§ 3.3 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF ARRAN rose to call attention to the newspapers; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name. In doing so I must declare my interest; I am an employee of Associated Newspapers, Limited, the Daily Mail group. I may add that I am very proud to be a member of this organisation. I thought that we might this afternoon take a fleeting glance at the newspapers. It is eleven years since the Royal Commission sat, and although there was a short debate in another place some three years ago there has been no full opportunity for either House to express 470 its views about the way things are going.
§ I am particularly constrained to bring this matter forward because I believe that there is a strong feeling of indignation against the newspapers at this time and that the so-called "popular Press" has never been more unpopular than it is to-day. It seemed to me, therefore, that it might be a good idea to try to get some heat out of this most explosive cauldron before it boils over of its own accord. And where better to do so than in your Lordships' House, where all that is said is restrained and objective, and usually, as I hope to-day, non-political. I have set myself an enormous task. The canvas is vast and many-coloured. No one can work over the full length and breadth of it without superficiality. Moreover, I do not believe in long speeches. So I am going to confine myself to what seem to me the most touchy and controversial issues. These are, I think, monopolies, labour relations and the contents of the newspapers themselves. I am going to do the provincial Press the high honour of not referring to it at all, because it seems to be doing very well and everybody appears to like it.
§ First, where are we in the matter of chains and groupings, the stuff of monopolies? There have been important changes in the last ten years, as there were in the previous ten years and as there always will be. Fleet Street is a place of changes. If a newspaper stands still, it dies. If a group becomes set and ossified, it crumbles. And so we have seen the sunset of old empires and the dawn of new ones. I am not going into details; this is not a progress report. What I am going to do is point a finger at new places where I think danger may be lurking.
§ Your Lordships will remember that a year ago Kemsley Newspapers were taken over by what is now known as Thomson Newspapers. The Kemsley Group comprised an impressive number of provincials and also owned three Sunday papers, the Sunday Times, the Empire News and the Sunday Graphic. To this considerable English empire the new proprietor was able to add the leading Scottish daily, already in his ownership, the Scotsman. This might have been a matter of small relevance had lit not been that that same 471 proprietor was also Chairman of Scottish Television. Let us suppose—and the supposition is not entirely vain—that he were now to add to his list the Glasgow Herald. Then we should have the position in which one man owned the three leading Scottish dailies, the Scotsman, the Glasgow Herald, the Aberdeen Press and Journal, and also headed the Scottish Television network. He would control Scotland—and he, mark you! not even a Scot.
§ That may not be a monopoly, in the sense that it could be examined by the Monopolies Commission, but it seems to me rather a frightening thought. And would it stop there? As the French say, "The appetite increases in the eating". Mr. Thomson is reported to have said that he would like to own a national daily. It is no secret that several national dailies are finding it difficult to pay their way. Any or all of them might well be tempted to sell out, like the Kemsley Group before them. Your Lordships may answer that the same danger applies in the case of the bigger groups already in existence. That is true; but I can only say that I see no sign of desire for promiscuous expansion on the part of any of the other great combines at this moment. Our established Press bosses are no fools. They know the risks, and they will be careful not to over-egg the pudding.
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Earl, if all Press Lords are not fools, why is this new Press Lord supposed to be more of a fool than the others?
THE EARL OF ARRAN
We have yet to find out, I think. Your Lordships may also say, from the personal angle, that it ill becomes me, as an employee of one of the greatest combines, to take this line. All I can say is that I speak as an independent Member of your Lordship's House. For what I say I am answerable to your Lordships, and to no one else.
Let me put this point quite clearly. If a time comes when one man is in control of too many sources of public information, then someone is going to say, No. And that someone will be the Government; be it Conservative or Socialist, it makes no difference. I can see no more hateful interference than 472 that, and I would only ask any man with ambitions to become a newspaper octupus, whatever his politics, even if he is politically sexless, not to put himself in a position in which he becomes something which has to be stopped. There is no profit in that, either for him or for the country.
Next I come to labour. What I want to say here is quite short and quite simple, but I think it is important. Like other industries, the newspapers have their disputes. On the whole, I would say that we are less troubled by them than most. But there is one difficulty which bedevils relations between employers and workers and that is the complexity of the union structure. When, as recently, it is necessary to make a new agreement with the workers on the production side, the employers have to deal separately and individually with no fewer than twelve unions. Imagine the delays and frustrations which this occasions! I should like to ask the unions, most respectfully, whether they cannot get together and present a united front to the employers. I know that it will not be easy to arrange, but I believe that the agreements which they come to will thereby be both quicker and better, from their point of view. What the saving would be in time and temper, I leave it to your Lordships to contemplate. I make this point, again not from the side of the bosses, but for the sake of the industry as a whole. If this debate leads to some move forward in the direction of simplification, then I believe that our afternoon's excursion will have justified itself on this point alone. I would ask my noble friends on the other side of the House to do all they can to help.
Last of all, my Lords, I want to talk about the Press itself. As I have said, it is a target for general abuse, although it is widely bought. And it is feared. To many, a telephone call from a newspaper is as frightening a thing as a visit from M.I.5. What do people not like? What are they afraid of? The list of grievances is the same as it always has been—intrusion into privacy, exploitation of grief, inaccuracy and pornography. I do not pretend that these things do not take place—they do. How can anyone defend things like photographs taken at funerals or the odious Innuendos of the gossip columns?
473 Most obviously, the popular newspapers are the most blameworthy. In the seven years since the Press Council was set up there have been 24 convictions (if I may use that word) by that body of popular newspapers, as against one of a quality newspaper. There were also 6 "acquittals". But even the so-called "quality" Press is not always guiltless. I must recall that our greatest newspaper, in recording the death of an otherwise good man who fourteen years earlier had been sent to prison for a sexual offence, most carefully recorded in its obituary the fact of his fall from grace. That man had a 21-year-old son. Think what a shock it must have been to that boy to read what had been written of his father. It was either stupid or vicious.
I repeat, these things happen. What is the Press doing about them? What is it doing to keep up its standards? There is the Press Council. I am a supporter of the Press Council; I admire its high purpose; I admire its impartiality. I like it in its present form, without lay members. But I am inclined to doubt its full effectiveness. What is the result of an adverse report from the Press Council? It stings a little, and until it stops stinging it will do a little good. But it soon stops stinging. It does not, as it should, put the fear of God into the editor concerned. Perhaps in time it will. I detect a new note of sharpness in its findings. It has been suggested to me that it may one day have the power and authority of the General Council of the British Medical Association. I only hope that it may.
Then there is the matter of education. In the last resort the standing of any profession depends upon the standing of the people who work in it. What is the Press doing to raise the standards of education among its members? As your Lordships will remember, this was a point on which the Royal Commission showed extreme concern. The answer is, not much. True, a National Council for the Training of Journalists has been set up and has done most excellent work; but the educational qualifications of those who enter journalism to-day are still estimated as follows: graduates, 8 per cent.; A-level G.C.E., 12 per cent.; O-level, 65 per cent.; no qualifications, 15 per cent. Thus, at the two ends of the scale the number of those with no 474 educational qualifications is double the number of those with degrees. Now I am not suggesting that the Press should be exclusively staffed by graduates—what a horrid highbrow thought! Moreover, I greatly respect and admire the office-boy-to-editor tradition. But I believe that there is plenty of room, more particularly for graduates, particularly as leader writers and feature writers.
I also think that there is an unfair prejudice, at any rate in the popular Press, against university men. And, a fortiori, that goes double for public school boys. I personally know of no ex-public school man—certainly no Etonian—who occupies any senior editorial position in a popular newspaper, except on the Daily Mirror. That is true; it is a fact. If you do not like newspapers, you say it is because public school men will not stoop low enough. If you do not like public schools, you say it is because their products just "have not got what it takes". As a newspaper man with the doubly "shady" background of the public school and university, I can only say that I think both sides are missing something. I think that the barriers ought to be let down.
So far, then so bad. Let us admit frankly that Fleet Street does not always live up to the standards which we expect from a great national institution. What about the other side?—because there is another side. Let me mention some of the things people affect to dislike most: first of all, the gossip columns. These are detestable things. They have, of course, existed for many years. The only difference is that whereas in the past they used to say, "Lady X has gone to Monte Carlo", now they say "Lady X has gone to Monte Carlo with Mr. Y", to the great chagrin of Lord X and Mrs. Y. Then there is the malice. One feels that the intention is to hurt and to wound and to do mischief. I find this is wicked, and I would earnestly ask those most responsible persons, the editors, whether they can reconcile such things with their journalistic consciences and whether they will not, by mutual tacit agreement, put an end to them now.
But, on the other side, who are these people who get unkindly written about? They are mostly privileged persons who 475 ought to know better than to put themselves in a position in which they find themselves newsworthy. In a recent debate, the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Leicester said that whenever priests or policemen or Peers "lived it up" they always got into the newspapers—and rightly so. I am not speaking for priests or policemen; but I know that as a Peer one does enjoy a certain prestige—quite unwarranted, if you like, but real, nevertheless. It is great fun being a Lord—I know this; I was a "Mister" for 45 years. If we privileged persons abuse our privileges and let the side down, then we deserve all we get. That may not justify the gossip columns. Nothing can do that. But equally it does not justify our moaning if we find ourselves in them. Just a word about gossip writers themselves: they are ordinary journalists detailed off for this particular job. A lot of them do not like doing it.
Then a word about pornography. I know that a lot of people feel deeply about this. I must therefore be especially careful about what I say. If one's idea of pornography is a picture of a lady with not much on, then I would reply bluntly that you have got to learn the facts of life at some time. If it refers to the saucy serials with which some Sunday papers are accused of stimulating our passions, then I can only ask, what about the Song of Solomon—that highly erotic love-poem, several chapters of which I would not presume to read aloud in your Lordships' House. Has anyone ever objected to that? Perhaps the critics would prefer the Press of Sweden and Switzerland, in which no impropriety is ever allowed to occur. But would they also prefer the moral standards in those "giddy" countries? Better impropriety in the Press than in the home!
But these are only facets—the detail of the canvas. What is the real problem? Why are seventeen of your Lordships going to address the House this afternoon, not all in a friendly fashion? I believe it is because there is a basic misconception of the purpose and function of the popular Press. Some people seem to think that it is a sacred duty to educate and elevate. I disagree entirely. I think it is there to inform and to entertain; and to do that it has to try to find 476 out what the readers want. It must be a reflection of their minds, and its success or failure depends entirely on its ability to get inside their minds. If it misinterprets public taste or tries to lead the readers against their wishes, it will fail utterly. The newspapers are the people. I will go so far as to say that if you do not like the popular newspapers, you do not like the people who read them.
And, incidentally, how do the critics know about its so-called iniquities? Do they perchance buy these newspapers? If they do, they are in the position of a man who buys a woman one night and next morning calls her a harlot. They are bad enough, but worse still are those who say they would not dream of taking in the paper but the nanny has it in the nursery or they saw it at the dentist's. Why not say honestly—or are they too proud to say?—that though they are shocked they find the temptation to buy such papers quite irresistible? I would say to the critics that if they do not approve of the popular papers they should not buy them. That would put them out of business or, better still, would force them to sing a new and brighter song. It is up to them.
I thought that, all passion spent, I should try to end on a quiet and practical note, and that as a little aside I should try to suggest the best way of dealing with the Press when they knock at one's door or telephone at one o'clock in the morning. I believe that it pays to be courteous. I do not believe that it pays to try to score off the reporter who, after all, is only doing what he or she has been told to do. In my experience, if you are frank with the reporter your confidence will almost always be respected. If you say that disclosure will kill granny, ruin a deal or make your name a laughing stock throughout Shropshire—and say it nicely—the chances are that the worst will not happen. But if you tell the man to "mind his own damn business", it almost certainly will.
For the newspaper man is human, like other men; indeed, more so in many ways. May I draw a sketch of him as I know him? He is a sentimental man, easily moved, and when he appears to be tough he is usually attempting to disguise his own unsureness of himself. For all his knowledge of the world and 477 its evils, he is not a cynic; indeed, he has a naive and pleasing faith in humanity. He is always under pressure and always having to compete. He is therefore an anxious man. His home life is unusually difficult: Fleet Street wives are known as "Fleet Street widows". For one whose stock-in-trade is criticism of others, he is absurdly touchy about criticism of himself and over-quick to take offence. He is immensely generous. He has great loyalties. Above all, he is kind. I honestly believe, my Lords, that our very great newspapers are safe in the hands of such men as these.
And if at any time we become exasperated with our Press, as Englishmen always have done and always will, and if in our wrath we are for one moment tempted to wish that its liberties be restrained, then I suggest that we should remember what Milton said about this in his Areopagitica. He spoke ofthe incredible loss and detriment that licensing would put us to, more than if some enemy at set should stop un all our havens, and ports, and creeks: it hinders and retards the importation of our richest merchandise, truth.My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, the House will once more be grateful to the noble Earl for having raised this subject. Those of us who had the pleasure of hearing him some months ago introduce a debate on the subject of leisure knew what to expect. On that occasion, too, we had a very full House and a large number of speakers. I suppose that most of us have some knowledge of leisure, though many of us, perhaps, not so much as we should like. But to-day we are dealing with a subject in which we are all interested, because, whether we like it or not—and as the noble Earl has said, some of us may express our dislike of some sections of the Press—we all have to read it. After all, it is the best Press we have; we have no choice. I would thank the noble Earl not only for having raised this subject but for the manner in which he did so. He gave us a most interesting and well-informed speech, and of course he knows what he is taking about—which is not always the case with all speeches in this House.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I am speaking for myself. The noble Earl started his speech, as it was right that he should, by referring to the growing tendency for the Press to get into fewer and fewer hands, and the effect of that upon the newspaper reader. He mentioned the word "monopoly", and I am afraid that, so far as the national Press is concerned, that is perfectly true. I suppose that there are in this country to-day not more than half-a-dozen different brands of daily newspaper with a national circulation. The result is that a great responsibility is imposed upon the owners of those newspapers.
