in this country. They were almost on the verge of a circulation of two million, and several speakers expressed the view that it was only a matter of time before they had built up a circulation of three million.
I purposely mention that because later, if I have time, I want to draw the lessons from it. In my view, most men and women in this country instinctively want to do the right thing; they want to make a good contribution to life. In my view the politicians and the newspapers, like our education authorities, our friendly societies, the churches and the chapels, are all making their contribution in helping to improve these standards and in devoting their experience and life's work to elevating the people. In my view the Press of this country ought to be doing the same thing, in harmony with the best interests of our own country in particular and of the world in general.
It is against that background that I want to indulge in some criticism. In my view, those responsible for lowering the standards of the British Press are the Press lords, and the responsibility ought to be laid at their door. In my young days one could have a discussion with a Press representative in any part of the country and could rely upon it that not one word of the conversation would be repeated. The standard of conduct between journalists and the representatives of the people in this country was so high that there was complete confidence in one another. Slowly but surely, just as they have drifted in other directions, as was referred to by my hon. Friend, they have drifted in regard to individual relationships and other ways, about which I shall speak later.
In my view, the newspapers which have most responsibility for this should be mentioned. We ought to have no hesitation in naming them today, because we are all put to the test in this debate. 761 It is easy to make speeches, but it is not on generalisations that our manhood is tested, it is on the amount of courage we exert in the debate to be fair to those newspapers which have maintained high standards and those which are battling against extinction, We owe it to them to name those which have been mainly responsible for drifting in the direction in which this matter has gone. Therefore, I repeat that, first, it is the Press lords who are mainly responsible.
The newspapers which have most responsibility, those which play down to the lowest emotions in people, those which have resorted to nothing but building up mass-circulation, those which have been responsible for the introduction of all about which my hon. Friends have complained, I put them in this order: first, theNews of the World,thePeopletheEmpire News,theDaily Mirror,theSunday Pictorialand theDaily Sketch.I make all the allowances necessary for the journalists, but I say to some of my hon. Friends that in the workshops with which I am more familiar men take a stand and run great risks for what is right. In my view, that might have been done in some quarters in the Press.
It is now many years since I first met Lord Beaverbrook. There was with him the present Prime Minister, William Barkley, civil servants and another man whose name I do not remember. I relate this story in order to draw lessons from it I look back on that experience with working-class pride because of what was said. I found Lord Beaverbrook was a great admirer of theManchester Guardian.He was satisfied with his Parliamentary correspondent but wanted to run a Parliamentary reporting page on the same lines as theGuardian.He thought the best thing of its kind was the Parliamentary sketch which appeared daily in theGuardian,and it was his desire to have something like that done. That has not been done, but it is the kind of thing the Press lords ought to be using their powerful influence to bring about, reporting this House objectively and reporting the personalities in the sketch. It was my privilege to be associated with that very fine character Mr. Wadsworth, who on numerous occasions told me his ideas but, because of the limitations on space in the Press, he could not do justice to those ideas at that time.
762 As my hon. Friend has said, we want to give credit where it is due. In our view, the provincial Press and a large section of the national Press have done all they could to maintain the standards which we look upon with pride, but a number of mass-circulation dailies have subordinated everything to circulation. They have played down to the lowest emotions in people. They have melodramatised news, they have indulged in misrepresentation and interference in people's private lives. They have indulged in an ultra bias against working-class leaders who are loyal to the class which has thrown them up.
One Sunday newspaper in particular has more responsibility for all this than any other paper in the country. I will give an example of what happened recently in the Manchester area. In that area we have some very fine boys whose characters will bear strict investigation. Their average age is about twenty-one. They are a credit to themselves and a credit to their parents. They are admired on the field and admired off the field by all who know them. They went to Madrid, and in Madrid they were congratulated by the Spanish authorities and the people for the high standards they maintained. If our young boys can behave like that, the Press ought to be able to do the same. The Press wrote up the visit in such a dramatic way, in such a sensational way—they charged some of the Spanish players with murder—that the result was that it affected the emotions of people in the Manchester area. That kind of thing is doing terrible damage to the people of this country. Because of the concrete illustrations about it given by my hon. Friend and others, we are speaking about this matter in this way.
I wish to refer to the Third Annual Report of the Press Council. It is entitledThe Press and the People.That Report contains the basis of our case. Many years ago hon. Members in this House wore top hats and frock coats. Even when I first came to the House I used to be upset at seeing so many walking about in top hats and frock coats and wearing monocles. I have seen a great change from those days. This House has been democratised. A wider section of the people is represented here. All hon. Members who are elected can make their contribution and play their part in 763 this democratic machine. That is what we are asking for in the Press. We are asking for a further instalment of democratic development by having on the General Council of the Press representatives of the people to make their contribution in its deliberations. In the Third Annual Report, Sir Linton Andrews, the Chairman, said:Our first and second annual reports described the Press Council as an experiment. It has become an institution.That is after three years. This is part of our case. The time has come for further steps forward.
Many people were critical of the suggestion that a Press Council should be set up, but now we have it on record from the Chairman himself that it is an established institution. It is admitted by all well-informed people that it has made a contribution in dealing with the problems we are raising today. We say that in order to make it more effective it is time that it had another instalment of democratic development.
On page 3 of the Report there is a terrible condemnation of those who have been responsible for what we are complaining about. Dealing with the question of the private life of the Royal Family, the Report says that the Press Council:declared itself against intrusion into the Royal Family's private life.It might have mentioned that this applies also to some Members of Parliament and some other representatives of the people.
In my view, it is time that protests were made in this House in support of the General Council of the Press against the vulgar, ignorant, coarse impertinence of the lowest-footed type of newspaper which was responsible for the headlines:Come on Margaret. Please make up your mind. For Pete's sake put him out of his misery.In no circumstances should we, and ordinary people would not, stand for that kind of thing in our newspapers.
As we walk through the Royal Parks, most of us would not see a flower damaged. Yet we have certain sections of a small minority of the Press so lowering our standards that lovely young people's lives can be headlined and written about in this way. We ask today 764 for more vigorous action against that kind of thing.
I come now to another example. The latest case has been brought out in the last Press Council Report. It is headlined, "A Stopped Wedding." I am dealing with this because I should like as many people as possible to read what is at stake in this kind of thing, and I should like nothing better than for the journalists employed by these papers to be interrogated. We should not need an experienced Q.C. to do the interrogation. I would gladly accept the responsibility of interrogating certain people employed by those newspapers.
This stopped wedding and all that went on behind the scenes is typical of the depths to which theSunday Pictorialhas resorted. I want to congratulate the General Council of the Press on its Report with regard to that matter. The editor of theSunday Pictorialgave an explanation to the General Council of the Press, and the Council's statement on the matter was excellent. How many newspapers published the General Council's statement? It is to the everlasting credit of the high standards of theManchester Guardianthat it published the statement in full. But how many other newspapers published it?
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
My hon. Friend informs me that theSunday Pictorialpublished it.
I conclude with these words:The English Press is more and more ceasing to perform its function of giving information. As it sinks lower and lower in its exercise of that function, our power of judging our own international position and our own domestic affairs sinks with it.This was written by Hilaire Belloc many years ago, but it applies more forcibly today. Therefore, we are today appealing for a change and for a restoration of the high standards which used to obtain in the Press. We are appealing for a new start. We pride ourselves on our democracy and on being a well-informed people, but we ask the Press, from now onwards, to make a better and a greater contribution towards the development of our democracy in order that it, in turn, can make an even greater contribution in the development of our own life and that of mankind generally.
§ 1.14 p.m.
§ Mr. David Llewellyn (Cardiff, North)
I wish to join with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) who has spoken so eloquently, as he always does, in praising the restraint shown by my hon. Friends in moving and seconding the Motion. But, having said that, I would say with great respect to them both. if I may paraphrase quite a well known rhyme:I praise the great restraint with which you talked,I'm with you there, of course,You use the snaffle and the curb all right. But where's the horse?It seems to me that so far in the debate there has, by and large, been a lack of concrete suggestions as to how the evils to which hon. Members on both sides have referred can be remedied. I am a comparatively newcomer to journalism. but I see some of the greatest dangers to it on perhaps different lines from those explored today. I do not believe that the principal danger to the lives of newspapers or to journalism, or to the profession of journalists, is the dirt that gets into the printed diet, or even the discreditable means by which it is sometimes procured. Nor do I believe that the livelihood of newspapers and newspaper men is seriously threatened by the competition of commercial television, an argument that was developed in a letter by Sir Gerald Barry inThe Timestoday.
Quite frankly, and with respect to the Press Council, I do not believe that it is a serious influence one way or the other, although it. would certainly wish to be. in the maintenance of the highest standards. I do not believe that any change in its composition, or giving it teeth—a dangerous procedure where the freedom of the Press is concerned—would have any material effect upon the present situation. In fact, I am rather distressed by one feature in the Press Council's activities which has so far not been mentioned in the debate today, because it seems to me to raise the quite serious fault of censorship by commercial discrimination which the Council has, not sanctioned, but to which it seems to have turned a blind eye.
I refer to what I can only regard as the abdication of responsibility by the Press Council in refusing to consider Mr. Randolph Churchill's complaint that Messrs. W. H. Smith & Son has boy- 766 cotted his book which is being handled by 600 firms. If that power were to be widely exercised, it could result in a form of censorship by commerce which would be most reprehensible and dangerous.
Reference has been made to triviality in the Press—I think one of my hon. Friends referred to the elevation of the trivial—but, here again, we are on somewhat dangerous ground. After all, what may be trivial to hon. Members of the House may not necessarily be trivial to the general public. It would be arrogance on our part—and we are constantly charging journalists with arrogance —if we were always to assume that we were right in our assessment of what was trivial and the people were wrong.
Reference has also been made to the failure of self-criticism by the Press. That is something which in a few years in journalism I have not really noticed. As far as I can see, there is a great deal of healthy cannibalism. Again, other hon. Members have spoken of the dangers of the domination of public opinion by a few groups of newspapers. I think that behind that lies a fear, which I can well understand, that the public are widely influenced by the political opinions which appear in the newspapers. If I were inclined to the left, I should naturally, I think, look upon organs of the Right with a natural but, I think, misplaced suspicion. In actual fact, I do not believe that many newspapers have any political influence whatsoever when it comes to the ballot. If they had, we could not, in my judgment, possibly have had the election result of 1945.
I think that we underrate the instinct of the public in arriving at the right conclusion at the right time. The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) referred to the suppression of news. We could swop stories of suppression of news all day in this House and never finish. It would he a mistake if the hon. Member for Salford, East were to imagine that suppressions are confined to the organs of the Right. Indeed, I think it true to say that part of the difficulties of theDaily Heraldhas been that it has affronted some readership which is not passionately dedicated to the Left by the over-statement and presentation of its case.
By far the greatest danger to the freedom of the Press was mentioned by the 767 hon. Member for Salford, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). It was also referred to by Lord Kemsley a few days ago when he referred to the passing of two morning papers with a large circulation, theBirmingham Gazetteand theYorkshire Observer,one evening newspaper, theEvening News,Glasgow, and several independent weekly newspapers which have either been absorbed or have ceased publication. He went on to ask these questions, which the House has not attempted to answer today. He askedwhat changes would help the weak or marginal papers which, apart from providing employment, at once represent and help to mould the various shades of opinion and standards of readership in this country. Today the cost of newsprint is six times the pre-war figure… Newsprint forms approximately 30 per cent. of a newspaper's production costs, and any reduction of the price would have a material effect in lowering expenditure and so help the marginal paper.Since he spoke those words we have had news of the pending death ofPicture Post.We have had rumours to which reference has been made in the House of what can only be called a marriage of convenience between theNews Chronicleand the Daily Herald.I wish that I could say
Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.But these minds are essentially imcompatible, and not even the most romantic hon. Member could possibly call this a love match.