We are very proud of the fact that, as we like to think, we have a free and independent Press. I believe that we have a free Press, but I doubt whether it is independent, and still less whether it is responsible. The question arises why people want to get this great power in their hands. In the case of Mr. Thomson, who has been mentioned by the noble Earl, in the last few days he has himself given the answer. His answer is that he is not interested in the Press because of personal power or as instruments of propaganda, but as a business. He says, "It is as a businessman that I approach the whole problem of their administration"; and he goes on to say, as the noble Earl has said, that in order to be successful one has to please the public and to give them what they want. If the public want something that is injurious to them one still has to give it to them. I wonder whether that is really a good thing: whether we can justify poisoning the minds of the public, arty more than we could justify poisoning their bodies by recommending certain types of product or poisoning their morals by pandering to certain types of immorality. I do not think that the answer Mr. Thomson gives or that which I felt the noble Earl himself gave—that the public will not buy the Press if they do not like it—is altogether a satisfactory one.
After all, the public are not asked whether they like the Press. It is there, and they want news. They may want racing news, and may buy a paper because of its racing news or its sports news. But they read the paper, whether they like it or not, and there is no choice. There is therefore an obligation to 479 ensure, so far as we can, that we have not only a free and independent Press but a responsible Press as well. The noble Earl feared that the said Mr. Thomson might have his eyes on the Glasgow Herald. But supposing he has his eye on the Daily Mail as well, and the whole syndicate of which the Daily Mail is a part? The noble Earl says he knows how far he can go, but I wonder. I wonder how far he really can go without interference. Money, however, is not the only reason why people want to acquire a group of newspapers. Some are influenced by the desire for power; and that is a much greater incentive even than money. After all, most of the newspaper Press Lords have quite enough money—more than they know what to do with. But power is quite a different matter. And most people enjoy a sense of power. Power over men's minds is something that can be, as I have said, extremely dangerous; so that, in my view, it is not to be entrusted in a very few hands.
The noble Earl referred to the question of content. I want to say, quite bluntly, that, apart from certain exceptions which I am going to mention in a moment, the Press, in its publication of news, is biased and gives a distorted picture. That goes for all the newspapers, with the exception of one or two. They give a false picture of conditions at home, and they give a false picture—and this is even more dangerous—of conditions and life in certain foreign countries. I cannot reconcile, for instance, the picture that we have had for many years of conditions in the Soviet Union with the actual facts as they have emerged quite recently. The picture we had was of a starving population, of a disgruntled population, of a population only waiting for the signal to rise up against their Government. Would any noble Lord say to-day that that is the true picture? Of course, we all have our criticisms of the Soviet Union, for other reasons; but the picture that has been given to us by the popular Press is an untrue picture, and I would suggest that we are getting equally an untrue picture of conditions in China and of many other countries. And that is a dangerous thing—far more dangerous than distorting debates in this 480 House. Very few people appear to be interested in them, and it matters very little whether "Lord A." is reported as having spoken or not, or of having "also spoken", as is sometimes the case.
Nevertheless, when the newspapers do go to the trouble of reporting proceedings in this House they ought to give a fair picture of the debate, and I would invite noble Lords to look at some of the reports. I saw one of them a short time ago purporting to report what took place in this House. One would think that the only two people who spoke were the representatives of the Government; you would think that nobody else had had anything to say. This was on a Bill to which Amendments were moved by private Members on both sides of the House. I do not want to be political, and I am not suggesting that one side was given a better Press than the other. But the fact remains that this was not a faithful account of the proceedings in this House, and I say that that commonly happens. I remember a debate we had last year on world government and a report which purported to recount the proceedings that occurred in this House. It was a debate specifically on world government, but practically no newspapers gave a faithful report of what I believe, whether one agrees with it or not, to be a very important and growing world movement. If it is worth while taking any note of the subject at all, it was worth while putting forward the case that was presented for it in this House; but it was not done.
The noble Earl quite rightly referred to the question of gossip. I do not complain of gossip. I think that all of us like a little gossip, and if "Lady X" chooses to go to the Riviera with "Mr. Y" I have no objection to hearing about it if it is true; and if it is not true "Lady X" has her remedy—at least, I hope so. But my objection to the gossip columns is that they are malicious, that they impute motives. As the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will confirm, it was said by a former Lord Chief Justice some 600 years ago that "The Devil alone knoweth the mind of man;" and the Devil alone, therefore, is in a position to impute motives. But the Daily X and the Morning Y have joined the ranks of the Devil: they also impute motives, and I believe that that 481 is the most dangerous part of the gossip columns. If a person sells his house that may be news. But his motive for selling it—often an entirely false one—is given as well. There are a thousand reasons why a person may want to sell a house and not merely to make money.
We are getting certain new developments in the Press to-day, and I am not sure whether they are good or bad. Particularly, the Sunday Press is becoming a magazine. We are getting biography and a great deal of other articles on life generally. Whether that is the true function of the Press I do not know. They may be good selling points, but I should have thought that if the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, wanted to tell us about China it would have been much better that he should write a book about it (as perhaps he has done, having been there for a fortnight) and tell us in that way what his impressions of China are. But to get it in weekly instalments in a Sunday newspaper does not seem to me to be particularly the function of the Press.
The noble Earl referred also to the Press Council (I cannot follow on every topic he has touched on; I do not propose to say that I know about labour problems because I am not competent to do so) and to the fact that the Press Council was not very effective. Although there have been twenty-four—he called them "convictions," but I would call them reprimands, nothing seems to have happened. Yet he is himself opposed to changing the composition of the Press Council. I should have thought that to have a Press Council consisting exclusively of Press representatives is really an incitement to very little action being taken, and it might well be that the introduction of certain lay members would be helpful. At any rate, I think the idea is worth considering and I was sorry that the noble Earl dismissed it so abruptly. As the matter stands the Press Council is very much like the United Nations Organisation. It passes many resolutions, as it has done in the case of certain countries, but they are quite ineffective and these countries go on as before. What is needed is to put some "teeth" into the powers of the Press Council.
482 I wonder, therefore, whether it would not be a good idea, if it were practicable, to get a registration of journalists. That would involve a certain standard of education and experience. I would suggest that it would not be necessary to have a university graduation as a qualification—of course not. But there ought to be a minimum standard of education in order that a person could attain the position of being a full-scale journalist, with possibly a period of apprenticeship, and the holding of a licence to practise the trade or profession of a journalist as a condition of so doing. If that happened, then I think that, with an improved Press Council, there might be more influence over the Press than we find to-day; and a reprimand would mean something instead of being meaningless, as it is to-day.
The noble Earl said nothing about one aspect of the Press which worries some of us—and I speak here in all ignorance. I do not know what is the influence of advertisers on the Press. There are some who say that the Press are so full up with advertising material that they are finding it difficult to accommodate all those who want to advertise, with the result that they can take an independent line with advertisers. On the other hand, as we all know, advertisers will not advertise if they feel that the policy of the newspaper in which they are advertising does not meet with their approval. I should have liked to hear the noble Earl, who is in as good a position as anybody to give us views, on the influence of advertisers on the daily and weekly Press.
Finally, I want to say a word about how I think we could get a better Press. I have already referred to the Press Council, and to the idea of having a qualification for journalists; but I think that at least we ought to take the profit motive out of the Press. The most responsible of our newspapers have already had the profit motive taken out. I would put the Observer as No. 1. Others may not agree with me, but I would say that today the Observer is probably the best newspaper in the country. The Observer has entirely removed the profit motive. It is run by a body of trustees, and I am informed that the remuneration of each of the trustees is £100 a year as an annuity—not a very 483 tempting financial inducement to become a trustee. I understand that they also have a share in the profits, but that they may use them only for charitable purposes. So a trustee can benefit personally only to this very minute extent. I believe that the same applies (though I am not sure about the exact remuneration) to the Economist, which again is an independent weekly journal. We may not always agree with it, but I do respect its independence and the freedom of the views it expresses. Then, of course, there is The Times.
My Lords, I should like to see that movement spreading. I should like to see the profit motive, at any rate, taken out of the Press, so that there is no inducement to give the public the bad things which they appear to like. We are all dual-personalities. There is a side of us which perhaps enjoys the sordid side of life, but there is no reason why newspapers should pander to that. I admit that these newspapers that are trust-owned are what one newspaper recently described as "a little dull"; but they are none the worse for that. They have a quality of reliability and a sense of responsibility; and all these things, of necessity, impart a certain amount of dullness. If you want excitement, there are other ways of getting it. I believe that we may be moving towards the setting up of more of the kind of trust that I have in mind. Such trusts have certainly grown in the past few years, side by side with the growth in monopolies. Which of them will eventually prevail I cannot be sure, but I have every hope that the movement towards these trusts—a very different thing from trustification—will proceed, and that the movement towards monopoly will be reduced; because I am sure that only in that way can we secure a free, independent and responsible Press, which I am sure every noble Lord in this House desires.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords,To call attention to the newspapers; and to move for Papers"—x I would ask noble Lords to try to remember whether they have ever seen so beautifully vague a Motion as that put down before them. I at one time thought that it might mean that the noble mover, having called attention to the newspapers, thought so highly of them that he wanted 484 more papers, but had just left out the word "news". I gather that that is not what is meant by the noble Earl who moved this Motion.
With every gratitude to both the speakers for what they have said, and above all to the noble Earl for putting down his Motion, I am bound, from my own experience of the Press, to take a rather different line. My experience is old, but somewhat special. I earned my living first as a wage-slave of the Press. I was Radical in my political views then, as now, and I took to writing leading articles for the Conservative Morning Post. I never wrote a single word that I did not believe, and never (except once, by accident, when the main leader writer was away) did I have a word crossed out either when I was telling the Conservative Government of that time in no uncertain words what I thought they ought to do about casual labour in the docks, unemployment, housing, alcohol or education, or when, for a change, I came to describe a public exhibition of what, in those days, some fifty years back, were the best motor cars in action. That was a most exciting exhibition, because most of the cars failed to start at all. A few of them started and stopped shortly afterwards, a few of them ran sideways, and one or two achieved the triumph of running backwards. The car that I happened to buy a few years after had a maximum speed of 35 miles an hour. My memory of that show makes me doubt if all mechanical change is progress. Life was safer on the roads then than it is to-day.
The reason why I mention this experience is because my treatment by the Morning Post was an example of the fair-mindedness and independence of the Press which it would be impossible to beat. That paper was later taken over by the Daily Telegraph, which seems to me to a large extent to have continued much in the spirit of the Morning Post. I can only say that it happens to be my personal choice for an additional paper when I want to read one, but I must admit that I do not read papers very much. They are much too large, particularly those which come out on Sundays. But I have found those whose help I needed most helpful in every cause for which I believe, although I was seldom of the Parties that they were supposed to support.
485 There are many detailed, good things in some of our papers. To give an illustration, one thing I read without fail in The Times is their account of legal proceedings. It is a picture of real life, of quarrels and of justice in action. I think I am right in saying, and I am assured so by a legal friend of great knowledge, that Britain is probably the only country in the world where such full reports are published in the principal papers. So, in spite of what I have heard to-day, I have great respect for most of our Press. I do not say that the Press may not have depreciated since I knew it by personal contact, as motor cars have depreciated by becoming faster and more dangerous. Change in papers may not be progress, as it is not always progress in regard to cars, but I do not believe for a moment that the great body of the Press has lost either its power for good or its desire for good.
The safest way of improving an organisation one wants to improve is to suggest to it a worthy cause for which to work. That is what I want to do for the Press to-day. I want to suggest something that they might set themselves to do for Britain and for the British people, something that undoubtedly needs doing. World War II is over, but much of the evil that that war did to us continues in our minds and habits. There continues glorification of violence and of getting one's own way by force. There continues more crime. There continues less sense of citizen and family responsibility. There continues the destruction of the value of money, upon which real personal freedom ultimately depends. Of course, you may say that the last has nothing to do with either the Press or the war, but is due to full employment. We cannot go back on full employment; yet we can, and must, remedy this, as well as the other evils.
There is need in this country for spiritual and moral regeneration, for putting an end to the background of evils we have left from the war, for a growing sense that liberty without responsibilities is wrong, that self-respect implies respect for other men. I wonder whether I need deal with this problem at all, particularly as the most reverend Primate will be following me, and I shall listen with the deepest respect and anxiety to anything that he has to say. Though it is not within my scope, I wonder whether the Christian Churches cannot do something 486 together to bring about the spiritual and moral regeneration that this country undoubtedly needs, in spite of, or because of, its prosperity. Can they find among them a new prophet? I would only ask that question and hope for an encouraging answer.
I must turn to ask whether our Press will help us by setting themselves not to give to the public just what they think the public would most likely swallow and forget, but to be formers and reformers of public opinion, as a great educational force. This means doing certain things and not doing certain things. It means, quite definitely, I think, however much we may dislike it, keeping before us the acts of crime, greed, envy, selfishness and brutality that are occurring in this country, but in such a way as not to encourage them, not to glorify them, not to lead to their emulation. It means keeping them before us as the kind of information the reformers need and treating this spiritual and moral decline as something un-British and something to be ended.
That does not mean that I want a league of editors. Independence is the essence of our papers. But I do want the most important of our responsible editors and proprietors to see if they cannot do something to make Britain a more spiritual and more serious country, in spite of prosperity. In all they do, they must keep plenty of space in their papers for criticisms of themselves, and print that criticism. I have never found much difficulty in getting criticism printed and I do not think that we should find any newspaper worthy of the name refusing that criticism. I believe that to-day the newspapers have a great opportunity for public service to the British people—an opportunity which they should take and show to all people throughout the world. I have every belief that they will undertake this, if it is put to them from this House with understanding.
§ 3.58 p.m.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, asked me a question. I am not prepared to give a full and final answer to it. I would say that the Christian Churches are doing their best. He asked us to produce a new prophet, 487 to which I would reply, "Sorry; we are trying to deal with an old Gospel." That reminds me of what happened in Canada only a short while ago, which may be regarded as relevant. It so happens that the Church of Canada, in general conference, elected a new Primate and adopted a new revised Book of Common Prayer. One paper came out with this headline: "New Primate. New Prayer Book. Same God." I regard that as first-class journalism, and I am happy to begin my speech by drawing attention to it.
When the noble Earl, Lord Arran, suggested that I might speak, I felt that on a matter of this vast importance it was impossible for me to say. No. But the topic is as large as life, and it is very hard to know just how, in a short time, to say something that will be apposite and helpful. I propose to confine myself to one main point. But may I say first, lest anyone were to think to the contrary, that in a general way, and from all my personal contacts, I have a very high regard for Fleet Street, as had the noble Earl, and for the rest of the British Press. With rare exceptions—and there have been exceptions—I have found journalists, when I have met them, friendly, alert-minded, right-minded, sensible and competent people. Yet they know as well as we do that they are engaged in a highly complex and exacting profession, and one open, more than most professions, to imperfections and abuses, which are the more dangerous because they may be insidious and are certain to be far-reaching. The astonishing excellencies and achievements of all the daily Press to-day, the London Press and especially, I would say, the provincial Press, are evident and I do not propose to enumerate them. I am not going to make any further reference to the provincial Press. Let us confine our discussion to the London newspapers.
Imperfections and abuses are obvious—some have been drawn attention to here this afternoon—and, as we all know, there are some really serious offences against the ordinary canons of good judgment, responsible judgment, intelligent judgment and moral judgment. Some of the general imperfections and errors or regrettable tendencies are (and let us not forget it) partly accounted for 488 by the merciless demands of speed and circulation in a fiercely competitive field; and it is impossible very easily to get rid of that state of affairs. Some of the imperfections and abuses are encouraged by deliberate policy or by mere slovenliness of self-criticism and sometimes they are the work of undisguised prejudice and of a low standard of ethical principle deliberately adopted.
But apart from the general weaknesses there also occur from time to time special and easily identifiable items or articles which are offensive, sometimes vicious and on occasions really vile. Every responsible journalist and every editor of worth would, I think, acknowledge the truth of this brief description and would deeply deplore it. Unfortunately, and unjustly, it brings on the whole profession a reputation for insincerity, indifference to truth, irresponsibility and worse, which reputation is not deserved by the main part of the British Press. To my mind, the only question worth considering to-day is how abuses are to be prevented and unwise tendencies arrested, and how all the time there may be a steady advance to higher standards of taste, of judgment and of veracity: and, I would add, the hope for a recovery of such a simple virtue as modesty which does not too much blow its own trumpet and which is chary of encouraging other persons, contributors or not, to blow their own trumpets. There is especial need, too, I would add, in this modern world, for the acceptance of such virtues as reverence; belief in the best of other people, when possible, rather than the worst; respect for them and for the ordinary courtesies of human kindness. We are all agreed on that; and so, I have no doubt, is the profession.
The question is: how can we manage to reduce this pressure? These abuses are the work of relatively few who cannot resist the pressure upon them to lower standards, or even their awn desire to lower them. As we have been told, I think, twice this afternoon, there are many of us who will read with delight columns of denigrating comment and will enjoy all the spiteful sallies and trivial gossip so long as they are there to be obtained. Yet those very people would be really relieved in spirit if such 489 items were no longer there to get hold of; they would know that they had been delivered from a temptation.
Then I ask: where are the cleansing and constructive forces to be found? Not, I should say, by tampering with the freedom of the Press and its readiness, if it wants to, to have monopolies or anything else. The phrase "freedom of the Press" is a phrase born out of bitter struggle that people might be free to speak their honest thoughts about religion and truth: it has never lost its original power, but remains the hallmark of a liberal and civilised society. But we do welt to remember, as we have been reminded, that almost all restrictions upon freedom in any field have been due to those who have abused their freedom and so robbed the innocent of their powers to use their own freedom. I have sometimes been told by highly placed journalists, when I have tried to protect someone, some child, from a merciless publicity that I am assaulting the freedom of the Press. I want them to use that phrase and to teach them how to use it better. Nor, I think, can we rely on the force of public opinion. It is there and generally, in the long run, very potent. It has put some bad papers out of existence—if not daily papers, at least other papers. But it takes a long time to get into action, and it is itself double-minded and unstable in judgments of moral or intellectual truth. And the force of moral and intellectual inertia in the readers is unbelievably great—probably even as great as the inertia which the schoolmaster often finds in the lower members of his form.
Any real remedy for any real abuses must come from within the profession, and from nowhere else. Every part of the profession must have for its guidance and its adherence some proper equivalent to the doctor's Oath of Hippocrates, a standard honoured by everyone in the profession and outwardly observable in all who belong to the profession. The owners have been mentioned, and they must accept the spirit of this oath. Their position is the most vulnerable of all. They have more power in this matter than any man ought to have, and they can be a law unto themselves. If any owner brings unfair pressure to bear on the journalists 490 who serve him he is doing great harm to his own position and to his profession. I could wish that every owner would declare a self-denying ordinance that in this field of community life he will not allow his money, his property or his power to attempt to set a standard, but will leave that solely to the profession itself.
The Press Council comes from within the profession and does what it can do quite admirably. But as has been said, it suffers from having no power. If it had such power (and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, had this in mind) as exists among doctors, power to strike an editor or a journalist off the register, there would be fewer abuses to deal with. I agree with the noble Lord in that I cannot conceive why the Press Council should not receive into its membership a certain number of laymen; that is to say, people altogether outside the profession, as the doctors do, I believe, with their disciplinary committee.
But it goes beyond that, my Lords. A spirit is moving among the public and among journalists to get the situation right. But how is that to get expression and to be translated into acts and judgments? It seems to me that the main responsibility must rest on the editors, and nowhere else. They know better than anyone the vast difficulties, the possibilities and the manifold temptations which beset the profession. Yet they bear the daily and weekly responsibility for what appears in their papers, and for the dress in which it appears. They know that most of these difficult questions are questions of taste: the taste of the owner; the taste of their colleagues; the taste of their readers; the taste of wise men and foolish men, of good men and bad men, of women as well as men, the taste of the psychologically sound and the taste of the psychologically sick. And an editor has his own tastes, his own standards of judgment, his own conscience to consult, and very little room for manœuvre without collisions.
Am I wrong in thinking that an editor is at heart a very lonely person? Responsibility always is a lonely thing. The strong man values that loneliness; the weak man fears it. So long as it is lonely it is dangerous, whether for strength or for weakness. Yet one who 491 criticises an editor may be told that he is imperilling the freedom of the Press; or, as I was more than once solemnly informed by an editor, that a newspaper is only a mirror of life as it exists, and has no function and no duty except to reflect what life puts in front of it. An answer so portentous and so stupid could be made only by a lonely man trying to defend himself.
There seem to me two ways in which editors can really help themselves and their profession to strengthen its excellencies, to resist tendencies which imperil its true purpose, and to rid the profession of those who bring discredit to it. One way is personal and private and, therefore, much the better. The editors themselves, I would suggest, should seek, by friendly discussion among themselves as editors, and by every other appointed means, to develop and propagate an accepted wisdom of morals and manners, the obligations of which they would all recognise and would publicly avow. Part of this common resolve by them would enable them to resist undue interference by owners, to value the proper freedom of their own colleagues as dearly as their own, and to encourage in the whole profession a proper feeling of equable good health. Where one editor alone cannot hope to do much, the group could do a great deal; and collective wisdom would do much which, separated as they are now by rivalry and criticism, they cannot possibly begin to do.
The other way is personal and public. Newspapers are constantly telling us that the cure for all abuses is more publicity; and it may be so in this very field. My impression is that editors are shy and elusive persons, not courting publicity for themselves, because, as has been suggested here this afternoon, they are anxious and afraid. But one way of helping their profession would be for them to come out into the open and into open discussion about the methods, morals and manners which they try to interpret in their profession. If editors would become more frequent speakers in public about the purposes, ideals, ambitions and abuses of the Press, it would do a power of good to themselves, to the profession, and to all of us. It is difficult for a responsible executive like 492 an editor to do that, but politicans do it. The Press and T.V. more and more compel people to give interviews on all sorts of delicate subjects at all sorts of times, convenient or inconvenient. Should not editors follow the example of others and be ready to talk before the world about their professional skills and their abilities? It would compel some editors to think out their problems more carefully than they do now.
Then there is a further step. Would not editors and leading journalists be wise to be more willing and ready to be publicly examined in T.V. interviews and the like, on everything that comes within their professional skill? That has been done mercilessly to every other kind of leader, of every other kind of profession. Ought not the editors, for their own good and the good of their profession, come out and face this relentless examination in public on T.V. and in their Press interviews and the like? These examinations have their dancers. Personally, I think it is a grave evil that public men are always being exposed to this necessity of answering questions that a wise man would not dream of asking. Be that as it may, there is a right use for these examinations, and I know that, rightly used, they do much good. I should like to see editors using this opportunity of helping their own profession and themselves.
My Lords, here is a great profession, beset more than most by endless pitfalls and temptations. The world—and that means us—re-doubles the force of their temptations and digs pits deliberately for them to fall into. To analyse the evils is of little use. It is a matter, as always, of persons and personal responsibilities; of getting those who bear the responsibility to face it in the spirit of a noble and high profession, as at all points the doctors always have done. Every one of us shares some responsibility in this matter for the well-being of the profession, but I am quite sure myself that only the editors, in some such ways as I have suggested, can effectively come to our aid as active guardians and reformers of their great profession.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ LORD BRABAZON OF TARA
My Lords, I should like at the outset to say how grateful we are to the noble Earl, Lord Arran, for having raised this 493 question. So far as the debate has gone, Fleet Street must be flying flags. It is a most remarkable debate so far, and it is remarkable to me because I have never agreed so enthusiastically with the most reverend Primate. I love him very dearly, but I often disagree with him. I must say that the wisdom in his speech today was remarkable, and I hope it will be read throughout the country. I very much want him to stress his view that the anonymity of editors should disappear. Once that goes, we shall have overcome, I think, many of our troubles.
We have to remember that we are talking about a business, a very competitive business, in which the prizes are rather different from those we think of in ordinary life. The idol of the ordinary newspaperman is a scoop. If anybody can get a scoop then he has really done something in the newspaper world, and a newspaperman would sell his soul to get a scoop. Sometimes we must forgive their enthusiasm in trying to get this scoop. It shocks us very much, and, of course, it is true to say that the ethical values of the Press are slightly different from ours. I think ours are the better. Broadly speaking, I do not think we could say that the Press in other countries is better than ours. It has been said that the county gets the sort of Press it deserves. On that basis I am not going to burst into tears, nor am I going to shake at the knees if Mr. Thomson is on the way to joining the select band of Press Barons. It does not worry me at all, because of the safety there will be that, if ever there is a row, Baron will be against Baron; it is very seldom you will see four Barons advance together.
There is one point I should like to stress in praise of the Press. I do not think that any other country has a national Press which is better distributed throughout the whole country than ours is here. You can get one of the London papers at practically every hamlet in England in the early morning, which is a very remarkable piece of organisation. What paper you like must, of course, always be a matter of taste, even within your own families, my Lords, I have no doubt, just as in mine: I like the Daily Mail and my wife likes the Daily Express. Do not let us forget the enormous influence that the "strip" has now. Many people take papers in entirely because they love 494 the strip. Frankly, I do not like any of the morning paper strips but I could not possibly miss the Evening News strip; I could not do it; I must have that paper. It shows the absurdity—you are tied to a paper because of some silly strip. Thank goodness we have not got as fat as they have in America where they put in a whole page of strips; that is overdoing things.
With regard to the illustrated papers, those tiresome things we have with us, I look at them in the morning. I do not admire them very much, but they must have their appeal; otherwise their circulation would not be so enormous. But why all the editors of our illustrated papers take the view that the beauty of a woman varies directly with the size of her bust is absolutely beyond me.
We have three superior newspapers and I say that they are collectively better than any three newspapers in the world—The Times, the Manchester Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. One could indulge in much praise of those papers and I think really one could give them only little criticism. I have a slight bone to pick with The Times but it is a minor one: why cannot they make up their mind where to put their different pieces of news? Why the sports page should be at the back one day and the front the next, or the radio programme on a different page each day, is just beyond me; it is maddening. I do not know much about papers, but I know that putting together a paper is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. However, surely some broad principle could be adopted. At present the only thing one knows is where to find the leading article and the business side. Except for that, pit is really a sort of madhouse. It shows sloppy thinking, and I do not like sloppy thinking connected with a great newspaper like The Times.
I want to express a word of sympathy towards our Press, and that is concerning radio and television. I think they have been very wonderful over this. We must remember that first radio steals their news—that is pretty poor from their point of view. But, even worse, it steals their advertisements. And yet they are compelled every day to put the programmes of all the different stations in their papers so that people can read them. They do not complain, but, my goodness! it must be extremely galling 495 to them. Now—when I say now, I really mean in the future, when we shall have many more stations—a whole page will be occupied by putting in it programmes which people insist on having. That will be very difficult. On the whole, I like advertisements in papers. Even repetition of advertisements does not in any way worry me. But on television the repetition and reiteration of advertisements for detergents is absolutely driving me crazy. It is interesting that they can have a reverse effect, because I have given strict orders in my household that no detergent which is mentioned on the T.V. is allowed in the house at all. That is a splendid thing to do and I wish more people would adopt it.
Just one word on our Sunday papers. The weekly paper which gives you a sort of summary of the whole week's news seems to have rather passed away, and so the Sunday paper is just an ordinary paper but published on a Sunday. Here my loyalties to Carmelite House and the Express are reversed; I like the Express. But never mind. Here we have two papers, the Sunday Times and the Observer, first-class in every way and extremely dull. They are dignified and extraordinarily voluminous. I hope that we shall never see in the Sunday paper the thing which we are coming to in America, and that is, that they are sold by the pound weight; that is practically what is happening in America. Thank goodness we have not come to colour. Those of you who are acquainted with colour in American papers know that they are perfectly frightful.
I do not mind the Sunday paper becoming a magazine. I was a little upset by the remarks of my noble friend, Lord Silkin, on the article by my noble friend, Lord Montgomery of Alamein. After all, you can have a slight dig at him, saying that he should not have written an article on China because he was only there three weeks. I know that one; that is an old one. But, after all, he was there and met the three greatest men in China, and did voice their opinions. Nobody but he could have got in touch with them, and I must say that it was a very readable article. It did not pretend to be news, but if you are going to have a magazine attached 496 to the Sunday papers it seemed to me a very typical and desirable type of article to have.