I hope, therefore, for the sake of the freedom of the Press, that theDaily Heraldwill go on advocating views which sometimes I find deplorable, and printing news, and sometimes not printing news, and that its death can be avoided. It would be a mistake if we were to underrate altogether the chivalrous attitude of theDaily Expressin offering yesterday a helping hand, which is at least appreciated by those whose bread and butter is at stake. I suggest that the most practical aid which could be given to theDaily Herald,theNews Chronicleor any newspaper in difficulties would be an offer of newsprint at low prices.
I know nothing of newsprint economics, but if it is true—and I am sure that it is —that it is the price of newsprint that threatens to stifle expression of free opinion in Fleet Street, in the provinces, 768 in small publications and in large, the State or the Government should not stand idly by. This may be considered heresy by some hon. Members on these rather thin benches today but I think it would be better for the survival of freedom of opinion in our country that the price of newsprint to newspapers should be State subsidised and distributed by an independent trust established for that purpose than that all the lights of liberty should go out one by one.
I have not been, as I have said, a journalist for very long, but I believe that, for all its shortcomings, its vulgarity and, at times, its pornography, the instinct of the popular Press is right—to publish and be damned. I am sure that is sound, liberal and democratic, and if that instinct is to be stifled by economic causes, then I think that the House has a responsibility to the people of this country to ensure that the Press is kept alive. As the power of the State increases in this country, as authority becomes more and more entrenched, whichever party is in power, we in this House would do better to preserve the popular Press—" warts and all "—than to attack it for its sins because we fear its virtues.
§ 1.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Collins (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
I wish to declare an interest in this subject as I am a director of a company which owns two small provincial newspapers. I should like to say at once that I join with those who have commended the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) for introducing this subject and also for the informed and balanced way in which he presented his case.
I do not think there has been much disagreement on either side of the House in the discussion that has taken place so far. Until the speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Llewellyn) we have had a good deal of criticism, a good deal of exhortation, but nothing much in the way of practical, concrete suggestions.
From the hon. Member for Cardiff, North we had two important suggestions, both of which I heartily support and with which I hope to deal later on. There has been, I think, one point of agreement on both sides of the House with which I do not agree. Hon. Members appear 769 to think that the Press Council has not done such a bad job. I think that the Press Council has failed lamentably to deal with the major difficulties and shortcomings of the Press to which several references, particularly by the hon. Member for Saliford, East, have been made, references which are factually damaging and unanswerable, and which are one of the major causes of difficulty in the Press.
I submit that this whole debate is unreal and will serve no useful purpose unless we discuss this matter in the full realisation that newspapers can only exercise influence if people read them. They can only continue in business if they make enough profit by selling enough papers and thereby selling their advertising space, and they are in business to do just those two things. If at the same time they can perform a public service and do a bit of good, so much the better, particularly if in their view it helps circulation. It would be stupid to think that newspapers are run for the purposes that most of us in this House would like to see them run.
There are all sorts of partial exceptions to these generalisations, but they do not affect their basic truth. Having said all that, I nevertheless agree with those who say that newspapers are public institutions serving the public. They are a public necessity, and if their prosperity and continuance should be seriously affected it would be a public disaster. It is a matter of serious concern to us all and to people throughout the country that in recent years many good provincial papers and even some national newspapers have died. In many ways the situation is worse now than it has been at any time for many years.
Reference has been made toPicture Post,which is to shut its doors on 1st June. That may be a special or a particular case, because the special kind of competition which affected it so acutely will not affect the ordinary newspapers to quite the same extent. But the point which also concerns me is not the fact of the closing down of a worthy enterprise; it is the fact that a first-class team of journalists who have put their lives into the paper have lost their employment in a shrinking market for their services. Therefore. with our criticisms, I think it a paramount thing 770 that we should put forward concrete suggestions for resisting this serious decline in the Press because the national scene is indeed very disturbing.
The two quality papers,The Timesand theManchester Guardian,which have small circulations but exercise an immense influence, are making a loss on their newspapers. They may, as we know, be covered in other directions, but the papers themselves are not paying. TheNews Chronicle,easily, in my view, the best popular daily paper, and one which constantly strives to raise its tone and educate its readers, is losing money. So far it has survived, on cocoa.Reynolds Newsin the last year or so has made a most courageous attempt to form or build up as it were—it is over 100 years old—a quality Left-wing newspaper in face of the certain fact that it would lose circulation. But such things can be attempted only if there is backing. In the case ofReynolds Newsit is supported by the Co-operative movement. The fact is that any national paper with a circulation of under two million has a struggle to live. TheSketch,theNews Chronicleand theDaily Heraldare fighting for their lives, not because of any demerit but because of low advertising revenue. The Sketch continues because it is backed by theDaily Mail,and the other two because they are supported by outside interests.
The difference in advertising revenue above and below the two million circulation line is quite startling. Take, for example, the advertising revenue of the big daily papers for last week, the week ending 11th May. On top of the pile is theDaily Express,with a figure of £160,000. Next comes theDaily Mirrorwith £89,000. then theDaily Mailwith £60,000. theDaily Heraldwith £34,000, theNews Chroniclewith £30,000 and theDaily Sketchwith £12,000. In other words, theDaily Expressadvertising revenue is nearly double that of its nearest rival, five times as big as that of two other papers. and more than twelve times the advertising revenue of theDaily Sketcha paper with well over 1¼ million circulation.
We may well ask how long can theHeraldand theChroniclecontinue under those circumstances. How long can theDaily Mailcontinue to support theDaily Sketchwithout bringing theDaily Mail 771 itself down? I am not concerned that some of these papers agree, generally speaking, with the political point of view I represent and that others are strongly opposed to it. Irrespective of one's political opinions, I say that it is a democratic disaster if these national newspapers should fail and a matter of serious concern for every hon. Member of this House.
Do not let us get away from the fact that the root cause of the trouble is that the Press has been taken over by the advertising agents. There is no need to mince matters at all. They demand large circulations or they will not place their orders, and so, with one or two exceptions. commercial managers and not editors are in real control of most newspaper offices. Let us remember that it is the editor who is, as it were, responsible for the printed word in the newspaper. But if he is dominated by the commercial manager who, in turn. is dominated by the demands and the pressure of the advertising agent, then, of course, that is the real trouble. That is why there is constant pressure to cheapen standards and produce good "news" and "exclusive" stories, even at the price of private grief and suffering, as many hon. Members have mentioned.
Some newspapers try to succeed by appealing to the lowest common denominator of public taste. We have papers which concentrate on presenting the female form and so-called vital statistics, which imagine that their circulations will soar as their "neckline" plunges. I am quite certain that is not the only way to success, and in the newspaper with which I am connected we are proving it. It is our experience that people are hungry for a newspaper which tells the truth and which they know tells the truth.
Today, people know that all the national dailies slant, cut and suppress the news to serve particular political, vested or personal interests. In the national field we have no "free" Press. It is fantastic humbug to talk about the freedom of the Press. We have no truly independent newspapers, because the immense capital needed either to start or to maintain one makes it impossible for a paper to be truly independent and free. 772 For all that, I am utterly opposed to any restrictions, save those imposed by the tenets of good taste—we know how often those tenets have been violated in recent months and years—and I feel that this House and this Government should create conditions so that decent newspapers can survive and the truth prevail. I wish to make a few practical suggestions, therefore, which I hope will be acted upon. The first of these is the continuance of what the hon. Member for Stroud put forward as a suggestion and which I would take a little further. I say that the Press Council must draw up a code of ethics. My hon. Friend mentioned the journalists' code, but the British Press as a whole must do it if it is to avoid widespread public criticism and possibly eventually some form of State control. At present, it has no standards, it is just building up by case law on trial and error and discussion.
Almost all the other professions—doctors, pharmacists, engineers and architects—have a commonly accepted code of professional conduct. Yet the Press, which exercises a greater influence on our daily lives than any other profession, remains unprincipled. The Government must convince the Press Council that in the long run self-control is better than any other form of control.
In my company, we issue a code of conduct to all reporters and editorial staff. I do not wish to weary the House by reciting the whole list—it is a long list—but these are some of the things on which we insist.Headlines must be justified by the news they tell and not be extracted out of the fragment of a story. Headlines should be as vigorous, exciting and dramatic as life itself, but they should avoid prejudice, hysteria or inflammatory statements. We encourage individual responsibility by the free use of bylines. Our reporters are reminded that all men are equal, that they should respect the dignity of the individual and that they should never denigrate a man because he has appeared in court and they must show no bias, either social, racial, religious or economic.Don't pull punches, but be fair to all sides. Print the news as it comes—too much "subbing" destroys the "feel" of the story. Look for constructive news of good work in the world as a counter-balance to the large amount of crime and violence which dominates so much of our Press. Avoid questionable photographs and detailed descriptions of acts of indecency which might encourage imitation. Give respect and expect it, reporting in detail in cases where your duty of conveying news to the public is interfered with.773Reject all attempts by political parties, religious bodies, advertisers, business clients, trade unions or individuals to prevent publication of news or bring influence to bear on your editorial judgment. Never accept patronage from private or public interests, remembering that you fail as a journalist if in the smallest degree you become their mouthpiece. Give honest apology in cases of justified complaint. Never shade down or conceal the truth, because you have no licence to lie—no matter in what good cause. Do not cut or abridge letters without the writer's permission, unless the abridgement leaves the sense and the opinion unimpairedAnyone familiar with newspapers will know the type of document from which I have quoted. They will know how it is issued, and we see that it is followed and acted upon. I have not the slightest doubt that the Press lords could think up something much better if they had the spirit and the will to do it. If the Press saw to it that our papers were run on these lines we should have nothing to complain of and the Press would be a great instrument for good.
And I must tell the House that it pays financially. We took over a small provincial newspaper five years ago. It was sixty years old, losing money and losing circulation. It has been run on the lines I have indicated. Today's circulation is two-and-a-half times what it was, and the advertising revenue has been more than trebled. Two years ago we successfully launched a second paper. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North will know that it is almost impossible successfully to launch papers in these days. I must say that the big boys, who tried all the usual tricks with which anyone in the newspaper world will be familiar, did their best to see that that would come true, but we got through and we are now accepted.
In my view, and certainly on those lines, and particularly in the provincial Press, there is hope for the future. Newspapers arc heavily handicapped by high costs, and chief among them is the scandal of newsprint about which I think Parliament must do something. Newsprint is six times its pre-war price. In my view this is largely because the trade is a mere monopoly between the four big corporations, especially Bowaters and Reeds. They made £27 million profit between them. Last year Bowaters made £6,750,000 net profit, £1 million more than the year before. But for that £1 million extra profit four 774 provincial dailies which went out of circulation last year, including theYorkshire Observerand theBirmingham Gazette,would still be alive today. It is absolutely scandalous. The "equalised" price of newsprint to all newspapers is about £60 a ton, after rebate. This is based on the cost of importing wood pulp from Canada, Newfoundland and Scandinavia and working out the cost of production in our own mills here.
Our weekly provincial Press is mostly supplied with home-made print, manufactured from rags and waste paper, and a year or so ago an independent accountant who went into the cost of home-made newsprint found that it was about £35 a ton. Therefore the smaller papers have to pay £60 a ton for paper which should not, by any stretch of imagination, cost more than £45 a ton. They are, in fact, subsidising the larger newspapers.