I wonder, my Lords, what you turn to first in your papers. It seems a ridiculous thing but I must say that on Sunday I always turn to read Longhurst on golf. Whether that is a compliment to Henry Longhurst or a criticism of the Sunday Press I have never quite discovered. Even in the papers in general—I wonder whether your Lordships' experience is the same as mine—whenever I have known everything about a question or some subject, when I see an account of it in the Press it is invariably wrong in some small particular. If this is so, then everything throughout the paper is wrong in some small detail. That is a very sad thought. But I myself have no great desire to start a new paper. Things might be very much better if the Press would take to heart the speech of the most reverend Primate. That would be a good thing. But apart from that I should like to end up on the basis ofAlways keep a hand of nurseFor fear of finding something worse.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ EARL WINTERTON
My Lords, like the noble Earl who introduced this very interesting discussion I must disclose a personal interest. I think I must be the oldest journalist in your Lordships' House because I was editor of a now defunct paper (I am glad to say that it did not die in my time), the World, which was in its day a famous paper. One of my predecessors there was the well-known editor, Edmund Yeats. As long ago as 1909 I was for a short time editor. Ever since that time, except for the seven or eight years when I was in office, I have contributed to the Press; and, just as the noble Earl who introduced this Motion is now connected with one great amalgamation, I was connected for some years with the Kemsley Press.
I hope that it will not be considered wounding if I say that with the exception of the speech of the opener, and that brilliant contribution of the most reverend Primate, I personally have not been greatly impressed by the contributions of other speakers. We had a most interesting, truncated autobiography from the noble Lord on the Bench beside me, but it had not much to do with the main 497 issues which are under review. As for the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, that seemed to me to be more an appeal to the churches than an appeal to the Press.
Having said that, I am going to be rather personal and say that I was greatly flattered and honoured to find myself bracketed with the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, in last Sunday's edition of the Observer, in which we were described as being not only very popular Members of the House, but great eccentrics. I was delighted to be bracketed with the noble Lord, for whom I have a great admiration, and I hope that we are, in a mild way, carrying on the tradition which was so strong in the 19th century, of the eccentric Milord Anglais who delighted and astonished the foreigner whenever he went abroad, although I hope that we shall not allow our eccentricity to go quite so far as a former Member of your Lordships' House who, as many of your Lordships may remember, was convinced that he was pregnant. He was otherwise completely normal. But it is a tribute to the great respect in which eccentricity and your Lordships' House was held in those days, that nobody ever thought of having him certified.
I hope that the noble Earl who introduced this Motion, and for whom I have a great regard will not mind my saying that I felt there was a slight soupcon of the Devil rebuking sin in his speech when he was attacking the Thomson Press. I could not help thinking of the previous attacks which had been made on the great organisation for which I have the highest regard and of which he is a member. I did not quite understand his attack upon gossip writers, because I understand that he is connected with the Daily Sketch.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
I tried to make it clear that I was an interested party. I also tried to make it clear that I was speaking as an independent Member of your Lordships' House, and that I was speaking for myself, and for myself alone.
§ EARL WINTERTON
I understand that, but what I find it a little difficult to understand—I am sure there is an explanation—is that the noble Earl is connected with a paper which does exactly the things which he condemns. 498 It would seem that the Daily Sketch is, so to speak, rather divided against itself. He does not seem to agree with some of the things that his colleagues do. But apart from that, I think he gave some quite valuable information to your Lordships' House.
I do not want to go over the points that have already been made by the noble Earl and others. I myself think that there is much that is good and much that is bad in the British Press. But I think the good, as indeed the most reverend Primate said, is much greater than the bad. The bad points have already been touched on: undue emphasis upon sex; personal persecution, as I would describe it, of people who are in trouble or whose relatives are in trouble. Incidentally, I myself believe—and I think this is the opinion of some lawyers—that if this tendency became worse it could probably be easily dealt with by a short Act of Parliament making it an offence of molestation to telephone or attempt to photograph people who did not wish to be telephoned to or photographed.
§ EARL WINTERTON
I am sorry. It is a bad failing not to speak across the Floor of the House. What I was about to say was that I think that the other had feature is the magnification of unimportant incidents. Here I must refer to a Member of your Lordships' House. I do not think he can object to my referring to him, because he has made some most wounding remarks about your Lordships' House; and since he is not coming here to take his seat, having said that he does not wish to do so, he should not mind a few derogatory remarks being made about him.
Lord Altrincham is a young man of no achievement and no attainment. He is the editor of an obscure journal with a very small circulation. As your Lordships may remember, he made an attack upon the highest in the land which many of us resented. He was perfectly entitled to do that if he felt, as no doubt he did, sincerely about it. But what was a bad feature of it was the way in which the Press generally advertised this young man's attack. They went on for week 499 after week, and I think he was interviewed on television. The impression was given by this wholly unimportant young man, that there was a movement in the country against the Monarchy, which of course was complete nonsense. That was a bad example of the magnification of an unimportant event. I am glad to have your Lordships' assent to my view. I have discussed it privately with many of your Lordships who feel strongly on the subject.
Let me now say a word or two about the good features. I do not agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, in what was otherwise, I thought, a very fair speech, about there not being serious and factual articles in the popular Press, as well as in the other types of Press, about conditions in China and in Rusia. I think that recently there have been some good articles—articles of quality and relevance—in the popular Press. For example, the Daily Mail could not have done better with some of its articles on foreign affairs.
I should like now to pay a tribute to one or two people who are not very popular with some of the critics of the Press, but who have recently shown courage in attacking either persons or institutions who are popular. It is sometimes said that the Press will never do anything which is unpopular. But in the cases which I am going to mention they have attacked either persons or institutions which are popular. Cassandra's attack upon Liberace, though it went a bit far, and he had properly to pay damages, was useful in so far as it showed up an undesirable feature of life in this country at the present time, when certain persons calling themselves artistes adopt a system of self-advertisement which is most unpalatable to many people. Then there is the attitude which John Gordon has taken on the subject of sexual perversion. Again and again he has called attention to its growth and to the apparent tolerance of it in certain quarters of this country. I think he has done good work. All of your Lordships would not agree with that.
Finally, there is the amusing case of that brilliant journalist, Peter Simple, in the Daily Telegraph. I do not know whether your Lordships read this particular reference. This was supposed to 500 be an interview with the noble and gallant Field Marshal, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, after he had visited Hell; and it represented him as saying that he had found conditions in Hell even more satisfactory than they were in either South Africa or China; that the Devil was a most charming man; that the organisation was based on that of the Eighth Army and that discipline could not be better. If ridicule killed in this country—which, fortunately, for many of us it does not—as it does in France, we should not have heard much of the noble and gallant Field Marshal for some time. It was almost in the footsteps of Gay or Pope. I mention those examples because the popular Press is often accused of taking only a popular line.
Now I regret to have to come to a matter on which I feel strongly, as I believe do others of your Lordships. That is the most disconcerting and disquieting event of the misreporting of what happened in Nyasaland on the occasion of the visit there of the right honourable gentleman, the Prime Minister. The Report of Mr. Justice Southworth is a damning indictment of the majority of the reporters present, with some honourable exceptions, such as that of The Times and the representative of the Daily Telegraph. Although he criticises some aspects of the latter's evidence, Mr. Justice South-worth says that he was an honest man. But for the rest it is a damning indictment of the reporters. What makes the matter worse, in my opinion, is that when these reports were sent home, being themselves, according to the judicial Report fundamentally false, they were made even worse by the embellishments put upon them by the editors of the various papers. One would have thought that when the Report of the Judicial Inquiry came out those papers which had been directly or inferentially criticised would have accepted the Report and shown some desire, at any rate, to stand in a white sheet and apologise. But they did nothing of the kind. And let it be remembered that these utterly tendentious reports were made at a time when the Nyasaland police were under the greatest possible pressure and when it was very difficult for them to carry on.
A friend of mine in another place attributes this extraordinary action on the part of these people to the influence of 501 what he terms the "Black Lobby" in this country. By the "Black Lobby" he means certain politicians and Press men who see in every African an angel and in every European in Africa a devil; and there is undoubtedly some partiality in presenting news from Africa. Great prominence is given to events in South Africa where the Government have behaved cruelly and brutally—as unfortunately they often do—but far less is said of the behaviour of Africans; in Kenya, for example, of murders by one set of Africans of other Africans; of attacks on loyal Africans and on Europeans. Little is said of what is going on in Ghana; and until recently little has been said of what is going on in the Congo.
All this has had an unfortunate effect upon the minds of the Europeans, not only the so-called "settlers" but the European civil servants in various African territories, who have got it into their minds—and those of us who have any contact with Africa try to disabuse their minds of it—that we in this country are unfriendly to them and are prepared to sacrifice their interests if a demand in sufficiently strong terms is made by Africans. I might add another instance of partiality in presenting news. We never, or hardly ever, get in the Press any reference to the treatment of the coloured people of the Southern States of America where, so far as justice is concerned, they are much worse off than the natives of South Africa. I do not suppose anyone in the Press would wish to listen to me, but I would make an appeal for a more balanced presentation of news.
To return to what happened in the reporting of the so-caned "riot" in Nyeri—and this is my very last point I hope that Her Majesty's Government (and I would put this point to my noble friend the Minister who is to reply) will tell the Nyasaland Government that they should pay the legal expenses of those members of the Nyasaland police force who had to be represented by counsel because they had been directly or inferentially criticised; and that they should further consider paying the expenses of any member of that police force who wishes to bring an action for libel in the British courts against any newspaper or reporter over the incident. That would have several advantages. In the first place, the journalists or editors 502 in a British court might secure a verdict different from that of Mr. Justice Southworth in which case they would be exonerated. On the other hand, if they did not they would very probably have to pay damages.
I believe that that would be in the interests of the journalists themselves. Take the case of Mr. Henry Fairlie, a very well-known journalist. Not only is his personality criticised in the Report but Mr. Justice Southworth used these words about him:Mr. Fairlie tends to make his facts lit his comment and not his comment his facts.That is a polite way of saying that Mr. Fairlie is a liar; and it would obviously be to his interest to have the matter decided in a court of law. I am very grateful to your Lordships for bearing with me for so long and I want to end on a rather different note—
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, before the noble Earl turns to his final point, is he not bringing a charge of being influenced by a "Black Lobby" against the mostly Conservative Press in this country—for the great majority of our newspapers are Conservative—and basing it: on a statement in a sub judice inquiry under what I would call "Colonial justice"? Surely the journalists themselves must have been accepted by their editors as being honest men from the manner in which this was followed up. Surely the position is not what the noble Earl has put to the House as his last word.
§ EARL WINTERTON
My Lords, I do not differ from the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition; I quite agree with him. My criticism, so far as it is a criticism, is directed as much to Conservative papers as to others. I should have thought he would be favourable to my last point—namely, that it was in the interests of all, in view of the very serious criticisms of these journalists and newspapers in this judicial Report, that the matter should be tested in the British courts of law; and I should have thought he would be the first to agree that that is so. I do not suppose it will be, but that is my suggestion.
I would end on a completely different note—and I am afraid that this may bring the noble Viscount the Leader of the, Opposition to his feet again. I want 503 to say how deeply grateful all of us in the Conservative Party are to Tribune and its editor, Mr. Michael Foot. Just as Dr. Evatt was said to have been responsible for helping Mr. Menzies to win two elections (I do not see my noble friend Lord Casey here, but if he were I believe he would agree with that) so Mr. Michael Foot's contribution towards the triumph of the Conservative Party at two Elections has not been at all insignificant. I should like to end by wishing Mr. Michael Foot all possible health and prosperity, so that he may long continue to edit Tribune and, above everything else, long continue to appear on television.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, after a very long political life, like the noble Earl, and some study of what events take place in political life, I can assure the noble Earl that Mr. Michael Foot will be forgotten while the Labour Party still goes on.
§ EARL WINTERTON
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Viscount should have made this attack on Mr. Michael Foot. I think it would have been better not to have made it. He must have added, by that remark, to the disorder already prevailing in the Socialist Party. I have great admiration for Mr. Michael Foot—for his intelligence. I only hope that he will continue to go on.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ LORD BIRDWOOD
My Lords, I am afraid I must begin by giving an apology and by saying this: that owing to circumstances over which I have no control whatsoever I shall be unable to see this debate out. And so I most sincerely apologise to the noble Earl who has performed this service in raising this matter, and also to the noble Earl who is to reply for the Government. I thought this debate so important that I should make the effort of some contribution, based as it is on a mild experience. Your Lordships have been full of constructive proposals and, of course, will continue to be. For myself, I have to confess that, though my mind is full of grand ideas about the part the Press plays and the far greater part it could play in the national life in ideal circumstances, when I turn from talk to construction I find the actual proposals 504 extremely difficult to come by. So, for that reason, my contribution is just another protest, and since my experience has been with international affairs my protest concerns really only those situations which concern the handling and reporting of the international situation.
Many years ago in the winter of 1946 I found myself in London reporting the abortive Palestine Conference for a group of Australian newspapers. I was a poor reporter because, in the race for the telephone, I always wanted to inject my own ideas into the news and turn perfectly straightforward news into leading articles. But I came away from that Conference with one very firm impression in my mind. It was that at the receiving end news was judged for the group of papers I was reporting for—and I think it goes for many newspapers—according to a certain priority. First came a sensational rumour which need not necessarily have been true—shall we say, with a prospect of truth? Second came something which was more likely to be true but which still had to have the necessary element of sensation in it. And third—and quite a good third—came something which was definitely true but also definitely dull.
For the normal purposes of breakfast-table news reading, that does not represent anything very serious, but it is when we turn from the reporting of the trivial in international affairs to the really significant that irresponsibility in reporting can be extremely damaging. The Press, one imagines, is governed by the same laws as govern any other information medium—television, broadcasting, the public meeting and so on. By that I mean that the cult of the personality is the breadth and life of a newspaper. Just as a certain Member of your Lordships' House, with his deep, richly persuasive voice, will induce us to turn on the television knob, so one imagines the public has its Press fans, and collectively a number of favourite columnists make up the tone and standard and policy of a newspaper. I am convinced that all this has grown to be an integral part of the national life and of our broad interpretation of democracy.