It would remove the biggest barrier to the freedom of the Press, as the hon. Member for Cardiff. North suggested. if this matter were urgently reviewed, if an inquiry was held into newsprint generally and if we succeeded in this House in urging the President of the Board of Trade to refer this industry to the Monopolies Commission. It may well be asked, why have not these facts caused a greater outcry in the Press among the powerful organs of the Press? The answer is very simple. It is because the Beaverbrook Press, the Daily Mail,theDaily Mirrorin fact, all the "big boys" except Kemsley—own either mills or forests in Canada or have big interests in Reeds or in various Canadian paper mills. In other words, "I am all right; do not worry about the rest."
It is sheer humbug for them to get together in the Press Council to talk over minor points when they have got the other people by the throat and will not let go. It is for us in this House to use our powers, powers provided by Act of Parliament, to loosen that grip in the interests of the freedom of the Press. Certainly the local provincial Press of Britain would be greatly stimulated if the price of home-produced newsprint were brought down nearer to its cost of production, and they were no longer held to ransom.
775 It will doubtless be said that newspapers can put up their prices, and no doubt they will before the autumn. But it is against the public interest that they should be exploited in this way, in what is to them a basic raw material.
There are two other suggestions which I wish to make which may not meet with such general approval, but they have not been made so far during the debate and I hope that they may be considered. The first is that the larger local authorities should consider running municipal newspapers on commercial lines. The National Association of Local Government Officers recently exposed the great gaps in public knowledge of local affairs. I do not blame the provincial Press for this, because it usually does a very good job of reporting the doings of local authorities, but there are many gaps which ought to be filled. Municipal papers would break up the chains of standardised provincial newspapers. Properly run, they could be lively and controversial.
It might be argued that they would reflect the political views of the prevailing majority or seek to whitewash or glorify their activities. I do not think so. If they were run in accordance with the journalistic code which I have suggested, they could make a great contribution to democracy.
Secondly, and I am quite sure that this suggestion will meet with criticism on this side of the House, I would suggest that the Government of the day could fill great gaps in public knowledge by taking space in newspapers to disseminate important information which does not get adequately reported, because the Press Lords do not think it will sell papers. Again, it can be done objectively on the lines of the B.B.C. Report of "Today in Parliament". The Ministry of Food and other Government Departments did this during the war and in the immediate postwar years. I am not afraid that it would be a vehicle for party propaganda. The British story is not being told as it must be told if we are to resume the upward trend in production and maintain our place in the world. If the newspapers are not doing it, it is up to the Government to find some way to see that the story is told.
Once more I would urge newspaper proprietors to do their best for their 776 country. They are not dealing fairly with industrial news, simply because their reporters are always told to get after the human story. Sometime ago, as an example, the East and Steer coal pits at Gwuan-cae-Gurwen, in South Wales, were to be closed down. They are old anthracite coal pits. It became a story in the National Press, which dealt with it from the point of view of human interest—the old miner who was to lose his job, the grocer who would lose his trade and the wife who condemned the men for not working harder.
My paper did an on-the-spot industrial report on the men's basic grievances. with figures, facts and photographs—the cars in the car parks above the pit, the number of managers, and so on, and with these illustrations and facts, and by a bit of honest reporting, we helped to sway the Coal Board's decision. and the pits were kept open even though it had been decided to close them. That is the kind of job which newspapers ought to do in serving the public.
To conclude, I should like to quote from a recent speech by Lord Kemsley with which, astonishingly enough, I entirely agree. He said:Crucial times are ahead for many newspapers in increasingly competitive conditions. In this period of violent changes in the world generally, one must expect reading habits to be affected. Television, by bringing unfamiliar aspects of life visually into the home may be awakening curiosity that demands more solid satisfaction. The forward-looking newspaper, keyed to the tempo and the growing complexities of the times, has more to do for the community than ever before. Accurate reporting and independence of viewpoint will command the good will of a public growing more aware, and the future newspaper reader will, I feel, respect courageous tackling of difficult controversial topics.I hope that Lord Kemsley will do his utmost to act on those words and to impress upon his fellow Press lords their truth and importance, so that we will have not merely words but actions. I hope that the Government will take action in the directions I have indicated and that my own party will ceaselessly press them in this very important matter. I hope that the Press lords will decide to come clean. They can then make the changes which it is in their power to make.
The British Press is still the best in the world, but it falls far below the standards it can and must achieve. Let us work to 777 gether to make it an instrument of power and prosperity in our country and something of which we can all be justly proud.
§ 1.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Mathew (Honiton)
All hon. Members who have taken part in the debate have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) upon his good fortune in the Ballot. Those congratulations will be joined in by the profession of journalism and the Press generally.
This has been a very good debate. I would mention only one point which has not yet been referred to. I fully support the two propositions that my hon. Friend made in proposing the Motion and I support the call for action made so eloquently by the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins). I fully support his suggestion that the Press Council should draw up a code of ethics along the lines which he indicated in some detail.
The hon. Member will not expect otherwise than that I should join issue with him on the two latter proposals in his speech. I am in absolute disagreement with him about them. If we were to see a large number of municipal newspapers financed with public money. or the other alternative, a national newspaper sponsored ultimately by the Exchequer, these would have nothing but a most depressing effect upon the standards of newspapers and of journalism generally. We would see more trivialities and more vital statistics in the other newspapers while the real news would be presented by what would be a very powerful British national newspaper.
We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) about municipal newspapers. My hon. Friend paid a tribute to the rising standards of local newspapers and I, too, welcome that tendency. I come from the West Country, where we have both daily and weekly newspapers whose standards have risen very greatly in recent years. The standards of the men in the journalistic profession is as high as we find normally anywhere. It is wrong to believe that all is not well in the provinces and that there must be some form of public, State or municipal intervention.
I would stress one point about the responsibility of the Press Council about 778 what is normally known as "personal journalism". I am not a journalist and I have no connection whatsoever with the newspaper world, but I am convinced that the standards of professional skill and integrity and the ethical standards of journalists in this country are the highest in the world. The individual member of the profession can compare with his counterpart in any other country. Hon. Members who have experience of the Press and the journalists in foreign countries would agree that their skill is very much lower than that to which we are accustomed in this country. I am always somewhat astonished that the standard could go so low in certain places abroad.
Of course, there are lapses here, and we have heard today about a number of them. There have been very grave lapses. We are all very conscious about the Press intruding into private grief. That is the very worst possible aspect of personal journalism. We have heard about pruriency and obscenity, and, lastly, about the obsession with trivialities and vital statistics. Not being a mathematician, I get very confused about this matter. I recently went to a Press lunch, where I was asked what I thought about vital statistics. I was unable to give an answer, because I could not remember what they were. I was later rebuked by my wife for my ignorance of these important matters.
We understand the criticism of personal journalism, and we are shocked in this House by the unnecessary and abominable intrusions upon private grief. We have heard about the objections of the people who have a right to their private lives which have been unnecessarily exposed for the sake of sensation. Much of the criticism that is voiced comes from quite another set of people, who have had unhappy personal experiences. These are the vain people who love publicity and from whom a skilful reporter painlessly extracts a flow of unguarded statements by playing on their natural vanity.
These individuals think, "Tomorrow, I will see what they say about me." When they open the newspaper they get a horrible shock and they begin to complain about the low standard of journalism in this country. The picture produced next day, after treatment by 779 those skilled in news presentation is, I suspect, often nearer to life than that which was built up in the mind of the victim.
On the whole, it is right that we should pay tribute to the fact that among the vast mass of those in the journalistic profession decency prevails. That has been my personal experience, but it is often forgotten by those who criticise newspapers. It is often forgotten that in personal journalism the newspaper man, and the men and women who are the subjects of such publicity have different aims. The member of the public usually wants not to be mentioned at all, which, in some cases, is probably quite right, but in a number of cases of that kind the public have a right to know what the person in question has or has not been doing.
Then there are the vain people who want publicity for one reason or another. The newspaperman's object is news and interest. The slogan, "The public has a right to know" is not a bad one in a democracy. It is essential. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Llewellyn) in paying tribute to the slogan, "Publish and be damned—even the warts".
Perhaps we should hear about the warts, but I think that the objection of the House today towards abuses and lapses in good journalism is not that the warts are reproduced, but to the sort of cosmetic improvement that sometimes goes on in the editorial offices. We do not object to what warts are being published; what we abject to is that other warts are introduced, or that certain warts are altered in size and made either larger or smaller, or perhaps even eliminated altogether. It is that cosmetic treatment to which we object. It is very dangerous for us to say that one must publish "warts and all" without adding the caveatthat one must publish what warts there are and not do too much beauty treatment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford made a point about the new aristocracy. He said that in the last twenty years a new type of public hero had grown up, drawn from the realms of sport, public entertainment, art, and so forth. He said that we would be wrong to complain of that, and I agree with 780 him. But there is one type of member of this new aristocracy or public hero which he perhaps forgot, namely, the criminal. He is the person to whom I want to draw the attention of the House. The fact that certain sections of the Press—and here there is no political division whatsoever—play up the activities of those engaged in crimes of violence, murder, gangsterism and crime generally, and give such material unwarranted space, is of the gravest possible social consequence. This fact is, indeed, widely deplored by the journalistic profession itself.
The building up of this mass interest in crimes of violence—murder, in particular—is a deplorable tendency, which has been increasing in the last few years. On several occasions Ministers have told the House of the steady increase in the figures for crimes of violence in recent years. I suggest that there is some connection between the mass glamorisadon of crime, which has been on the increase in the popular Press in recent years, and these very disturbing figures relating to crimes of violence.
I would only add that during the course of the last year we had a number of debates concerned with the abolition of capital punishment. Many who did not take my view took the view that retention was necessary because capital punishment was a deterrent, and they thought that the immediate result of abolition would be an increase in the number of murders. I stress that this is not a view which I share. Much of our discussion here revolved round that argument.
I am absolutely convinced that nothing more advantageous to the cause of reducing the number of crimes of violence or murder could be achieved than to reduce the amount of newspaper space which is devoted to sordid details—not only those details which we have the right to know, of the trial and evidence, which it is our duty to see are published, but details of the private lives of the people concerned in these crimes. Any person convicted of one of these glamorised crimes of killing or violence is able to sell the details of his life history for publication to the public, who undoubtedly read them avidly. If they did not, and if there were no market for that type of material, it would not be published.
781 This is a matter to which we should draw the attention of the Press Council. I will not suggest that an attempt should be made by this House at any time to interfere with the liberty of the Press; this is a responsibility of the Press itself and the Press must put its own house in order. But I feel that the glamorisation of crimes and the making of heroes by elevating to a position in the new aristocracy very low types of citizen, has the direst results.
A short time ago I appeared as prosecuting counsel against a young man who had had a certain mental history and who, by any standard, would be regarded as weak-minded. He had had a love affair and, as a result of reading a number of stories about murderers and violent criminals—of this I have no doubt—had built himself up into some sort of romantic character. He attacked with a knife the girl who had rejected his approaches. I think that they had been engaged and she had broken off the engagement. Fortunately, he did not hurt the girl seriously, but he did hurt himself very badly with the knife. He cut his hand.
Eventually, he came up for trial. I formed the opinion, upon the evidence, that it was a case in which we should not press upon the attempted murder charge, and I was willing to accept a plea of guilty on the lesser charge. We informed counsel representing the young man to that effect. He went to see his client in the cells and came back and said, "He will not accept this. He insists upon pleading guilty to attempted murder. He says, ' I am another Ruth Ellis. I want to have murder recorded against me.' "That showed a great degree of mental instability, but he had undoubtedly come to that absurd conclusion as a result of too much reading of this glamorised series of horrification—if I may use such a word—and murder.