For that reason I am sympathetic to the view which says that if you really want to change the Press you have to alter the ways of the people as a whole. As my 505 noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara, I think, said, a people really get the Press that they deserve. That, of course, in no way exonerates the Press from its great responsibility. But if that be in any way true it does indicate that there is no question of any legislation for controls. What we have to do—I was glad that my noble friend Lord Arran said this, I believe—is to concentrate on improving and strengthening the existing institutions; and I have particularly in mind both the Press Council and such an institution as the Institute of Journalists. The noble Earl referred to the dangers of monopoly. One of the listed objects in the Constitution of the Press Council isTo study developments in the Press which may tend towards greater concentration or monopoly.So far as foreign affairs are concerned, I ask a very simple question: is it right that immense power to direct public opinion should be in the hands of any single individual? He may be a young man of personal ambition; he may be an old man of personal obsession. Too often he is in no way whatsoever qualified to measure up to the great responsibility he assumes in tackling questions of principle to-day which never arose in the old days: questions of ideologies in conflict, confused with questions of help from the developed world to the underdeveloped world—extremely intricate and in no way to be manipulated by a man whose only qualification is just his power. Again, my Lords, I have no particular measures to suggest. I think the answer is to be found in a rather different direction from that of controls, and that is in searching for gradual change by encouraging a greater independence among junior Pressmen and junior reporters. If they feel they are in a position to refuse to toe the line, it makes is just that little more difficult for the direction at the top to dictate the moves.
May I give an example of what I mean by this monolithic grip on policy? When the Hungarian crisis was on in the Christmas of 1956, some of us were searching for the happier incidents in the refugee situation and we approached a London newspaper for just such a story. The answer came from the sub-editor that it was not the policy of his paper to devote any space whatsoever to foreigners unless there was a sensational element in it and, by inference, unless 506 the sensation was something adverse to the foreigner. We then tried a personal approach. "Have you yourself no feeling or conscience in the matter?" was the question put to him. At that he was extremely surprised. One had the impression that he had his own views, but that it was just not done ever to express them and perhaps risk his job.
So, my Lords, we are all prisoners of this vague tyranny called news. To come to the application of these standards in international affairs, how much more vital it all is to-day than in the days when news moved slowly and statesmen could work at leisure! In the past one could isolate events. Trafalgar or Fashoda could be reported for their effect on France or England. How different it is to-day, with negotiation carried out against a complexity of international forums and conferences, with a cross pattern of bilateral treaties and pacts and, over all, a war of ideology! The opportunity for the journalist to make a mistake is infinitely greater and, equally, so are the results of the mistake greater. May I give an example? It happens to be an American one. About three years ago a single damaging sentence in an American periodical was undoubtedly responsible for precipitating the dismissal of General Glubb from Jordan with, at the time, of course, untold damage to Anglo-Jordanian relations.
Within our own Press I am certain that we have a few real men of great judgment and experience—the kind of man who goes off to a foreign capital and sits down for three or four years to soak himself in the local environment. We certainly have as able a team at the top level as arty country in the world. It is when one passes from the top level to the lower level that the standard so suddenly falls—and here I must refer to an aspect which has been neglected, the provincial newspapers. In my own experience, I have had to remind a provincial newspaperman that Pakistan is a State divided into two parts separated by 1,000 miles, and that Iran and Iraq are different countries. It seems that the young man who may be able to write up an excellent report of the local vegetable show is also expected to go along to the town hall and deliver an intelligent criticism of a talk given by, shall we say, Professor Seton-Watson 507 or Sir William Hayter. Of course, what happens is that he asks for the script beforehand. If he is going to have the script beforehand, why have the reporter at all?
May I give one more example of this irresponsibility? About a fortnight ago two articles appeared in a London evening newspaper on consecutive afternoons, the first on an extremely important aspect of international affairs and the second on the Duke of Edinburgh, and both over the same signature. Apart from the fact that I do not think any of us likes the loose arrangement which permits irresponsible discussion of the Royal Family, anything said in the one field could not possibly have qualified the writer to have written anything about the other field; and, in my view, the result was that both those articles were extremely silly and, unfortunately, rather damaging. I repeat that I am not sure of the remedy: I can only put forward ideas. I am wondering if the Foreign Office has ever offered voluntary courses for journalists: not necessarily teaching them how to write, but teaching them the facts of geography and history. Have the Institute of Journalists ever asked for such courses? But somehow we have to raise the whole standard and status of the reporting in this field. If—and I had come to this conclusion before I knew that the noble Earl was going to mention it—the newspapers could seek men with degrees, and if the journalists could recognise that a degree was a rung on the ladder to success, I believe that in a few years we should have apparent results in a greater public discrimination in international affairs.
It is not for me to criticise the Press Council and their achievements, yet I am extremely puzzled by certain omissions. I studied their last Report, of December, 1959, and it seemed that they had examined very carefully a number of most interesting cases. They operate, so far as I can judge, on the same basis as the British Board of Film Censors. The Council are set up by the trade for the trade, and their admonition or condemnation is accepted and respected by the trade. To that extent they are effective. But there is nothing whatsoever in the Report to indicate that they operate 508 other than as a court offering an opinion. There is not a word about journalists, or the status of journalists, as such; not a word about any negotiation with the Institute of Journalists; and yet in their Objects, as set out in their Constitution, Article 2, the fourth object speaks of the training of journalists and the sixth speaks of the promotion of research. I should have thought that between them the Council and the Institute of Journalists could hope gradually to get into the profession men of intelligence and of some moral purpose, in contrast to men who were mere prisoners of news.
My Lords, the noble Earl has framed his terms very broadly; and I thought I should be justified in touching on an aspect which was not in his mind, I think, when he initiated this debate. I refer to the circulation of British newspapers abroad, particularly in Iron Curtain countries, and also to the facilities offered to Communist newspapers here in this country. It is not sufficiently appreciated in our own country that the mental acrobatics of Mr. Khrushchev, when he travels abroad, are seized on in his own country and embellished in a way which far exceeds the publicity given to them in the countries in which he travels. His private visit to President de Gaulle was given far greater coverage in Moscow than it ever was in Paris. Of course, the object always is to present Mr. Khrushchev as the dove of peace and progress, giving his message to millions in the world who hang on his words. I could quote examples of the exploitation of the British Press by the Communist Press towards that end; but, instead, I want to refer to a matter of equal urgency, and to indicate another way in which the British Press should understand how they are "had for mugs" in a rather different way.
Quite recently, the Daily Herald carried a large advertisement put into their columns by the East German authorities, and the official East German newspaper (there being, of course, no unofficial ones), Neues Deutschland, then took out passages from that advertisement and quoted them, describing them as an article in the Daily Herald praising the achievements of the East German Communist economy. In exactly the same way, the New Statesman and Nation were also "had for mugs". 509 I do not quite know what is the answer to this. One cannot prevent a newspaper from carrying an advertisement from abroad if it is proffered. I can only hope that the Foreign Office do take steps to warn the Press of the dangers of this kind of misrepresentation. It would be a rather funny story if it were not in such a grim context. And all the time this process of omission and distortion and false interpretation goes on. Of course, the answer is that we should not permit our Press to be manipulated in this way behind the Iron Curtain with bits and pieces used or misused.
I have said that the British Press reflects the diversity of our national life. If so, in fairness to ourselves, and in fairness to the millions who we know want to know something about us, we should insist that the entire range of British newspapers is available; whether it be, at one end of the scale, the cautious but occasionally irritating sobriety of the lady sometimes known as "Auntie Times", or, at the other end of the scale, her niece, "Miss Daily Mirror", out late at night on the spree looking for adventure. My Lords, as we are all aware, this range of taste and standard is available in your Lordships' Library, where The Times lies alongside the Daily Worker—and here I disagree a shade in my view, in that we do read the papers we dislike in order to see what, the other chap has to say. Indeed, in politics we have to do so, and to that extent this diversity of the written word does not conform quite to the normal laws of supply and demand. It is this rather extraordinary feature of our British life which every citizen of the Soviet must be allowed to understand if he is ever to understand us as a people.
At present, the British Press is judged in Communist countries by one paper only—the Daily Worker. I realise that this is primarily, perhaps, not a matter for newspapers or for their management or their control: it is a matter of policy for the Foreign Office, and perhaps for the Anglo-Soviet Cultural Relations set-up. But I am constrained to wonder whether the Press Council or any other representative Press body has ever made any representations in this matter. Is it really of no concern to them that the British Press, and with it the thoughts and ways of our people, are projected to millions by a parasite whose whole policy is to 510 destroy our national life, and with it the treasured and hallowed freedom of our Press? Personally, I should hope that between them the Foreign Office and the Press could work towards a simple principle of equality and reciprocity of treatment. By that, I mean that if the Daily Telegraph is not permitted to be sold on the streets of Moscow, the Daily Worker should not be permitted to be sold either.
That is the whole of my protest, a protest which, in effect, asks only that the strange enigma known as news may come to be regarded as perhaps of less importance, related as it may or may not be to the truth, and that in time instead there will creep in a greater emphasis on values of permanence. To that end, we certainly need newspapermen of great initiative, but of a rather different sort of initiative. We want supermen in our Press. Probably we shall get them only when we ourselves are supermen. That may never be, but we may perhaps be a little nearer to Utopia for the chance to say these things. And for that reason I am extremely grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Arran, for this very timely and important debate.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ LORD STRANG
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, I want to start by touching on the part played by newspapers in reporting and commenting on foreign affairs. There never was a time, it seems to me, when it was more important for as wide as possible a sector of the public to be informed on foreign affairs. The fate of every one of us depends on what happens in the foreign field. It is literally a matter of life and death. The question is: how far is it possible to spread this knowledge of foreign affairs among our people?
It must be confessed that the great majority probably get no further than the headlines of the popular newspapers. A good many of these readers probably do not retain very mach even of that; they may not even retain much of what they pick up from the wireless and television. Perhaps that may not matter very much—I do not know—so long as their minds can be alerted at the critical moment, if a crisis arises, and if they have sufficient background on foreign affairs, even of a rudimentary or elementary type. But the truth of the matter is that foreign affairs are a difficult 511 subject, not to be easily understood except by those of sufficient interest and sufficient ability to understand.
As for the mass of the people, whatever one does I think it is likely that in any event they will devote their real attention to the form of racehorses, greyhounds and football teams, and turn their activities to their bets and their pools. If that is so, it is more important than ever that the picture of foreign affairs presented to the more intelligent and better informed minority—and I think it is a rather small minority—should be as intimate and as broad as possible.
I want to say at once that this small minority is very well served by our Press. I think that it is invariably well served, as has been said by several speakers, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, in particular, by most serious and responsible newspapers like The Times. the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, to name no others. Sometimes—and this was a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Winterton—we get excellent articles on foreign affairs in some of the popular newspapers. I agree that we do—but only sometimes. What so often happens is that foreign affairs in this larger sense get driven off the paper by some new and popular sensation. I agree also with the noble Earl when he said that he did not go all the way, or even much of the way, with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in the strictures which he delivered against the popular newspapers in their reporting of events in China and Soviet Russia. I do not think that they have led us so very far astray here. The noble Lord cited examples to the contrary, but I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Winterton, on this point.
It is often said these days that there is still too much secrecy in foreign affairs and that it is impossible to know what is going on. I think that that impression is mistaken. If people would only take the trouble to read carefully and continuously (that is very important) the despatches and commentaries in the more serious daily newspapers, they would acquire a pretty accurate, if not entirely complete, conspectus of the foreign situation. I do not think that they would miss anything of real importance.
512 Here I think that a word of sincere commendation is due to those who serve the public so well in this respect: I refer to the correspondents in foreign countries maintained by our newspapers at very great expense. It is a heavy burden on them to cover the world field with special correspondents. I think that a tribute is due to their diplomatic correspondents in London—excellent and highly informed men—and the same tribute is due to the foreign editors here at the centre. Having had much to do with all these types of people during my years in the Foreign Service, I would pay a tribute of gratitude and admiration for what they do for us. I think that the Foreign Service and the country at large owe much to their skill and devotion.
A wise ambassador in a post abroad will see to it that both he and his staff maintain the closest contact with the local representatives of home newspapers. Each can help the other. The correspondents are more mobile, less tied to their desks than diplomatists, who have several other duties besides that of gathering news. Also, correspondents sometimes have wider means of access. On the other hand, the ambassador and his staff can sometimes supply long-term political background. In this field a wise Foreign Secretary will, either personally or through his news department, repeat this two-way process at home. These fructifying exchanges are of service not only to the newspapers themselves and to the Government but—even more important—to the public at large.
I now pass to another point. I note that there has recently been some discussion on a point of what I may call newspaper ethics which is not entirely irrelevant here. The question apparently is this: should a newspaper correspondent confine himself to a recital of the facts, or should he also try to assess or evaluate the facts which he reports? Of course, it is an axiom in the newspaper world that fact and opinion should be strictly separated—I think that every journalist would profess that faith—though it is to be noted that the Royal Commission on the Press in 1948 said that this distinction was imperfectly observed in practice. But what is here in question is rather a different point: it is whether the facts should be served up neat; whether there should be what 513 has been called "a frozen pattern of straight news."
Well, that is one theory, but is it not open to the objection that it would attribute to the lie the same prominence and impact as to the truth? And is it not true, as was recently said:In the long run, the maintenance of independent critical faculties at the very source of news reporting is a decisive factor in supporting truth-telling and civility in public life"?I agree with that opinion. But on this point opinion is by no means unanimous. Let us take an example. Some Americans have quite a different view. To illustrate this, let me quote from a distinguished American critic. He said:I suspect that there is no surer way to a corrupt and worthless Press than to authorise reporters to tell the readers which 'facts' are really 'facts' and which are not.That, to my mind, is an extraordinary opinion. The theory, apparently, is, as a great American newspaper put it:The remedy lies with the reader.The reader himself has got to distinguish truth from falsehood in what he finds stated in the Press and in what is there reported or alleged.