§ Sir L. Plummer
The hon. Member is arguing that the more space which is given to the report of a case of this kind—of murder and violence—the more murder and violence there will be. Is it not a fact that in 1926 we stopped the publication of details in divorce cases? I do not believe that the number of divorce cases has fallen because those details are not now published.
§ Mr. Mathew
I do not accept the hon. Member's comparison. I should have 782 thought that the reading of details of unhappy marriages would have the effect of drawing the attention of married persons to their responsibilities to each other and their children, and would create in them a greater responsibility. What I am saying is that undoubtedly the glamorisation of lawlessness and the breaking of criminal law has had the result of misleading a number of young men and women. We have in front of us this very disturbing factor of the increase in crimes of violence since 1938.
We in this House must resist any temptation to place any limitations upon the right of the Press to publish those things which are of news value. The over-riding consideration of this House has always been liberty, and, in my opinion, the liberty of the Press should be inviolable. I think all liberty is indivisible. But it is our duty—and I am, therefore, very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud for having raised this matter—to draw to the attention of the Press, and the Press Council in particular, the bad social results of the lapses and abuses which have been mentioned in the House today.
Lord Justice Singleton said in a famous case, concerned with the liberty of the Press, "Let us trust the Press." I am firmly convinced that that should be the wachword of the House. Nevertheless, it is our duty to draw attention to these abuses. We do so today in the hope that the Press Council will take note of what has been said and will take the necessary action—more vigorous action in the future than it has taken in the past.
§ 2.11 p.m.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)
The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew) has drawn attention to the old journalistic problem which has worried the consciences of newspapermen over many generations the fact that vice is news, but virtue is not. I agree that it is a problem. It has always puzzled me why a single murder should be of such intense interest to people and should fill so many pages, sometimes over so many weeks, whereas the problem of mass murder involved in the possibility of a third world war gains too little attention. We had an example in the newspapers this morning, where we read of a Gallup Poll published on the interest which 783 people are taking in the problem of the hydrogen bomb. If I remember correctly, more than half the people said that they felt very little concern about the implications of the hydrogen bomb.
Here is an illuminating instance of the effect of the predominant triviality of the Press on the public mind. It is a serious matter, and the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) has done a considerable service in introducing the Motion today. Nevertheless, I do not think it is the most serious problem which affects us in connection with the Press.
The hon. Member's Motion would be important in any circumstances, but by a curious coincidence it happens to be especially important today, because during the past week a number of trends which have been going on for a considerable time in the newspaper world have suddenly come to a head. I think it is the increasing concentration of ownership in the newspaper business which is a cause of even graver anxiety than the other matters, important as they are, to which hon. Members have drawn attention.
It is very significant that this weekPicture Postshould announce that it will cease publication, because in many waysPicture Postreflects the journalistic problem of our times. It was in its way a journalistic landmark. It was a pioneering effort in pictorial journalism of the very best sort. It was a considerable social force during its early years. During recent years it has debased its standards in order to try to survive in this severely competitive world of a circulation and advertising war. Its announcement that it is to go out of existence is a very significant event.
The merger which is talked about between theNews Chronicleand theDaily Heraldis of equal significance. I was very glad that one hon. Member opposite pointed out that this was not a matter which one treated in any party political sense; one did not look at the political complexion of the papers concerned, for there is bound to be general concern in a democratic community at the death of any great newspaper.
For my part, the most noteworthy point of the debate has been that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), when he pointed out 784 that theNews Chronicleand theDaily Heraldwere threatened with having to cease as separate newspapers when they had a readership of about 6 million. Surely that is a factor which is bound to cause serious anxiety—that 6 million people in this country cannot get a paper of their choice, that in the economic climate in which newspapers have to operate such a readership is no longer viable.
It is worth looking at what has happened to newspaper circulations over the last twenty years or so, because I think that this is a development of great importance to the community.
Between 1939 and 1955 the readership of national daily newspapers rose from 10½ million to 16 million copies. It was a very big increase, which gave this country the biggest daily newspaper readership in the world. When we see how that increase in newspaper reading was divided, however, we discover that nearly 90 per cent. of the increase was taken up by theDaily Mirrorand theDaily Expresstogether. We have had more people steadily reading more and more newspapers during these years, but they have been reading newspapers with fewer and fewer titles.
An hon. Member opposite shrugged his shoulders and said that this trend towards concentration was happening in industry generally and there was not much which could be done about it, but what is so vitally important and what has led to the Motion being put down is the fact that newspapers are not simply industry, they are not simply business. Granted, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins) said, they have to survive as businesses if they are to be read, but they are much more than businesses; and that is what gives the newspaper problems this very great social and political significance.
This reduction in the number of newspapers has been going on steadily. One hon. Member listed the newspapers which had gone under in very recent times. If the proposed merger between theDaily Heraldand theNews Chronicletakes place, and we have a new daily newspaper called, as I have heard it suggested, theNews-Herald,then if it cares to include under its main title the various titles which 785 it incorporates it will be a lamentable roll-call of the casualties in the circulation war between newspapers over a number of years. It will include theNews Chronicleand theDaily Herald,of course, theDaily Dispatch—which is a very recent casualty—theWestminster Gazette,theDaily News,theDaily Chronicle,thePall Mall Gazette,theDaily Citizen—
§ Mr. Thomson
It appears that I have underestimated the situation. It would include a very long list of newspapers which separately have gone under in order to provide this great concentration. It cannot be for the health of a great democracy that we should find that the daily newspaper readership is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands and in papers with larger and larger mass circulations.
It is fair to say that there is another side to the picture. While this excessive concentration of circulation has taken place amongst the popular national dailies, there has been a very healthy increase in circulations amongst the more expensive papers, the quality newspapers, as we call them. In fact, they have a 50 per cent. higher circulation today than they had at the beginning of the war.
TheManchester Guardianhas trebled its circulation in the last fifteen years, a remarkable achievement. The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who is no longer in his place, is on the staff of theDaily Telegraph,which has increased its circulation at a greater rate during the last twenty years than any other newspaper in the country, even theDaily Mirror.
But the story we have heard is really of the massacre of what we might call the middle-brow papers, and that, I think, causes concern. Papers like theNews Chronicleand theDaily Heraldare trying to combine a popular, interesting and entertaining approach with an intelligent approach. The same was true ofPicture Post.Someone suggested thatPicture Posthas gone under simply because of the increase in growth of television and that it was the kind of casualty which was necessary as the habits of reading and viewing changed. I do not think that this view bears a great 786 deal of examination. There are, in many countries, picture papers of distinction. As Sir Gerald Barry points out inThe Timestoday, in France there isParis Match,a pictorial of great distinction and serious social purpose. In America, Life magazine survives most successfully.
Picture Postis going under because of the economics of our newspaper industry, which are really rather peculiar to this country, and because of these economics we are driving out the very kind of papers which are so important in a democracy such as ours, where we have many busy people who have not a lot of time or inclination to study the serious papers, but who do want to read something which will entertain and interest them and give them serious instruction on public affairs.
I have come to the conclusion that the heart of the problem is costs. I immediately support the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury about tackling the cost of newsprint. That smaller and weaker papers have to subsidise the larger and more powerful is a particularly scandalous position. I think that my hon. Friend's excellent speech is bound to make people realise and, I hope, will make the newsprint manufacturers realise—that if they do not do something about it, Parliament will. That is one practical step that could be taken.
I suggest, also, that the Press Council—reconstituted, I hope, on the lines suggested by my hon. Friends for Salford, East and for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), with some lay representation —might set up an expert committee to investigate the whole aspect of newspaper costs. If it were willing to do this vigorously, it has all the material at its disposal and could perform a most useful service.
What has been happening is that the larger units in the newspaper industry, the giants, have been deliberately inflating costs because they know that to do so will squeeze out their weaker brethren. There have been no efforts to level out costs. I must frankly say that I think that the trade unions in the industry have some responsibility, but they are in an industry where the employers generally set them an example of ruthlessness.
One has only to look at what has been happening in Fleet Street this week, where powerful papers, with little to fear 787 from these developments, have been deliberately releasing rumours about theDaily Heraldand theNews Chroniclein order to kill them. It is a ruthless business. The managements, not only on the production but on the distribution side, are in the tightest trade union in the country. It was once described as the biggest closed shop in industry with the highest membership fee.
There is the story of the "Sunday newspaper that never was." The Hulton Press came along with a new kind of Sunday newspaper. They were all ready to publish it and had gone to much expense, but they then came against two difficulties. The distribution side of the industry, which is a completely closed shop, said, "We shall not distribute this Sunday newspaper unless you offer us higher terms than we get from the ordinary Sunday papers."
Hulton's then went to the Newspaper Proprietors' Association, the producers' combine. The proprietors said, "We shall not let you distribute the paper by means of our newspaper trains unless you give the same terms as we do to the wholesalers and retailers." Between these two closed shops this new Sunday paper was crushed.
The implications are serious. It means that, at the moment it is virtually impossible to start a new national newspaper. It is well known that, rightly or wrongly, the retailers and wholesalers feel that they do not get a big enough cut, but that the newspaper proprietors think that those people are getting sufficient. Between the two obstructions it is literally impossible to start a new newspaper at all.
One hon. Member drew attention to the case of Randolph Churchill's book, which Messrs. W. H. Smith and Son refused to distribute. Some attention should be given by this House to the position of the great wholesale and retail distributors such as Smith's, Wyman's and, in Scotland, Menzies'. This firm occupies just as monopolistic a position in Scotland as do Smith's in this country.
The case of Randolph Churchill's book has been mentioned but, in addition, we have had this week the equally interesting case of the contempt of court action against the magazineNewsweek,which was fined, as were Smith's, as publishers, 788 because of an article on the Adams' case which was held to be contempt of court. I understand that a Select Committee of this House is at present dealing with the obscenity laws. That Committee might, perhaps, take cognisance of this incident and consider whether we cannot exonerate distributors of newspapers from any sort of liability for the matter being distributed—
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
I understand that, in that case,Newsweekwas not penalised at all, and that it was because the court was determined to discourage contempt of court that it was necessary to go against someone, and the someone available happened to be the distributors.
§ Mr. Thomson
I am obliged to my hon. and learned Friend for his illumination of the matter which, I think reinforces my point. If, in cases involving foreign newspapers, or, indeed, potential libels in a domestic newspaper, it is to be the practice to proceed against the distributor, very serious consequences will flow.
This week we have had the example of Smith's saying that in view of the action taken against them, they will no longer freely distribute foreign publications of any sort; that they will stop distributing altogether a considerable number of foreign publications, particularly the small ones and, in many cases, the most useful and meritorious.
They have said that they will distribute financially successful foreign publications, only after censorship. It seems to me that as some of the publications will be in foreign languages, the process of censorship is likely to be cumbersome.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. J. E. S. Simon)
My recollection is that what they were seeking was an indemnity against action against them. I think that that is right.
§ Mr. Thomson
I understood that the indemnity was additional.
In any case, the situation is very serious. I do not deny the right of W. H. Smith and Son, as newspaper distributors, to safeguard themselves legally. Indeed, I hope that if any changes in the law can protect the position of newspaper distributors we will consider them.
789 But I do say this against Smith's. This is the first case of its kind or the first case for a very long time. W. H. Smith and Son are very wealthy and very powerful. They were fined £50.
It seems to me rather unreasonable that, because of such a fine, this great organisation, with immense public responsibility as distributors of the printed word, should take action which will block the distribution in this country of foreign periodicals over a very wide field.
It is the same issue of principle as was raised in the Randolph Churchill case. Smith's refused to distribute his book, because they said that they had been advised that it might be libellous, but if they are to decide that they will only publish material which they are assured is not libellous, we shall have very serious restrictions on the distribution of newspapers and periodicals.
There is another aspect to this. These large wholesale and retail distributors are using a most important retail outlet—the railway stations—which are nationally owned. They are in a monopolistic position there. I submit that retail and wholesale newspaper distributors are in very much the same position as, let us say, hotel keepers, and should be put in the same position under the law. The hotel keeper is legally bound to perform the public service of purveying refreshment to the wayfarer. The newspaper distributor is under the public duty, I should have thought, of distributing the printed word to the reader.
It seems to me very unfair indeed if a newspaper distributor is to discriminate between one periodical and another or one newspaper and another in this direction. I am given to understand that some wholesalers are now saying that they will distribute a certain national newspaper only if the orders in any particular area are above a certain level, because it would not be worth the trouble otherwise. This is the kind of method by which ownership is increasingly concentrated. It is making sure that it is only the large circulation newspapers that survive.
Therefore, I should like to see this committee of the Press Council not only look into the costs of newspaper production, but also into these restrictive practices in the field of newspaper 790 distribution, restrictive practices which are indulged in by both the newspaper proprietors and by the various firms engaged in distribution.
The question may be asked whether, in fact, the Press Council is capable of doing this job. I think that the fact is that the Press Council is now very much on trial. The Press Council followed one of the important—indeed, the only important— recommendation of the Royal Commission. which wanted a statutory council. Many of us on this side of the House felt that a statutory council was a desirable thing. However, after the long period of argument and persuasion, what we finally got was a non-statutory council, composed entirely of newspaper people. For my part, I was prepared to allow the Press Council, as it is now constituted, to have a reasonable trial period and to see how it got along.
I agree with an hon. Member opposite who said that, within its limits, it had not done too badly, but these new problems are now coming to a head, and they are formidable problems which cannot be tackled by the Press Council, as it is at present formed. It is important that we should have public representation. It may be necessary that it should have some statutory powers behind it. In any case, I think that the Press Council should apply itself to these problems, and see what it can do about the present economics of the newspaper industry, exposing them and trying to improve them, and making it easier for the middle group of newspapers to survive.
Certainly, this country needs a wide variety of newspapers, and the giants in the newspaper business should stand warned by this debate, because if the present concentration which is taking place this week goes much further, the anxieties of the public, which will be reflected here in due course, will be such that some action will need to be taken to regulate the matter.
Nobody in his senses wants any sort of Government regulation of the Press, but the present situation places on the British Press the heaviest responsibility which it has ever faced in its whole history, that of putting itself in a position to serve this democracy of ours decently.
§ 2.33 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
I want to associate myself with the thanks expressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) in putting this Motion on the Order Paper, and to congratulate him on the very comprehensive and excellent way in which he moved it.
I want to take advantage of this Motion to submit three points for the consideration of the House. The first concerns Parliamentary Privilege, because it has been drawn to my attention that one of the factors which are limiting the freedom of the Press is the privileges of this House. In the old days, as hon. Members know well, merely to report a debate in this House was a breach of the privileges of the House.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is quite correct. It is purely by our indulgence that we do not treat it as Privilege, but what the right hon. Gentleman has said is indeed so.
The breach of Privilege which we took most seriously in the old days was, in fact, the reporting of debates of this House, because the enemy, if one may put it that way, or rather the adversary, of this House under the constitution was the Executive in the person of the Crown.
§ Mr. Iremonger
It still is the Executive, as my hon. and learned Friend says, but in the days of which I am speaking it was the Crown itself, and you, Mr. Speaker, and your predecessors in your very great office, had the duty of "speaking", literally, for the House to the Crown. When Mr. Speaker Lenthall told Charles I, when he entered the Chamber in St. Stephen's Hall to demand that the five Members be surrendered to him,I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak, in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here‥he was maintaining the privileges of the House.
We no longer feel that our duties are obstructed by the Executive or anybody else finding out what we say in this House, and, therefore, that restriction no longer applies. We do not any longer restrict the freedom of the Press in 792 reporting what the House says, but we still have the same object in preserving our privileges, namely, to see that the public interest is not thwarted by the obstruction of hon. Members in carrying out their duties. In preserving that privilege nowadays—and I speak with great deference in the presence of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), with his great experience, and others—I believe that the thought is that one of the most damaging ways in which the House can be thwarted in carrying out its duty is when it is brought into public contempt. Therefore, we do from time to time summon the Press and submit to the Committee of Privileges reports which we regard as being a contempt of this House.
I accept the necessity for this, but I want to question, and to submit to the House that we should ask ourselves, whether we are absolutely satisfied that the operation of this exercise of our privilege and the enforcement of it is always quite fair, and whether we are satisfied, which I think is even more important, that it is always seen to be quite fair on the Press.
I take for an example a Report of the Committee of Privileges which is at this moment lying on the Table, which has been submitted to this House, and in which the Committee found the editor of a newspaper as having been guilty of contempt of this House. I submit to the House that there are two unsatisfactory elements in this situation as it exists at the moment.
First, the editor in question was not required to appear before the Committee of Privileges. I do not myself think, in view of what the Committee said and in consideration of ordinary common sense, that it was necessary that he should. However, it was necessary that he should appear if he was to be absolutely satisfied in his own mind that he had had a fair deal. It was necessary for him to appear if his colleagues in his great profession were also to be satisfied that he had had a fair deal.
I think it is in the interests of this House that that particular Committee of this House should always go out of his way to give a hearing to anybody upon whose conduct it is adjudicating. However much, in its wisdom, the Committee may be satisfied that it can form 793 a correct conclusion without hearing anybody whose conduct it is considering, I do not think it accords with the common conception of justice which people in the country maintain and which we support them in maintaining, that anybody should be, as it were, tried and convicted in his absence. That is the first of the two unsatisfactory elements.
The second is that the Committee has reported to the House, but the Report has not been considered by the House. Therefore, the question arises in the mind of the editor whether or not the contempt of which he has been reported by the Committee as having been guilty, is still sub judice.Suppose that now he was to make a comment upon his contempt, or upon the outcome of the reference to the Committee of Privileges in his newspaper. He is in the situation in which he thinks that he may be guilty of a further contempt if he makes any comment upon it. As he happens to be a constituent of mine, I am profoundly concerned, because I feel responsible for this.
I must, in all fairness, say that a situation might well arise—and I have purposely not attempted to inquire into this myself—in which the editor tried to get another job. Suppose that he was being considered for another job. He would be prejudiced in his professional standing by the situation for which this House was responsible in that he had been regarded as having been responsible for a contempt of this House, which he has not been able to comment upon, and on which he feels he could not comment without being guilty of a further contempt.
I recommend to the House that it should instruct the Committee of Privileges that the Committee should always, in the interests of the appearance of justice, make sure that any member of the journalists profession considered guilty of contempt is always summoned before it to explain himself. I recommend, also, that the House should make a clear and unequivocal declaration as to whether or not a case which has been reported to the House, but which the House has not yet considered, issub judice.
As an afterthought, I submit that, fantastic though it may at first sight appear, it is not absolutely fantastic or constitutionally impossible that this House itself should be the prime instru- 794 ment of an insuperable tyranny through the exercise of our unique rights of Privilege. So long as I am a Member of the House—and I am sure that every other hon. Member feels the same—that will not happen; but, none the less, it is constitutionally a possibility. We should, therefore, take it very seriously.
My second point concerns the constant erosion of the standards and prestige of the institution of Christian marriage in this country, for which I hold the Press responsible. I speak of Christian marriage, because we are a Christian country; the Monarch is consecrated according to the rites of the Church. Whatever our individual faith may be, the Christian religion is an essential part of our country's life, our Constitution having been built over years with the Christian religion as part of it.
In fact, this can be readily seen by anyone who studies the actual workings of our Constitution during the last great constitutional crisis we had in this country, a constitutional crisis which had no precedent in magnitude since the days of the Regency, when King Edward VIII abdicated. King Edward VIII abdicated because he was not prepared, quite rightly, if I may say so with respect, to be crowned with a lie upon his lips, as he put it. The lie would have consisted in this, that he would have been crowned as Monarch by the Archbishop, the Primate of the Church of England, and he would have gone through the form of accepting the tenets of the Church of England while actually intending to marry the wife of another man. He did not feel that that would be honourable. He felt that that would be a breach of his Coronation oath, and so he abdicated.
We in this House cannot overlook the fact that the Christian religion is a fundamental element in our Constitution, and that this is a Christian nation. We are, therefore, entitled to have regard to the quality of, and the preservation of, the institution of Christian marriage. I have been most interested to note the treatment given by the newspapers to a recent occurrence in which a married man, a Roman Catholic, as it happened—I am not a Roman Catholic—was killed in dramatic and tragic circumstances.
The main talking point, the main point of publicity, seized upon by the Press 795 was the fact that this man was, so it was said, going to be divorced—an issue which, I should have thought, in the case of any citizen, should not be prejudged by the Press before it was considered by the courts, and, in the case of a Roman Catholic, was plainly a matter in which the Church was not uninterested—and that he was going to marry another person.
The other person, who, one must assume in common decency, was a person of blameless moral virtue—that is the assumption—was named, was featured prominently in pictures in the newspapers. and was given pre-eminence over the widow, the clearest possible indication being given that she was committing adultery with this man just before his death. In my view—and I really do not think that any hon. Member can question this—that situation was held out by the Press as being a romantic and even laudable state of affairs.
I deplore this tacit assumption that polygamy and polyandry are a normal and delectable part of our social order. If it is the fault of the standards of the journalist's profession that such treatment can be given to that story, I deplore it. If such treatment is inevitable because it is in accordance with the public wish and taste, I deplore it even more.
Lastly, I want to consider for a moment the alarmingly high death rate amongst serious periodicals, to which reference has already been made. Examples have been given. Picture Postis already folding up.Truth—the small weekly journal of comment and opinion which has had a long and turbulent history associated with an hon. Gentleman who sat for many years in the seat immediately below the Gangway usually occupied today by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), and who based his paper's reputation upon a businesslike exploitation of libel, but, still, built up a genuine journalist enterprise—is shortly closing down, as is well known in advertising and journalistic circles. And there will be others.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to be unfair. I understand that the proprietors ofTruthhave denied the rumour.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The Chancellor of the Exchequer denied the rumours about devaluation in 1949. I can well understand that, and I have every sympathy with them; they are entitled to do that. Time will tell. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's wish in making that reservation and, of course, it is up to all of us to form our own judgment. But whether this or that paper does close down, the loss is ours, as a nation. That is the point I am making. I am not concerned with individual cases. We regret it, because we feel that the country as a whole will lose.
When we ask ourselves what the remedy might be, we must, in trying to make constructive suggestions, put our finger, first, on the cause. The cause is, quite obviously, the exceptionally high cost of the raw materials and processes involved in the production of a journal or newspaper. The remedy is simple. Industry must provide competition for the sources of raw materials and the processes. It is not too much to hope that industry is already, by research, exploring the possibility of producing new materials and new processes. After all, ten or fifteen years ago we should probably not have thought that the oil industry would have been able to produce a substitute for soap or a substitute, in many circumstances, for steel; yet detergents, polythene. and other new materials are crowding into the market and are welcomed by the consumer.
Is it too much to hope that chemistry and research by industrial enterprises will be able to find a substitute for newsprint? Is it too much to imagine that the proper application of the art and technique of photography will compete with the printers' process? If the raw materials and processes of the industry can be cheapened, we shall find that these periodical organs of opinion and comment will be able to survive. I hope that it will be so, for, unless the economics of the Press can be revolutionised, we shall see a general and highly regrettable impoverishment of our national life.