The argument about this arose out of a "post-mortem" over the great McCarthy scandal in the United States six or seven years ago. The point at issue is whether McCarthy's lies would have acquired such currency and developed such lethal power if the American Press had from the beginning roundly described them as lies rather than just reproducing them as straight news. The view of some organs of the American Press seems to have been that if a Senator of the United States said a thing, that was news whether the thing said was true or false. On the other hand, there are other Americans who think that in failing to nail the lies from the start the American Press was betraying its trust. On that I would not presume to judge. One thing, however, is incontestable. The news items that are sent to the newspaper must be accurately stated. The thing seen and the thing heard must be truthfully reported.
Here I think the recent Report of the Southworth Commission about the events of Blantyre during the Prime Minister's visit exhibits some—but some only—of the British pressmen in a bad light. The noble Earl, Lord Winterton, 514 has said what is necessary on this point, and I agree with most of the things he said. Reading some of the first reports of these events, and of the action said to have been taken by the police to control them, one was deeply shocked—I confess that I was, having read some of the reports—by the brutality with which certain members of the police were alleged to have acted. In the event, after careful examination of witnesses, including the reporters themselves, the more lurid accounts sent home were shown to have been grossly exaggerated, to say the least. One can only suppose that the Devlin Commission having said that Nyasaland was a Police State, some of the reporters thought it right to take their cue from this. However that may be, Mr. Justice Southworth said of one of the chief offenders:He gave a compelling impression that his observation of what he saw on this occasion was coloured by preconception and predisposition: and his perception of events appeared defective … he came with a pronounced readiness to prejudge what the police did.My Lords, I think we can leave it at that.
All this, as has been said already, is part of the tyranny of what is called news value. Another example is the way in which the Western Press treats Mr. Khrushchev. He cannot open his mouth without hitting the headlines. Why on earth do we need to build him up in this way? Why do the work of the Soviet propaganda agencies for them? What is more, anything whatever that happens in the Soviet Union is liable to be set down to Mr. Khrushchev personally. A young Oxford graduate is required to leave Moscow because he wants to marry a Russian. Love in these circumstances is, of course, headline news. But, for good measure, the Prime Minister of the Soviet Union is brought in personally. The combination is irresistible. There it is, front-page headline news in what claims to be a responsible organ of the Press—with which I think the noble Earl, Lord Arran, is connected:Mr. K. locks out love".That is an example of what think the noble Earl, Lord Winterton, called the magnification of unimportant events.
As regards this kind of news value—the intimate, human-interest side—I have not much to say. The inexhaustible appetite of the British public for details of the love-lives of film stars and other 515 notorious persons, for personal scandals and for near-pornography is a curious phenomenon. It is rather like their addiction to betting and the pools. I would guess that in this respect the newspapers do give the public what they want. People may say: "Pretty awful muck, isn't it?" But they buy it, and they read it. And they have not much choice. The more monotonous the daily task, the more uneventful the life of economic security, the emptier the growing periods of leisure, the more they seem to need such vicarious titillation. In the old days the country people sang bawdy folk songs. In our day, in another stratum of society, there is the composition and zest for circulation of what are called Stock Exchange stories, and the more topical they are the better. It is all part of the same general appetite.
One is tempted to ask how much harm this triviality, this vulgarity, and even this filth, do to the physical and mental health of the people. I do not know the answer to that question. It would seem to be a matter not for a "snap" opinion, but for a serious scientific investigation. A year or two ago there was an inquiry into the effect of television programmes upon the minds of children. The results of this inquiry were much more reassuring than might have been expected. They showed that children's minds were not dominated by television; that they did not absorb the programmes like a sponge. Children, it seems, have much more robust minds than we are inclined to think. And so, perhaps, who knows! with the mass of the people who wallow in the stream of tasteless and at times vicious matter put out by some organs of the Press.
Our fellow citizens, when we contemplate them in their persons, seem for the most part to be curiously little touched by all this. It is as though these vulgarities and trivialities pass most of them by. What they read passes over their minds like water off a duck's back. What they are really concerned with is their own daily lives and not the fantasies with which they amuse themselves. The question therefore remains: on how many of them does this middle-of-the-gutter Press" make a serious adverse impact upon their mental health and on conduct? How far may it, on the contrary, act as a 516 liberation from tension and a relief from boredom? I do not know the answer to those questions, but I think they deserve examination.
§ EARL WINTERTON
Perhaps I may make a friendly interruption of my noble friend. I am much older than he is, and I think it will be in the recollection of others in your Lordships' House that there was far more of the so-called "gutter Press" 60 years ago than there is to-day. There were papers like the Winning Post, the Pink 'Un and other papers, which were openly pornographic. I do not think they had much effect on the public.
§ LORD STRANG
That, I think, confirms what I say. As I say, I do not know the answer to the question. I think it is a matter for serious examination. I think it is a matter for the sociologists; and sociology, like charity, should begin at home. Perhaps the sociologists, as well as diagnosing the evil, may be able in the long run to devise a remedy.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I would join with others in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Arran, for giving us the opportunity of debating this important subject this afternoon. Like him, I have to declare an interest, because I am a director of a company which owns two small provincial newspapers. I have been astonished and extremely pleased that the debate so far, contrary apparently to the expectations of the newspapers, has been one long paean of praise for the Press. Because I am connected with it and because, apparently, the Press is more critical of itself than its critics, perhaps I may be forgiven—because I believe the British Press is easily the best in the world—for assuming that its virtues are so obviously well known that I may concentrate on what I regard as its faults. I have the belief that I can do this with impunity, because last Sunday the Observer said that in this debateLabour Peers would produce sound, worthy ideas about reform of the Press which nobody will take any notice of.So quite obviously, since not a word of what I say will be printed, I can speak with some freedom. Therefore, I propose to address my remarks exclusively to those noble Lords who control the 517 national newspapers and newspaper Chains, who, I hope, will at least read Hansard.
My Lords, may I interrupt to ask whether the noble Lord has observed any newspaper proprietors among noble Lords here this afternoon?
§ LORD STONHAM
I would hasten to add that, although I am a director of a company which runs two small newspapers, I do not class myself as a Press Lord. So far as I am aware. I am the first person with even these minor qualifications who has so far got up to speak—which in my view, and I am sure in the view of your Lordships, is a most regrettable circumstance.
Having heard the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, in a most stimulating speech, I think I must include Mr. Thomson now among the Press barons, as indeed he did. Although perhaps one may share the apprehensions of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, about the monopoly position which is apparently building up, I would ask him to have regard to the possibility that in his inmost heart his fears are exaggerated, because it is the wrong conclusion. I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that, so far in this debate, such criticism of our Press as has been made is exactly the same as that which President Nasser made last month of the Egyptian Press. For example, he told his editors that they must regard their papers as a mission and not merchandise. He demanded less crime reporting, fewer sexual scandals and gossip stories. He said that the men in the villages were not concerned with these things, but were interested in the problems affecting their own lives. Nasser did not urge his editors to ensure freedom from political bias, for the obvious reason that there is only one political Party in Egypt, and that Party controls the newspapers. In fact, in announcing—from the highest motives, of course—the destruction of the freedom of the Press, he was compelling his newspapers to do all the things which your Lordships have urged our newspaper proprietors to do voluntarily.
Personally, I utterly reject a shackled Press. It is fatal to democracy, and I prefer even our popular Press, warts and all. But true democracy imposes obligations which a free Press 518 should honour; and, unhappily, in my view, I think it has not been strongly expressed in the debate so far that in some newspapers these obligations are utterly disregarded. Indeed, as I see it, the warts grow largest on the faces of those who have the greatest power to remove them. I do not consider that the so-called freedom of the Press, which many noble Lords have claimed this afternoon, exists in this country today. My noble friend Lord Silkin mentioned that we did not have an independent Press, but that we did have a free Press. I disagree with that statement. In a true sense a free Press does not exist in this country today
I say that for a number of reasons. The first is that the greatest safeguard of a truly free Press is a large variety of independent newspapers, expressing different viewpoints. As we all know, since the war several national dailies, and scores of provincial dailies and weeklies, have died because they could not pay their way. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, mentioned that he was not going to discuss the provincial papers because they were doing marvellously well. They may well be, in the sense of being first-class—I should be the first to agree with that; but unhappily they are not doing so well in other directions, because, as I have said, scores of provincial dailies and weeklies have died since the war.
The main cause of their difficulties is the high cost of newsprint, which accounts for 30 per cent. of a newspaper's production costs. I do not apologise for introducing this technical fact. It may be mundane, but, unfortunately, it is very true, and far more potent in the lives of newspapers than many of the things which have been mentioned this afternoon. Today, newsprint of standard quality stands at the disgraceful and arbitrarily high price of £58. 10s. a ton. You may ask: Why, if the newspapers are suffering, is there not a great outcry? The answer is simple and unfortunate. There is no great outcry because the Beaverbrook Press, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mirror—in fact all the big circulation dailies—either own mills or forests in Canada or have interests in Reed's or in various Canadian papermills. Only today in The Times, on the City page, there is a report of the speech which was made by Lord Rothermere as Chairman of Associated Newspapers, Limited, at their 519 annual meeting. In it there appears this paragraph:The Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company has increased its dividends by 50 per cent., which rate should be held without difficulty.I do not think we need any more confirmation of the truth of the statement I have just made. Indeed, it is humbug for these noble Lords to get together in the Press Council to talk over minor points when they have other people by the throat and will not let them go.
My first plea to the noble Press Lords is that, in the interests of a free Press, they must loosen their grip and use their undoubted power to bring the price of newsprint nearer to the cost of production, so that their competitors are no longer held to ransom. I make this plea because although most newspapers are commercial undertakings, they are also public institutions serving the public; and the country cannot afford any further reduction in the number of newspapers. They are a public necessity and if, therefore, their prosperity and continuance are further affected it will be a public disaster. It is also a private disaster when a great newspaper—or even a provincial newspaper—dies, because it usually means that a team of first-class journalists, who have put their lives into it, have lost their employment on a shrinking market for their services. To-day, most provincial dailies are in a bad position, so bad that they would be compelled to shut down if they were not subsidised by evening papers which are run off the same plants, and which are doing quite well. In the national field any newspaper with a circulation of less than 2 million has a struggle to live. The Sketch, the Daily Herald and the News Chronicle are fighting for their lives, not because of any comparative demerit, but because of comparatively low advertising revenue. The Sketch continues because it is backed by the Daily Mail; the Daily Herald is carried by Odhams, and the News Chronicle, easily the best popular daily paper, which constantly strives to present the truth objectively, survives on cocoa, although I hope it will soon benefit from its television interests.
My noble friend Lord Silkin said that he did not know the effect of advertising on the Press, or what effect it had on policy. It has a very remarkable and 520 unhappy effect. The difficulties of the newspapers I have mentioned arise from the startling difference in advertising rates and revenue above and below the 2 million circulation line. The advertising agent wants, and can get, national coverage from a very few papers, and that is one of the reasons why, for example, the Daily Express advertising revenue is twelve times that of the Daily Sketch, a paper with well over one million circulation. It is a fantastic and absurd situation, but one which undoubtedly is threatening the lives of these newspapers. Irrespective of one's political opinions, I say that it would be a democratic disaster if they failed, and all because the Press have virtually been taken over by the advertising agents. They demand large circulation or they will not place orders. So, with some exceptions, it is commercial managers, not editors, who are the real controllers of newspapers. Even where it is laid down that the editor has responsibility for the printed word—and the most reverend Primate was insisting that the editor must be responsible; and of course we all agree with that—if he is dominated by the commercial manager, who in turn is dominated by the advertising agent, it means constant pressure to cheapen standards, efforts to produce good news stories or exclusive stories, even at the price of good taste and private grief.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
May I intervene to recall that the Royal Commission on the Press said in its findings that it had conclusive evidence that the editorial columns of newspapers are free from pressure by advertising, and that the revenue which newspapers derive from advertising is the best possible guarantee of their integrity. Perhaps the situation has changed since then to some extent, but that is a remarkable statement which I should recall to your Lordships.
§ LORD STONHAM
As the noble Earl said, that statement was made some years ago, and what I have just said is within my knowledge correct; and I am sure it must also be within his knowledge. I say, therefore, that in these circumstances it is small wonder that we have papers which do, unfortunately, pander to the lowest common denominator of public taste and who imagine that their circulations soar as their necklines 521 plunge. I am certain that they are wrong, and in the small newspapers with which I am connected we have proved it. We have acted in the belief that people are hungry for a newspaper which tells the truth and which they know tells the truth, and we make it clear that our advertisers must tell the truth. If we make mistakes we say so, and we print them and print the apologies. And we have found it pays financially. In eight years circulation has doubled and advertising revenue has increased eight-fold.
The greatest agent in building public confidence has been the code of conduct which we published and which guides our reporters and editorial staff. I say that a code of conduct is the greatest need in the British Press to-day. It is an absolute essential for a truly free Press, and I strongly urge the noble Press Lords to urge on the Press Council the immediate setting up and enforcement of such a code. If it is going to be enforced it must be by a subcommittee of the Council composed of journalists; it is no earthly use having a managers' council or employers' council or owners' council; that is no good at all, and it is one of the major reasons why the Press Council has been less effective than it otherwise would have been.
May I mention some of the instructions issued to our editorial and reporting staff by the company with which I am associated? We tell them:Headlines must be justified by the news they tell and not be abstracted 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 horn 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.We tell them:Don't pull punches, but he 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 cases where your duty of conveying news to the public is interfered with.522Reject 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.The journalist and the newspaper proprietor has no licence to lie from anyone. Of course, I am perfectly well aware of the journalists' code, and we all know that if you want to keep something private perhaps the best, but somewhat unfair, way is to tell a journalist in confidence, for he will never betray that confidence. But I am not talking now about the journalists' code but about a code for the whole Press, and that is what we need if we are to free our newspapers from the advertising stranglehold which prostitutes a number of them.
Your Lordships may have seen in the newspaper this morning that Sir Alec Guinness is reported as having refused half a million pounds sterling offered to him for advertising beer on American television. He said:I turned it down because I am an actor and I want to act, not advertise. I worked in an advertising agency for eighteen months and always longed to be an actor. I would never now want to become an advertiser. I would rather die in the gutter than give up acting.I wish our Press Lords would say "We are not advertisers. We will not be dominated by advertisers directly or indirectly. We are newspapermen and we would rather die in the gutter than see our papers prostituted in that way."
I am sure the Press Lords could devise something much better than the suggestions I have just put for a code of ethics. If they are determined to use their influence the Press Council will produce a suitable code. At present it has no standards; it is merely building up case law by trial and error. Amongst all other professions—doctors, lawyers and architects—there is a commonly accepted code of professional conduct. Yet the Press, which exercises a greater influence than any other profession, remains unprincipled. I do appeal to the noble Lords to act in this matter, because in the long run self-control is preferable to any other form of control. This has 523 surely been proved up to the hilt by the quality papers which have set up various forms of trust; and let us be thankful that they are not only doing a wonderful job but are doing well.
There is the Observer trust, for example, which my noble friend mentioned whichaims to reflect and guide public opinion in the way of good citizenship, and for the newspaper to pay its way";which gives the editor the full and independent right to run the paper and which expects himNot to be neutral on controversies, nor tied to one political Party.Then there are the Scott Trustees, who run the Guardian for the public good rather than for private profit, but who do sufficiently well at both to have become recognised as a "privately controlled public institution"; The Times, whose top-level committee must have regard to its best traditions and political independence, and national rather than personal interests, eliminating questions of personal ambition or profit; the Spectator, whose committee is charged with identical duties; the Economist, whose trustees must have regard to national rather than personal interests. Not all of them guarantee editorial independence, but without exception they report objectively and pursue a reasonably independent line.
Is it too much to hope that the noble Lords who control the Daily Express, the Daily Mail and others will be moved to set up similar trusts, so that their great newspapers will one day be fit to join the ranks of the other national institutions and true public servants that I have just mentioned? No one doubts their patriotism, their love of country, or their desire to further its greatness and the prosperity and well-being of its people. But consider how ill they use their great powers to further these great aims. An example is the reporting of debates in your Lordships' House. However important, if it is a serious subject not a line appears in any of our newspapers other than The Times, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and the News Chronicle. The Times and the Guardian contrive, with considerable skill, in understandably small compass, to present every day a balanced account embodying, all the points made. The News 524 Chronicle, in much smaller space, will present the main argument. The Daily Telegraph, by careful selection and omission, gives a report but a biased one, ending, unhappily, with a list of names of those who also spoke. I hope that Mr. Thomson, now that he has taken over the Daily Telegraph, will end that unhappy practice.
My Lords, I think my noble friend is mistaken. I am sure that Mr. Thomson has not taken over the Daily Telegraph.
We were told that Mr. Thomson had taken over everything else, but not the Daily Telegraph. It is the Sunday Times.
§ LORD STONHAM
Well, if Mr. Thomson has not yet control over the Daily Telegraph, at least one may hope that my words will not go unheeded by those who do at present own it, because if our words are not considered fit to be printed, at least our names might be left undisturbed.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend again, but when one has spoken surely it is better to see oneself described as having spoken than to have no mention at all. The latter is the ultimate humiliation.
§ LORD STONHAM
That is entirely a matter of opinion. I am not speaking personally in this matter, but in a debate where perhaps 12 or even 20 noble Lords have spoken and extracts are given from the speeches of three or four, and at the end, after many speeches in which no doubt valuable observations have been made, it says that Lords So-and-so—perhaps listing ten names—"also spike", to my mind that is the ultimate end. But if other noble Lords prefer it that way, then of course they are entitled to their opinion.
§ LORD FRASER OF LONSDALE
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to ask him a question? I do not disagree with much that he says, but does he read William Barkley's article in the Daily Express, and can he really, ay that that paper does not report Parliament? It is my opinion, after long experience, 525 that it is one of the best informed and factual Parliamentary reports that we have had in our time.
§ LORD STONHAM
The Daily Express is one in particular which I had in mind when I said—and I say it again—that except for the one occasion when we debate a subject in this House which, in the opinion of their editors, is calculated to titillate the appetites of their readers, they do not print a word. That includes the Daily Express and it also includes Mr. William Barkley, who, however well he may report a column, does not normally report your Lordships' debates. But if we do raise a subject such as I did a few weeks ago, which the editors think would interest their readers, then, of course, we get the full treatment. Even the Daily Mirror, which does not normally bother about our debates, reported this one in a heavy black letter editorial. They actually reproached The Times, which they referred to as "the Peers' own Paper" for not having reported the words which the noble Baroness, Lady Ravensdale of Kedleston, had used in that debate. That, I think, was the last word. But if they report us only on such occasions and do not report us when we have serious objective debates which are, I think, of value, it is small wonder that the general public get a completely distorted picture of your Lordships' House. Perhaps as the Press Barons never come here to learn the truth, they may suffer similar delusions. That may be the reason. Let us hope that this debate will correct them.
Then there are their incursions into sheer journalistic dishonesty. A major example was the reporting of the debate in another place on April 27, on the abandonment of the Blue Streak missile. No one who heard or read that debate could be other than aware that it was an Opposition triumph over a dumbfounded Government. Yet, by virtually suppressing what was actually said and printing instead Lobby correspondents' interpretations, which showed such remarkable uniformity as clearly to reveal a guiding hand, the Press created a completely false picture. This has been relentlessly developed so that to-day no one would imagine that, whilst the Government's defence policy lies in ruins, Labour this week will publish a 526 defence policy which commands the overwhelming support of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the T.U.C. and which will soon command a majority in the country.
In much the same way the complete failure of the Government's agricultural support price policy has gone completely unreported. The increasing industrial confusion with which we are now faced, and our slipping exports compared with those of other countries, are also ignored. Hard news abounds, but as far as the mass circulation dailies are concerned we might as well be living in a vacuum. After all, if there is space to fill, there is always Mr. Gaitskell. It is astonishing that the noble Press Lords constantly forget that you cannot fool the people all the time; that people know that in their newspapers the news is cut, slanted and suppressed to serve particular political and personal interests, and for that reason they have no real influence in matters that count. But what a pity! What a waste! What a tragedy for Britain! That is why, although, as I said, they will not print a word, I still say to the noble Lords, "Alter your ways. Work for a really free, clean Press. Tell your editors, If it's true, print it; all of it'." Let us get rid of the warts. The British Press is still the best in the world, but it is not nearly as good as it could and must be. Let us work together to make it an instrument for prosperity and good in our country, and something of which we can all be justly proud.
§ 5.57 p.m.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, first I must declare an interest, in that I am connected with some provincial newspapers. I had originally intended to concentrate entirely on the aspect of the decline of the provincial newspaper, and how disastrous its continued decline would be compared with that of the national and London newspapers, in regard to which I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. I must say that as to a lot of his speech I did not agree. I think he gives advertisers undue influence. Certainly in our group we should not dream of being influenced in any way at all by any advertisers except in regard to the size of our papers, which obviously depend directly on the amount of advertising revenue that is received. 527 If you get a lot of advertising revenue you have every opportunity to make a bigger and better paper, although I am not at all sure that there is not a limit to when a big paper gets necessarily better.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl? I was referring only to mass circulation dailies and to national newspapers. I entirely agree with him about the provincial Press, which is quite free from pressure.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I should like to interrupt just to say that no pressure would ever be acceptable in regard to influencing our editorial in any way. I make that point truly and conscientiously. I speak as a commercial or ex-commercial manager.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, in the last newspaper survey which was made in May, 1958, the following figures were given for England and Wales—unfortunately, Scotland is excluded, partly because, apparently, the figures are more difficult to obtain, and partly because they would not be so up-to-date anyway. The number of housewives in England and Wales is, I believe, 14,700,000. Housewives were interviewed in this particular survey because it desired to bring out newspapers with regular readership as opposed to newspapers which are bought by someone going home, to read on the train. Of these homes 80 per cent. took a national morning newspaper and 81 per cent. took a provincial daily or weekly newspaper—which in the majority of cases was an evening newspaper. It is interesting to know that 90 per cent. took national Sunday newspapers. When the survey was made, national newspapers totalled only nine, including the Guardian, but two of these (the Daily Mail and the Daily Sketch) are in the same ownership and therefore, one imagines, may tend, in essentials, to have the same policy.
Two of the national papers together went to over 50 per cent. of the homes. The Daily Mirror went to 32 per cent. and the Daily Express to 23 per cent. The others worked down from the Daily Mail (13 per cent.) to The Times and Guardian, which, I regret to say, go to 528 only 1 per cent. of the homes. I believe, therefore, that noble Lords will agree that this is a fairly frightening aspect of readership of newspapers in this country. What is even more frightening is that those figures are for all age groups. If we take just the 16 to 34 age groups (the youngest one in which housewives are found) the Daily Mirror figure then goes up to 43 per cent. while that of the Sunday Pictorial (which is in the same ownership as the Daily Mirror) is 49 per cent. So very nearly half the newspaper reading public in this country are to a certain extent influenced by the Daily Mirror-Sunday Pictorial group, which I feel is bound to give people an impression in regard to what is news that would be different if they were to read more serious newspapers.
In contrast to this trend towards monopoly in the national Press, the provincial Press still has immense diversity. Here there are over 400 publishing centres and they publish between 1,100 and 1,200 newspapers. This figure includes weekly, evening and provincial morning newspapers—although now there are very few of the latter, only about eight or nine. Even where a provincial newspaper is connected to a national one it is nearly always the policy of that national newspaper to give the provincial newspaper complete editorial freedom and complete freedom to comment as it likes upon national as well as local news. Thus people who are sufficiently lucky to be able to get a completely independent provincial newspaper get a new outlook on their news; and I believe many noble Lords would agree that in many cases it is a somewhat better outlook.
The contrast between the provincial and the mass-circulation national Press is not only in ownership but in the attitude to journalism and its content. The mass-circulation national Press in recent years has tended to regard its function as less that of giving straightforward news and more that of providing entertainment and interesting information. Hence its fashion for gossip columns, features, cartoons and also so-called "comment", often very biased, on political news. I believe that less news is given partly because of the coverage by the B.B.C. and television and partly because of the fact that international news now seems to be of very limited interest to the vast majority of the people of this country.
529 The provincial Press still regards it as its task to publish straightforward news, and, as its duty to the community, at any rate so far as we are concerned, to provide a platform for people of all shades of opinion. At the moment the stronghold of the provincial Press is the evening newspaper, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has said. Owing to time limitation an evening newspaper cannot effectively compete more than 25 miles from where it is printed, which means that the mass circulation London evening papers cannot compete very effectively outside the London area. For instance, in Oxford, which is some 52 miles from the centre of London, the London evening newspapers sell very few copies, entirely due to the fact that their racing and cricket scores and, on Saturday during the season, their football scores, are not nearly so up to date. Their Stock Exchange news is not so late. Those are the things for which people now look in their newspapers, rather than general news; because they get the latter from the wireless and television.
The situation of the provincial newspapers would become very alarming if improvement in the techniques of distribution in evening papers made it possible for London evening papers to compete with provincial evening papers in their own towns. This is not as farfetched as it might sound, for in ten or fifteen years' time we might find the Evening Standard and the Evening News doing their distribution to more remote places by helicopter, which would completely solve their problem. It is a very terrifying thought that in ten or fifteen years' time it might be possible for an evening newspaper printed in London to be distributed in the centre of Birmingham within about three-quarters of an hour, and I feel that the whole position of provincial evening newspapers needs consideration in this light.
I should like to endorse what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, about the price of newsprint. The price of raw materials seems to go continuously dawn and the price of newsprint seems to go continuously up, which seems very strange to me, and not at all the sort of economics that I was taught at Oxford. But no doubt there are other special reasons for it.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, although provincial newspapers are deeply rooted in their own communities, if they have to meet competition from the national Press then, frankly, I do not think they will be able to afford it. The noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, spoke of a journalist on a provincial newspaper who did not know that Iran and Iraq were different countries. The provincial newspapers cannot afford to pay the salaries of top-flight journalists who have been all round the world and have degrees and would know that Iran and Iraq were different countries. They cannot afford to buy the sensational stories that the national Press buy or the strip cartoons bought by the London evening newspapers, except when they are about a year out of date. These provincial newspapers simply have not the circulation or the advertising revenue to enable them to do that; and they never will have. They are designed to serve towns of only 100,000 to 200,000 people and they very soon reach saturation point in their sales.
I believe that it would be a disaster if those newspapers were allowed to become much more reduced in numbers and possibly disappear completely from certain districts. I believe there are already one or two districts in the more remote parts of the country which have no regular local paper, not even a weekly, which really covers their area. If that came to pass in the districts immediately around London and Glasgow, then I personally believe that local communities would lose a lot.
On a completely different subject, I should like to draw attention to one curious fact about the newspaper industry which has been touched upon by other noble Lords. There is no managerial body which represents the whole industry in London and the provinces; and there is no one professional body which all journalists can join to maintain standards of pay and conditions and a code of ethics. In fact, it seems that there is no one professional body of which London editors are even members and through which they cart talk for the profession. The London publishers do not even play an active part in the scheme for training by which the provincial Press 531 in the industry is now trying to supervise and raise standards for recruitment and education. I cannot understand why the London newspapers do not play a part in this. Whether it is because they think they have such high-class journalists that they do not need to, or whether, as I suspect, it is because they nearly always "pinch" the best journalists from provincial papers by offering them more money the moment they have had this training and show any signs of ability, I do not know; but I feel it is probably the latter.
In conclusion, I should like to say that, in my opinion—it is purely my opinion—if there is an increased trend towards national monopoly it seems likely that this will be accompanied by more so-called popular and angled, if not sensational, journalism at the expense of the historic function of giving news and guiding serious opinion. Therefore I think it is a matter of national importance to preserve the diversity of ownership and opinion and those standards at which a free Press must aim.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, in his very interesting speech the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop drew a parallel between the Press Council and the General Medical Council. Incidentally, the noble Earl, Lord Arran, made one of those little journalistic slips when he referred to it as the General Medical Council of the British Medical Association. It has, of course, nothing to do with the British Medical Association, which is a professional medical association. This is a statutory disciplinary body. The General Medical Council is a very old body—it has been going for 100 years—and the Press Council is a very new body which has been going for about five years; and I do not think it has done badly in five years. I think it is beginning to make a very worthy and good impact.