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
I have very little time at my disposal and, in any event, I do not want to cover the points which have been so ably and carefully covered by almost every hon. Member who has taken part in this debate, except 797 to say that we owe a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) for raising this subject today. The concentrated interest of those Members who have been here has, I hope, been an indication to him that he has not wearied us or wasted any of Parliament's valuable time.
I should like to deal briefly with the point raised by the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger). In dealing with questions of Privilege, this House acts more generously towards the newspaper editor than the editor does towards this House. In fact, the disability, if any, under which the hon. Member's constituent is suffering is not for the hon. Member to complain about, for this House in its generosity did not bring his constituent to the Bar, as it very well could have done and as it did in the case of another editor last year.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The point I was making is that I would not comment upon what the House had done or did not do, but that as far as my constituent is concerned the matter is stillsub judiceand we ought to clear it up. The Report is still on the Table and my constituent feels that he cannot comment upon it. That is a bad situation.
§ Sir L. Plummer
The hon. Member was worried about whether his constituent would be able to get another job. It seems to me that under the constitution of the present Press Council any editor who has been censured for breach of taste or bad journalistic ethics is quite certain not only of being retained in his present employment, but of getting a bonus. We have had the lamentable experience that the one editor in Fleet Street who has been censured more often than any other by the Press Council, and, indeed, who has had passed upon him in a court of law strictures that all of us would wish to evade, is still editor of the 798 newspaper which has transgressed so much.
I have mentioned the generosity shown by this House on the question of Privilege. In the evidence of the Committee of Privileges dealing with theSunday Express,we have the plain mis-statement of fact by the editor, who, when asked why he had used the word "privilege", which was the germane word in the investigation, said, "We could use only one word, because we could have only a one-line heading in our leader." Nobody checked to find out that three weeks earlier he had had one three-line heading and three two-line headings, that the week before he had had one leader with a two-line heading, or that on the very day when he committed the offence he had a three-line heading in the paper's leader.
The fact is that some editors treat this House with such contempt that the truth becomes very fragile in their hands. They pursue Members of this House with a lack of generosity that is not reciprocated by this House, as our attitude in dealing with that gentleman showed.
For example, in the remaining few minutes at my disposal, I wish to deal with the column in theSunday Expresssigned "Cross-bencher". I had a long and intimate association with theSunday Expressand I saw and worked with, appreciated and had a great affection for, a large number of the gentlemen who wrote this column. Regarding it objectively, however, I must say that I did not believe that Lord Beaverbrook's paper would descend into such a steamy jungle of hatred and malice as this column now is.
I will quote one experience. The other day. a lady telephoned me and said, "I am a researcher for 'Cross-bencher ' "—it sounded just like the opening of a new tango. She said, "You are associated with a certain public figure. You give him advice on politics and finance. Does he pay you? If so, how much?" I said, "I do not give him any advice on politics or finance, because he knows these things even better than I do. Whether I get paid or not is my business, and I am not telling you."
A fortnight later, another lady telephoned and said, "I am a researcher for 'Cross-bencher '" and asked the same 799 questions and got the same answer. On the third occasion, "Cross-bencher "himself—
§ Sir L. Plummer
I will not mention his name. There is no purpose in advertising him even further. "Cross-bencher" himself came on to the telephone and asked me the questions all over again. I said that if I had been manager of theSunday Expresstoday, as I used to be, I would take fairly hostile action about the waste of telephone calls; but I repeated the answers all over again.
I was then honoured by being mentioned in theSunday Expressas being political and industrial adviser to this man—or words to that effect—which I had denied. It said that my constituents really had a right to know whether I got paid and how much I was paid. I do not mind very much—my constituents do not care whether I get paid; they are interested not in that, but only in returning me to Parliament with a smashing majority—but some of my colleagues are not in that position. Some of them are being hounded through this column week after week, for what purpose I do not know.
One day, this gentleman will "slip up" and he will libel a Member of this House. I hope that when that Member reads that column and goes to his solicitor, he will see to it that in his statement of claim he mentions the word "malice", because if ever there is a malicious attack upon the House of Commons week by week and upon the things in which we believe, it is in theSunday Express.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I entirely agree, but do not think that the hon. Member is speaking as a lawyer when he uses the word "malice". I think that one of his hon. and learned Friends will confirm that.
§ Sir L. Plummer
Before making this speech, I took the trouble to ask one of my hon. and learned Friends whether what I intended to say would be legally correct and he said, "Yes". I am not a lawyer but I had the wisdom to ask before I made that remark.
The present policy of "Cross-bencher" is to publish the Division records of hon. Members of this House without any 800 reference to the fact that an hon. Member might have been ill, away on business, on a Parliamentary deputation, on a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association deputation, or on an I.P.U. deputation. The bald statement is made that the hon. Member named has attended only half the Divisions in the House.
That, of course, is designed to do hon. Members the maximum possible harm in their constituencies. They have no power of reply, because we know by now that this paper can alter the replies, as it did in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) on one occasion, and on other occasions. too.
I have, however, this message of cheer to those of us who may be shivering lest our Division records shall be revealed in theSunday Express.My researches show that when Lord Beaverbrook—God bless him—was a Member of this House of Commons as Sir William Maxwell Aitken, in the four years when Divisions really mattered, that is, between 1910 and 1914, his Division record was that he voted 500 times out of a possible 1,500. So the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, as he then was, committed an even worse sin of omission than the hon. Members he is now attacking, because they voted in only half of the Divisions which took place. I hope that "Beachcomber"—[Laughter.]—I mean "Cross-bencher "will not ignore this factual and useful piece of political information with which to amuse his readers on Sunday.
There has been great argument as to whether the Press Council can do its job as it is constituted. I do not believe that it can. I believe that it has to be a statutory body which can make its reports to Parliament. I believe that it has to have many lay members on it, because we cannot go on with the steady degradation of the quality of this medium which penetrates the minds of the masses of this country.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
Two years ago I had the privilege of congratulating the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) on the occasion of his maiden speech. I am delighted that he should have justified so fully the high expectations that I formed and expressed 801 of his future on that occasion. Like other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I should like to add my thanks to him for choosing this subject for discussion and for the way in which he has introduced it today.
Although we as Socialists are perhaps especially alive to the dangers inherent in great concentrations of power in a small number of hands, I am absolutely certain that all of us on both sides of the House are equally determined to protect the freedom and independence of the Press. I should say that the potential danger to the Press today is a threefold danger. There is the danger to the Press from itself. There is the danger to the Press from the Government, Parliament and officialdom generally. There is the threat of economic circumstances of the time.
We have concentrated to a large extent today upon the menace of the Press to itself, and that obviously must not be overlooked. We all of us join in recognising the many merits that the Press has, but there are—it is abundantly clear from today's observations—many features which certainly are not wholly satisfactory. Some of them have been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) and others were mentioned by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Llewellyn).
I am sorry that no hon. Member has mentioned the treatment by theSunday Dispatchof that very independent-minded commentator, Alistair Forbes, but I am glad that a number of hon. Members have referred to the case of Randolph Churchill and W. H. Smith & Son and to the unfortunate decision of the Press Council that that was a matter which was nothing to do with it, because it is in the possible censorship which might be operated by distributors that one of the gravest menaces to the freedom of the Press subsists.
It is difficult, therefore, in view of the many instances that have been given, to subscribe entirely to the satisfaction which the Press Council itself clearly feels about its own achievements. I do not want to disparage what the Press Council has done, because the Press Council, from its very birth, has been denied the power that it ought to have and been denied it by the newspaper industry itself. It is absurd, in my view, that the Press 802 Council has no power whatsoever to call witnesses before it. The only weapon it has at its command is the influence it can wield. In those circumstances, I think the success it has achieved has been greater than many people thought possible at the time when it was set up; but the success that it has achieved does not justify the self-complacency that is the key-note of the three Annual Reports from the Press Council that we have received.
I think that that measure of self-complacency is probably one of the things that is holding the Press Council back from being as effective as perhaps it might be. The Chairman of the Press Council, Sir Linton Andrews, writing in January in the organ of the Institute of Journalists, a paper known as theJournal,said with remarkable self-complacency:I am quite satisfied that our professional standards are good, and as high as those of the clergy, the law, or medicine or any other of the great professions.We all have sympathy with the way in which Sir Linton Andrews defends his own profession, but Sir Linton really ought not to destroy a good case by gross overstatement of that kind. I cannot, for example, remember an occasion when members of the Bar Council have criticised one of their professional colleagues in the way that the Press Council from time to time has to criticise the editors of national newspapers. If one equated the professions, as Sir Linton Andrews seeks to do, and can equate the clergy and journalists, I think that the editor of theDaily Sketchwould at least rank equal to a suffragan bishop. But I know of no occasion when the Bench of Bishops has rebuked a suffragan bishop in the way that the Press Council has rebuked the editor of theDaily Sketch.
The case of the editor of theDaily Sketchprobably illustrates as well as anything what many people feel to be the present impotence of the Press Council. In its Third Annual Report, the Press Council said rather sententiously—and the hon. Member for Stroud quoted this earlier—Our reprimands are neither made nor taken lightly. Any journalist must hate being held up to public condemnation on grounds that are clearly stated.When we read on through the rest of the Report of the Press Council, we find that the editor of theDaily Sketchwas taken to task for what the Press Council 803 called a callous instrusion into private grief. On the following page, the editor of theDaily Sketchis taken to task for not having published a correction of a wholly inaccurate report about conditions in a death cell, and a few more pages farther on the editor of theDaily Sketchis criticised for having published a picture of a two-year old girl apparently drinking from a bottle of stout.
Mr. Gunn cheerfully continues to refuse to appear before the Press Council. He criticises the decisions of the Council in his newspaper, as he has every right to do, and I have no doubt that Mr. Gunn, the editor, is fortified in this line of conduct by the fact that his circulation continues steadily to increase.
All responsible journalists, I am sure, must regret conduct of this kind, and that sort of behaviour on the part of, I think, a small section of the Press is bound to intensify the demand for a statutory body of the kind which the medical and legal professions have already got. I hope that will not be necessary, because I think generally speaking it is a sound rule to hold that we should never seek to do anything by compulsion if it can be done instead by persuasion. But I think that we need rather better and fuller assurances of good faith on the part of the Press than we have so far had from the Press Council.
I would suggest that in the immediate future two things are essential. First, I think that journalists themselves must step up their campaign for higher standards of conduct in the profession. The Institute of Journalists, I know, attaches great importance to this, and the National Union of Journalists has, of course, a code of conduct for journalists which has now been accepted by the International Federation of Journalists, and is, I believe, being considered by U.N.E.S.C.O.
In the course of that code of conduct. there is a provision that members of the National Union of Journalists can be fined for breach of the code of conduct. As my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East reminded us, one journalist was recently fined not £50, as my hon. Friend said, but £40 for a breach of that code. I think that the impressiveness of that decision is somewhat destroyed by 804 the fact that theWorld's Press Newsit necessary to describe the fine as a sensation. We learned from the report in theWorld's Press Newsthat this is the first time that the National Union of Journalists has fined one of its members for a breach of its own code of conduct.
The second thing—and here I agree with much that has been said on this side of the House—is that the Press Council must convince the public that it is really in earnest in preventing these breaches of professional etiquette which are, I think, rather much more common than ought to be the case. I think that it can convince the public of its good faith by seeking more powers for the Press Council.
If, of course, the Press Council is to have additional powers, its composition must clearly be changed. I hope that the Press Council will start a campaign to persuade the newspaper industry to allow it to open its membership to the man in the street, so that the consumer as well as the producer of newspapers is represented upon it. I should like to see it appoint an independent person as chairman of the Press Council. That is not in any way to reflect upon the good faith of Sir Linton Andrews or his colleagues. but I believe that the public would accept more readily the decisions of the Press Council if someone like Sir Norman Birkett were chairman of the Press Council and presided over its deliberations.
The second danger that I see to the freedom of the Press is the possibility of Governmental and Parliamentary encroachment. We hope very much on this side of the House that the appointment of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to co-ordinate the Government information service does not presage an attempt by the Government to use Governmental influence for party ends. But the dividing line between Government propaganda and party propaganda is a narrow one, and we shall therefore watch the Chancellor of the Duchy very carefully indeed and, if it seems that his footsteps are in danger of straying, we shall always be there to lend him a helping hand to put him back once again on the straight and narrow path.
Before leaving the question of Governmental influence, perhaps I may say that 805 my hon. Friend the Member for Shore-ditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins) did not carry me with him in the suggestions he had to make. The possibility of increased Government advertising in the Press might itself contain very serious seeds of a threat to the independence of the Press. My own feeling is that the possibility of Parliamentary interference is a greater threat to the Press than Government interference.
I was glad that the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) raised this question, but I do not agree with him in his remarks about the case of the editor of theRomford Recorder.I think it is important that on this occasion we should record the fact that the editor of that paper made an appeal to the General Council of the Press and the conclusion of the Press Council was that the editor had not been unfairly treated by this House.
In spite of my difference from the hon. Member on that one issue, I have felt many times since I became a Member of the House that we tend to be oversensitive to Press criticism. Men and women in public life cannot be unduly squeamish about what other people or the Press say about them. What we ought always to remember in this House is that the privileges which we possess attach to us not as individuals but only to us as elected representatives of the people. I believe that we shall maintain the prestige of Parliament more effectively by our general demeanour and by our conduct of the nation's affairs than by an over-zealous use of the Committee of Privileges. But it is quite wrong for Sir Linton Andrews to say, as he has said on at least two occasions, that there is hostility on the part of politicians to the Press. That is very far from being the case. But relations are not helped by what seems to be a concerted campaign by some papers to denigrate Parliament and to disparage the work we try to do.
I welcomed what my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) had to say in a speech which was all too short. When we all know of the hardships which many of our colleagues are suffering, it calls for a great deal of forbearance on our part not to be angry at mis-statements and sneers in the Press on the subject of Members' pay, and 806 today in theDaily Mirror" Cassandra" quotes a particularly offensive reference to the subject which appeared recently in theDaily Telegraph.
I personally am not one of those Members referred to by the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew) as having had an unhappy experience with the Press. I have no complaint at all about the way in which either the national Press or the local Press in my own constituency has ever treated me. But I have, however, been greatly distressed recently by those references to our colleagues on both sides of the House made in theSunday Express.to which my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford referred. It is not very clever to publish the Division records of hon. Members entirely out of context in the way my hon. Friend described.
I think that the worst case recently has been the way in which "Cross-bencher "criticised my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) on the grounds that she had not recently spoken very much in this House. Just one simple inquiry from my hon. Friend or from her friends would have elicited the fact that recently her husband has been desperately ill, and to make a complaint of that kind without research at a time of great distress to her was, I think, far below the standard that members of the Press should try to observe.
It is not for me to censure my fellow men, but I only hope that if one day the gentleman who writes these articles himself encounters adversity he will find extended to him just a little of the mercy and consideration that he consistently denies to hon. Members of this House.
The third and the most imminent threat to the independence of the Press, and the one which my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) described as the most important, is, of course, the effect on our newspapers of financial circumstances. That is one aspect of the problem which it seems to me the Press Council is frightened to take as seriously as it ought to do. But these difficulties are becoming graver and are derived, as I think there is general agreement today, from two factors. The first is the effect of commercial television, and the second is the recent freeing of newsprint at a price which is between six and seven times the pre-war price.
807 I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East was right in telling us that the handling of newsprint is in the hands of four combines which, last year, made a profit of £27 million. It seems to me to be an undesirable situation that big profits of that kind may be made out of this commodity upon which the well-being of the Press of this country depends, and upon which the security of hundreds of thousands of people also depends.
I welcome very much indeed the suggestion of the hon. Member for Cardiff, North, which was supported by other hon. Members, that there should be an inquiry into the newsprint industry. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will make representations to the Home Secretary on these lines to see whether, in spite of their previous refusal, the Government cannot be persuaded to conduct an inquiry into that industry. That is also a demand which was made by the President of the National Union of Journalists at the Jubilee Conference of the Union at Easter. When there are these difficulties, and when there is this uneasiness, I seriously suggest to the Government that they would be very unwise not to grant the kind of inquiry which has been asked for by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
There have been references during our discussions to the current rumours about the future of theNews Chronicle,theDaily Heraldand theStar.I think that all of us must say how unfortunate we think these rumours are. They are bound to have a bad effect upon the morale of the men and women employed on the papers concerned, and they are bound to have a detrimental effect upon the ability of both papers to attract the advertising revenue without which their position will become even more perilous.
When we say that we regret these rumours, it is not to say that we in any way blame the proprietors or the managements of any of the newspapers concerned. They are the victims of a situation in which we are going to see more and more of our papers disappear through no fault of their own and because of the circumstances to which I have referred, about which there is general agreement. It is, as hon. Members on 808 both sides of the House have stressed, an absurd situation that a paper which 1½ million people want to buy and probably between 5 and 6 million people want to read should be forced out of circulation because the advertisers do not want the paper, however much members of the public may want it.
We are, I am afraid, getting into a situation in which the future of many important papers will be imperilled. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition stated the Labour Party's attitude toward this problem very clearly indeed when he spoke to the Edinburgh Press Club on 14th April this year. He said:I would think it a great pity if there were any serious reduction in the number of newspapers, and what goes for the national papers applies even more to the regional and local papers.But now, having seen a steady decline in the number of independent local papers, we are seeing an increasing threat to the stability and existence of the national papers as well. Unless the newspaper industry itself wakes up, we shall wake up one morning to find that we are left with only two or three giant newspaper and nothing else. That is surely a state of affairs utterly abhorrent to hon. Members in whatever part of the House they may sit.
The main objection to the growing concentration of the Press is that it would not be in the interests of democratic government that all media for the expression of minority views should be wiped out, but there are two other objections of perhaps less force than the one to which I have referred. First, if competition is to be intensified there will be a steady drive towards a further reduction of standards on the part of the Press. That seems to many of us, and especially to hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House, to be inevitable anyway when the profit motive is the driving force behind those papers which are not at present administered by trusts.
The second and last objection to which I wish to refer is one which all advertisers should realise before it is too late, and that is a limitation on the advertisers' freedom of choice will force up the advertising rates which the papers themselves can demand. This growing tendency will mean in the long run that the advertisers may have to pay much 809 higher rates than they are paying now. Some day, I suppose, the whole question of the ownership of the Press may have to be reviewed if we are to have a healthy democracy, because we must find a method by which the Press can be free from Government control, on the one hand, and from the evils of private power, without responsibility, on the other.
In the meantime, I hope that this debate will have satisfied the newspaper industry that we are not happy about the present state of the Press. We believe that there is much that the Press Council can do to improve the standards of the profession. I believe myself that the industry, at this critical stage, should not be involved in an internecine battle for extermination, but should be seeking by agreement and discussion within the industry to find a means by which the future freedom and survival of the Press can be assured. It is our firm conviction that the Press ranks only after Parliament and the judiciary as a protector of our democratic rights and freedoms.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. J. E. S. Simon)
I rise because I feel it would be discourteous for a Government spokesman not to intervene in a debate of this sort. I do not rise as being in any way responsible for the Press, which is not a Home Office responsibility or a responsibility of any Government Department. It would be an evil day for this country if ever it were.
It might be appropriate to offer a few general observations, and to say what a privilege it has been to listen to this debate and how much we owe to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw). Unfortunately, I missed the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), and I apologised to him at the time, but I have heard all the others. It seems to have been a debate of outstanding merit in which a number of striking, original and most imaginative speeches have been made. Before I deal with the main matters which have been raised, perhaps I might touch on one which stands slightly outside, although it was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) and the 810 hon. Members for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) and Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), and that is the question of Parliamentary Privilege and a case that has been recently before the Committee of Privileges.
I only desire to say that that is not a matter for the Government, but for the House as a whole. There is a good deal of authority and precedent for the House taking no further action on a Report of that sort, so far as I have been able to find, while, as the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) pointed out, it is open to any hon. Member to put down a Motion, That the Report be considered, if he feels that that is the proper course. Perhaps it is sufficient, having said that, if I assure my hon. Friend that I will bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House the discussion that has taken place today.
I turn to the main topics that have been raised. I confess that I was reminded on a number of occasions of the conversation that is reported to have taken place between Frank Harris and Mr. Balfour, in which Frank Harris said, in the way that he adopted to try to make an effect, "The fact is, Mr. Balfour, that all the faults of our age come from Christianity and journalism", to which Balfour replied, "Christianity, of course; but why journalism?" The fact is that the Press is only one of the institutions of our society.
The discussion today has shown an overwhelming and unanimous consensus that a free society demands a free Press. The right hon. Member for South Shields has quoted before, and I would like to quote again, the striking words of Milton:Give me the liberty to know. to utter and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.That seems to me to be a matter of fundamental importance if we are to survive as a free society.
The way we work our Constitution is to have no sort of prior censorship. Anyone is free to print what he likes and is only thereafter answerable to the law—of defamation, sedition, or obscene libel. Of course, there is also the question of Press comment upon a judicial proceeding.
§ Mr. Simon
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. And blasphemy. The margins of all those matters are open to discussion, and, as has been pointed out, a Select Committee of this House is already seized of the matter of obscene libel. It might be convenient if I referred to something which has already been raised by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson), namely, the position of a retailer like W. H. Smith and Son, in the recent case before the courts.
As I understand it, what my right hon. and learned Friend was concerned with in bringing W. H. Smith and Son before the courts to answer for the statements inNewsweek—which were highly prejudicial to the fairness of the trial—was that there was no one within the jurisdiction on the staff ofNewsweekwho could be made responsible. Therefore, he desired to vindicate the principle that anybody disseminating matter which prejudices fair trial is answerable. Because it was a test case the fine imposed by the court was not very large, considering the resources of W. H. Smith and Son.
§ Mr. Thomson
Will the hon. and learned Member draw the attention of his right hon. and learned Friend to some of the wider consequences which appear to flow from his decision, and which he may not have foreseen? He may not have foreseen that this was likely to cause a general embargo upon all sorts of foreign publications.
§ Mr. Simon
I will certainly draw that matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend. On the other hand, I know that the hon. Member, with all his professional interest, will recognise that it is of the highest importance that in a case of that sort, or of any sort, there should not be comment which might prejudice our system of justice.
I have said that a free society demands a free Press, and it follows that that freedom may be abused. But, although it may be abused, it is still worth while. I remember my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), in answer to a supplementary question at this Box some years ago, when he was Prime Minister, referring to that sort of thing and saying that it was better to lump it than to lose it. I think that that commanded the general assent of 812 the House then—as I believe it does today. It is for that reason that it seems to me that the hon. Member for Rossendale, among other speakers, was quite right in deprecating any Government interference, whether direct or indirect. Therefore, I would view with considerable misgiving any proposal for subsidies for the Press, even if they were not direct subsidies but were made in respect of newsprint—a suggestion which I believe was put forward by the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins).
§ Mr. Collins
I did not suggest any kind of subsidy for newsprint. The suggestion I made was that we should continue now the practice in war-time and in the immediate post-war years whereby space was taken to convey information which was of importance but which, nevertheless, the Press lords did not think would sell their newspapers.
§ Mr. Llewellyn
How can the freedoms to which my hon. and learned Friend referred exist if an increasing body of newspapers cannot afford the raw material to give expression to that freedom?
§ Mr. Simon
I was coming to that, when dealing with the question of monopoly, but it seems to me that a system of subsidies, either a direct subsidy which one sees in some foreign Press, where the industry is immediately affected, or an indirect subsidy, is attended by very great danger, and under the guise of preserving freedom we might find ourselves going a considerable way towards losing it.
For the same reason, I could not subscribe to the suggestion that there should be municipal or governmental trading in newspapers. The scope of municipal trading is a legitimate subject of discussion, but it seems to me that it would be very dangerous to have any governmental organ, central or local, dealing in this matter.
The same objection seems to me to obtain in the way of the Government buying space in a newspaper. Again it is a method of pressure which can amount to a subsidy which would destroy the independence of newspapers. I can assure the House that it is not part of 813 the purpose of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to embark on that.
§ Sir L. Plummer
I see entirely the point which the hon. and learned Member is making about the undesirability of subsidies to the Press to help them in disseminating news or views. In view of that, how does he justify the Government's attitude in giving a whopping big subsidy to Independent Television, which also presents news and views?
§ Mr. Simon
The House discussed the question of Independent Television, and solemnly took the decision to impose certain limitations on the complete freedom of dissemination of entertainment and views. It was as a concomitant of that that the decision was taken to provide the subsidy for the presentation of serious matters which would help to balance the programme.
I said that freedom might be abused, and this is part of the general problem of democracy. Some of the abuses which we have discussed today, it seems to me in a very convincing manner, are the journalistic equivalent of demagogy, appealing to the baser instincts of the least informed, the least intelligent and the least cultivated of the community. I wonder which of us can honestly say that in our political lives we have never appealed to instincts of envy, rancour or greed. I think we should be cautious when we criticise similar manifestations on the part of the Press.
The discussion has ranged under two main headings, first the question of the monopoly of the Press, as to which I appreciate there is serious apprehension. and secondly, the question, if I may put it broadly, of taste and standards. Dealing, first, with the question of monopoly, I must say that a great many of the arguments put forward today were put forward in the debate which led to the setting up of the Royal Commission. I want in no way to minimise the loss which we should have, for example, if papers like the Daily Herald and theNews Chronicle—with which I find myself in little agreement—ceased to exist. Even though I disagree with their policies, it seems to me that if they were to cease to exist it would be a very severe loss.
814 I want, however, to remind the House that the Royal Commission, which was faced with very similar arguments to those which have been put forward in this debate, said:The present degree of concentration of ownership in the newspaper Press as a whole or in any important class of it is not so great as to prejudice the free expression of opinion or the accurate presentation of news or to be contrary to the best interests of the public.I thought that it might also be of value if I referred to one or two trends which perhaps, are going in a direction contrary to those that have obviously been so much in the minds of hon. Members today. In the first place, there has since then been a marked contraction in the extent of the Kemsley Group. Secondly, although there has been a tendency for the provincial morning papers to collapse under economic pressure—
§ Mr. Thomson
But it is important to remember that the contractions in the Kemsley Group were simply extensions of the Mirror Group.
§ Mr. Simon
That is absolutely true, but I think that it is right to say that that merely means that the Mirror Group has gone into the provinces where the Kemsley Group was pretty dominant before. To that extent there has been a balancing of the interests.
The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) said that no paper could survive without a readership of 6 million. That seems to be a despondent view. I know that he was speaking mainly of the intermediate newspapers, those between the very popular and the quality newspapers, nevertheless it is a striking thing that theDaily Telegraphhas flourished with a readership of just over 3 million—has gone forward—although, of course, it appeals to a public on a slightly higher level, if that term will not be misunderstood. than the readership—
§ Mr. Simon
—of, say, theDaily Heraldand theNews Chronicle,I think it shows that one should not take too despondent a view as to the necessary domination of the papers of mass circulation—the "popular" newspapers, as they were called in the Royal Commission's Report.
815 Indeed, as has already been pointed out by the hon. Member for Dundee. East. a striking feature of the trend in the industry over the last twenty-five years has been the way in which the quality newspapers have been increasing their circulation at a rate considerably higher than that of the popular Press, although, of course, the popular Press has also gone forward with the increasing readership and prosperity of the country.
The other point I think it desirable to take up on this question of competition is one mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) in his very striking speech—the competition from outside the industry. That seems to me to be a matter of value. Competition from outside the industry can be just as valuable as competition within it. It must be remembered that television appeals to very much the same sort of audience as does the popular Press, and caters for the sort of tastes for which the popular Press caters.
One must remember that the primary appeal of the popular Press is as entertainment and not as dissemination either of news or views. It means that there is an element of competition which is now very strong from outside which is supplying the need which was formerly supplied solely by the popular Press. Although I should regret the passing of theNews Chroniclein the amalgamation ofthe News Chronicleand the Daily Heraldand the passing of these newspapers as independent organs, which is not, I understand, by any means decided, one should reflect that the needs which they have met are to a great extent today met by television.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I do not want the hon. and learned Gentleman to misunderstand the point which many of us were making about the effect of commercial television. It is not that we object to competition with newspapers directly. What we fear is whether commercial television is taking away from the newspapers advertising revenue which they previously received.
§ Mr. Simon
I appreciated that precisely. I was merely trying to put the other side—the obverse of the coin—that, although it is taking away their advertising revenue and, therefore, 816 making increasing commercial pressure on the Press, nevertheless, it is also fulfilling the need which the Press fulfils.
§ Mr. F. P. Bishop (Harrow, Central)
It has been said so many times that commercial television is taking away advertising from the newspapers, but is there any evidence of that? Surely, all the figures that are available show that the volume of advertising has been increasing and is still increasing at a much greater rate than the volume of advertising now appearing on I.T.V.? The newspapers should not seek to shelter behind that excuse.
§ Mr. Simon
My hon. Friend is an expert in these matters and I am a child in these things, but I think that what Sir Edward Hulton said about the causes ofPicture Postceasing publication bore out the statement that I have made. He said, with specific reference to this:Thus, television is doing so well much of the work which we pioneered inPicture Post.I now turn to the question of standards. One hon. Member said that people get the Press they deserve, and there was some dissent from that statement. I think that in many respects we get a better Press than we deserve, and certainly in some part of the Press, but there can be little question to my mind that the public which reads the popular Press gets what it wants. If that were not so the popular Press would not exist. The Press does reflect the tastes and standards of its public, and the commercial competition which seeks by popular appeal to acquire the highest circulation possible in the interests of advertising does mean that it is bound to a great extent to reflect and to cater for the tastes of those who buy the newspapers.
What is the result of that state of affairs? What should we do? It seems to me that there are three possible things to do, and they have all, certainly the first, been much canvassed in today's debate. The first one centres on how far the Press Council can help in this matter. As has been pointed out, the Press Council has been in existence for only a short time, and I think it is only fair to regard it at the moment as experimental. Personally, looking at the matter from the outside, I think there is a great deal in what the hon. Member for Salford, East said—that the Press 817 Council, within the limited time it has had, has done excellent work and is building up a valuable body of case law. It has passed some quite severe strictures, such as that there is an unwholesome exploitation of sex by certain journalists, and it has not been afraid to express vigorous and forthright criticism of editors and journals on a number of occasions. The House may feel that the Press Council is showing a responsible sense of its professional duty.
The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) was, in my judgment, quite justified in saying that it is a pity when an editor flouts the decision of the Press Council and seems to treat it with a lack of respect. I myself think it is particularly shameful that Mr. Driberg, who, after all, was one of the great proponents of a Press Council, should have shown such petulant resentment when he was, to my mind, justly censured for a shortfall in professional standards. On the other hand, when one finds an editor or journalist going into such tantrums when he is censured, that is, to some extent, a tribute to the effect of the Press Council.
There have been suggestions for the inclusion of lay members on the Press Council. It is vitally important that the Press Council should be so constituted as to have the confidence and support of the Press itself. It would be a great mistake, at any rate at this stage, to interfere, other than by perfectly proper advice, in its constitution as regards either its chairmanship or the inclusion of lay members.
The suggestion that the Press Council should have power to exert sanctions is a far graver matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford posed the dilemma: either one gives the Council teeth, in which case one makes a big inroad on the freedom of the Press, or it is limited to admonition. The House as a whole, by the general run of the debate, has shown that it favours limiting the powers of the Press Council to admonition, in the interests of the freedom of the Press. It would be a very grave and dangerous step indeed to give to anybody in the Kingdom the right to suspend anyone from writing or publishing any printed matter. Even a surfeit of "cheesecake" is more palatable than a gag. I think it was one of the Bentleys 818 who said, "No news is good news, but no journalists is best". I certainly do not subscribe to that, and I regard it as a very dangerous line of thought to talk of giving sanctions to impose professional standards.
Healthy criticism of the Press is of great value to the Press and to society in general.
§ Mr. Simon
I welcome the very entertaining book of Mr. Randolph Churchill, and I think that today's debate has been of very great value.
Ultimately, the most fruitful avenue of approach is through the general education of the readership of the Press. As I suggested, this is part of the general problem of democracy. Particularly when one has a commercial Press, that is, a free Press, one is bound to have a reflection in it of the tastes of the community at large. I should have thought that the educational progress which is now being made is the best hope of all for the future of the Press.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford pointed out, we are now in a period of transition so far as the Press is concerned, but it remains one of the vital institutions of our free society. Its health is of great importance to our social life and we should injure rather than promote that health if we sought, either directly or indirectly, to influence it by Government action. The remedy lies elsewhere, as I have suggested, and I think that we should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud for giving us the opportunity to have this discussion today.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I do not intend to hinder the House from enjoying the opportunity of adopting the Motion which has been put before the House by the hon Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw), but I join in the thanks which have been accorded to him for putting it on the Order Paper. I want to express my wholehearted support of the line that was taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith). His outspoken words were worthy of the occasion and do great credit to him.
819 I dissent, however, from the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) that there was something wrong in the recent prosecution of Messrs. W. H. Smith & Son for disseminating an article which was held to be a contempt of court. Surely, it must be maintained that anyone who disseminates something that is amenable to the treatment of the courts must be liable. I do not understand how such people would get an indemnity that would cover them if somebody was sent to prison for a breach of the law. I can understand an indemnity against fine, damages, or costs, but what kind of indemnity one could get and enforce against imprisonment, I do not know.
There is only one thing that the Joint Under-Secretary of State said on which I should like to comment. He defended the subsidy to I.T.V. on the ground that it was to secure a balanced view. That is the best case I have ever heard for giving a subsidy to theNews of the Worldso that it should publish something that will not be included in the weekly newspaper cuttings of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who, on Monday evenings, is generally condemned to read nearly all that has appeared in theNews of the Worldthe previous day. How we are to get a more balanced view into that paper, I do not know, but what the hon. and learned Gentleman said gave me some hopes.
I hope that what has been said today will be at least an indication of our belief in the rightful freedom of the Press and that we regard with detestation the prosecutions that took place in days gone by of those who disseminated the works of Thomas Paine, for I understand now that the "Rights of Man" are one of the tenets of the Tory Party and that the "Age of Reason" is the Sunday reading of all the bishops. I can only hope that in a few years' time, some of the things of which people are equally nervous today will have the same distinguished patronage.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ That this House, recognising the great importance of a free and independent Press, views with concern some recent examples of newspaper reporting, and is of the opinion that a vigorous effort by the industry itself to maintain a high standard of conduct is desirable.