As to the actual facts about its composition, the most reverend Primate wondered whether there were any laymen on the General Medical Council. I can tell him. There are 47 members of the General Medical Council, of whom three are laymen; and in effect the General Medical Council is run by the 532 medical profession. There are 25 members of the Press Council, fifteen representing the editorial and journalistic side of the Press and ten representing the managerial side of the Press. That is the nature of it and I do not think it matters a great deal if there are not any laymen on the Press Council. I think that it is working all right and that it is beginning to function as it should.
The picture which the most reverend Primate painted of the Press was very different from the picture which the noble Earl, Lord Arran, painted when he opened the debate—this very interesting debate—with a very stimulating and commendably brief speech. I am sure we all enjoyed it. But the picture the noble Earl, Lord Arran, painted was one of a rather disgruntled, miserable, neurotic profession, I felt; and I do not think that is altogether justified. One would not have guessed from the picture Lord Arran painted, when he was speaking of the dangerous monopolistic tendencies of Mr. Thomson, that the group which employs the noble Earl is itself considerably bigger than the group which Mr. Thomson controls. The group of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, includes Associated Newspapers who control the Daily Mail and the Daily Sketch, the Evening News and the Sunday Dispatch. They have a chain of evening and weekly newspapers: they have a paper of which I am sure most of your Lordships have never heard called Weekend Magazine, which has a circulation of one million. I believe and is very like Reveille, with which some of your Lordships may be acquainted—I hope not, but you may be. They control a newspaper manufacturing company; they are a major partner in Southern Television. So I thought it a little hard that he should start accusing Mr. Thomson of monopolistic tendencies.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I was very conscious of that when I was speaking of this aspect, and I tried to make it plain that there are far bigger groups. I was very careful at the end, in warning against a newspaper octopus, to speak of "any man"—by which I meant exactly that. I know we are as vulnerable as anybody else on this score. But if I was going to speak forthrightly I thought I should do so as a private person.
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, I am delighted to hear that the noble Earl is looking after the beam in his own eye. He also referred to the fact that it is supposed Mr. Thomson will now buy the Glasgow Herald.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I did not say that. I think that my words were, "Suppose that …"; and the supposition is not impossible or idle. I did not say, "It is supposed …".
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, following the noble Earl's remark I took the trouble to get in touch with the editorial director of Mr. Thomson (Mr. Thomson himself is in Canada) and I understand that there is not a word of truth in this story. Indeed, the major shareholder in the Glasgow Herald is Mr. Hugh Fraser, who is the main proprietor of Harrod's, I believe, and would be most unlikely, in any circumstances, to sell the Glasgow Herald. So if the staff of the Glasgow Herald have been worrying about their fate I think they can cease to worry.
§ LORD TAYLOR
They are. There seems no likelihood of any change. I belong to the rather more optimistic school about the British Press. I think that in the past twenty years it has been improving and steadily improving. I remember just over twenty years ago, in April, 1938, when the first great scientific study of the Press was published by "P.E.P."—and a very valuable document it was. Then, twelve years later, there was the Royal Commission on the Press and their Report; and I think the seeds those two great documents have sown have started to grow.
If we compare the pre-war Press with the papers to-day I think that, paper for paper, there is no doubt that we are getting a better and truer picture of the world around us than we used to. The clichés are far rarer than they were, and the bland assumption that all was well in the best of all possible worlds has disappeared. So far as the picture is still distorted, it is where the prejudices of a proprietor are still forced upon his technical staff, and that is where things always go wrong. Owning a newspaper, 534 or a group of newspapers, is more than a simple industrial exercise in a free market. Of course a newspaper has to be a sound commercial proposition or it will inevitably cease to exist, and I cannot see what is wrong with running a newspaper to make money. That seems to me the only possible way of running a newspaper in a free society. But it is, or it ought to be, also a form of public service; and a newspaper and its proprietor have a duty to give the public not just what they want and will pay for but what they need in order to lead a full, free, decent democratic life.
One can contrast the newspaper with the doctor, just as the most reverend Primate was contrasting the Press Council with the General Medical Council. People go to the doctor because they are ill, and the doctor's duty is not to dish out soothing syrup and kind words to increase his clientele; it is his duty to investigate and examine them properly; to apply to their problems his volume of professional knowledge, and then to tell them the truth about whether and how they can be cured, and for what price, in terms of money and discomfort and, sometimes, pain. The doctor who puts his pocket before his professional duty is a disgrace to his calling. But in doing his duty to his patients he will receive a good and proper reward.
If one substitutes for the doctor the newspaper proprietor, the editor, the feature and specialist editors, the "subs", reporters, librarians, photographers, commercial and advertising managers, and all the other people who play a part in making up a newspaper, one realises that they have all to make a living, but their job is really as much a public service as the work of a doctor. Their efforts to inform, entertain and educate us shape the patterns of our minds, and of our thinking, and so they help to shape the society in which we live and the lives that we lead. They can do their job honestly or dishonestly, and often the margin is blurred and hard to see. I remember that 22 years ago, when I joined the editorial staff of the Lancet (which your Lordships would not imagine was a very sensational paper), the editor, Dr. Egbert Morland, said to me, "Always remember, Taylor, that in journalism interest is more important than accuracy". I did not know at the 535 time that he was quoting Voltaire. That, indeed, is one of the dilemmas of journalism; how to tell the truth, with all its "ifs" and "buts", and yet to keep the picture clear, simple and interesting. A fine example of how to do this, and of well-deserved success in return, is the New Scientist, which is a really first-class paper, and a first-class exploitation of a national need.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty and the greatest temptation comes when a journalist has to deal with things unpleasant. The temptation is not to shirk the duty, but to play to the louts at the back of the gallery, in the knowledge that there is a bit of "the lout at the back of the gallery" in all of us—as, indeed, several noble Lords have said. The noble Lord, Lord Strang, particularly, I think, was stressing that there is a little bit of the psychopath, as it were, in all of us. The noble Lord, Lord Strang, made a most interesting speech on this point, and a most valuable one. He wondered whether the stressing in the Press of violence, rape, seduction and all the rest of it enabled people to "blow off steam", or whether it made them worse people. He suggested, I think absolutely rightly, that it is a problem for the sociologist and the psychiatrist—at least, I think the psychiatrist, or the social psychiatrist—to find out what really happens.
I think we do know a little about it. We know that by over-stressing violence it is possible to produce imitative crimes of violence. I think there is no doubt that that does happen, and the Press is then responsible. I am fairly sure, though I cannot prove it statistically, that screaming with righteous indignation over homosexuality or strip-tease sells the very thing they are purporting to attack. By giving banner headlines to one foolish politician or one unofficial strike, and by playing down the less sensational good sense of responsible leaders or the peaceful settlement of a hundred trade disputes, the papers can injure the workings of democracy. They can discredit the union and the responsible person, and that is a very serious responsibility and a very terrible thing to do. A journalist has got to tell the truth about wickedness and foolishness without fear or favour. 536 That is comparatively easy: the difficult part, where his own immortal soul is in danger, is how he tells it. All the more honour and credit to the great majority of proprietors and journalists who succeed in exercising a responsible discretion in dealing with the 10 per cent. of failures of our society!
Now it is easy for us to criticise some of the newspapers and some of their activities. We represent but a very small part of their potential readership, and we have our needs met, and I think superlatively met, by the quality newspapers of this country—The Times, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Scotsman, the Sunday Times and the Observer. I think we need never look at the rest; and I must confess that, apart from occasionally looking at the News Chronicle, I do not very much look at the rest; and when I do I am frightfully bored. It is a very pleasing thing to see how good journalism in these papers is reaping an increasing reward. It is an amazing thing that the Sunday Times has a circulation of nearly one million. It seems that people of all social classes are buying this great, hefty document, and are ploughing through its immensely long but, I find, very interesting articles. I think it is a great tribute to the British public and to the newspaper proprietors. But the majority of British readers need something quite different. They are practical, sensible people, usually good at their jobs, enjoying sports and gardening, knitting, dress-making and cooking, home-decorating and T.V. They just have not got the time for a lot of reading. And, let me add, they do not take their newspapers too seriously. Indeed, I think they might get a good deal more pleasure and profit out of the papers if there were more in them to take seriously. They treat them as they deserve, and they flow off their backs as ducks water, most of this muck and rubbish.
The job of producing a good popular daily or Sunday newspaper is, I think, even more difficult than producing a quality paper. The process of selection, simplification, humanisation, and sometimes dramatisation, goes on all the time, with one eye on one's rivals and the other on the circulation and advertising revenue. I think the Press has still to find the right formula for the popular daily and the popular Sunday 537 or weekly paper. Indeed, I think there may be a fortune waiting for the man who sets out to give the ordinary people of Britain a quality newspaper of their own, doing in print what the B.B.C.'s Light Programme has done in sound, which is very good indeed.
One has only to listen to "Radio Newsreel" any night of the week to see how good popular journalism can be. Today, more and more people are wanting to be informed as well as amused or titillated, and in the long run, light, frothy, personal gossip, sexual and even intellectual titillation, police court news and political abuse start to get boring. If the type is always big, it ceases to register. I should say the rot for this type of news has already set in. Indeed, I think the more carefully the producers of this kind of paper study the tastes of their consumers the more will they find that they are a little out of date and out of touch with the likes and dislikes of the cheerful, sensible people who are growing up to-day. In fact, there is evidence that some of them have already begun to appreciate this.
Now, my Lords, I want to look at newspapers from another angle for a few minutes—that is, from the point of the people who write them. Journalism, and particular daily journalism, is a very tough job indeed. Always the work has got to be done at speed. News must be collected, sieved, weighed and presented with clarity, punch and accuracy—all in the space of a few hours. And each day the process is repeated. I know of only one job of comparative toughness—that of the general practitioner. Both work day and night, evaluating, deciding all the time; both have limited facilities for checking and confirming—and that is why, I am afraid, both sometimes get things wrong, particularly the details; and both carry a great measure of responsibility.
Journalists often have a bad name with the public. I must say that I am proud to have been a journalist for eight years, and I am proud to have a brother-in-law, a father-in-law and a son in journalism. I think that journalism is a fine profession; but we have to make it better still for the future, for the quality of our newspapers must depend in large measure on the quality of the men and women who make them. When my elder son told me that he wanted to be a 538 journalist, I sought the advice of my old friend Mr. Percy Cudlipp. He told me that the best place to learn the job was Kemsley Newspapers. He said, "Don't be put off by the political colour of the Kemsley Press. That is the place where they have taken the trouble to try to build a school of journalism." My son, goodness knows how, got in. I am pleased to say that I have checked up, and I find that under Mr. Thomson the policy of the group in the training of journalists is to continue. Indeed, as Mr. Hamilton, the Editorial Director of the group, has said, five editors in the twelve years their training school has been running is a pretty good dividend.
I trace the improvement in our newspapers over the last twenty years to the fact that journalism is at last beginning to become a real profession. A profession must be learnt and taught. Of course, apprenticeship is a fine way to learn a trade. A hundred and four years ago, when my grandfather was fifteen, he was apprenticed to the workhouse doctor at Macclesfield, and before he qualified he delivered 1,000 midwifery cases. It was an extraordinary state of affairs, and it was not good enough. We have found in medicine that the business of simply training by apprenticeship only is not enough. It is the same in journalism. So, six years ago, a start was made, and the Press set up a National Council for the Training of Journalists. It still operates on a shoestring. It has a staff of only three, and it is all the more credit to Doctor H. C. Strick, its director, who is doing fine work and setting the kind of ethical standard I know we should all like to see in journalism.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, has asked why some of this training is not done in London. The reason given (I do not know whether it is an excuse or not) is that the London papers are so busy and so rushed that they do not feel they can give proper time to the training of youth. There may be something in that, it is only fair to say. But it is equally fair to say that they "cream off" what has been trained by the provincial journal. It could not happen otherwise. It is the same in every industrial training scheme. Anybody who runs an industrial training scheme knows that he is hound to lose his best fellows to rivals, but he gets back from somebody else's training scheme some very good 539 people in exchange. That is what is happening in the building trade, and it is what will happen in journalism.
§ LORD AMWELL
My Lords, it may be helpful if I interrupt my noble friend. He was speaking about an improvement in the conscience of journalists. May I give him one memory of mine? At my age my memory is pretty extensive. When the Pall Mall Gazette changed from a Liberal paper to a Conservative one overnight, and Lord Morley left the editorship, (the whole staff, almost to the office boys, resigned, in order later to found the Westminster Gazette in opposition. Can the noble Lord imagine a whole staff of journalists doing that to-day?
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, I certainly can if they had the newsprint available. Unfortunately, as my noble friend Lord Stonham and the noble Duke said, it is impossible for any group to start a new paper in the conditions as they exist today, which are so different from those of the old days.
§ LORD AMWELL
Apart from starting a new paper, the point is that they resigned. I cannot see journalists doing that now.
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, it is all very easy if you can do something else, but if you have to give up your job for ever it presents people with an impossible situation. It means opting out of one's profession. However, I do not think that this ethical comparison which the noble Lord has brought in is valid.
For technical reasons most of the training of journalists is done outside London. Of the 14 provincial mornings, 11 have juniors enrolled for training; and so have 51 of the 65 provincial evenings and 195 of the 400 provincial weeklies. A very good show, too! I think that that is excellent. The provinces are an excellent place to learn most of the trade, but some of it cannot be learned outside London. I should like to see every trainee in journalism seconded for a three-months' period to London as part of his course, to see, for example, the tempo of a national newspaper, to learn something of Parliamentary reporting and of the significance of Parliamentary news and much else which can be learned 540 only at the centre of affairs. But such a three-months' course would need careful planning and supervision, and it would certainly cost a lot of money.
As important as training is the selection of people to be trained. There are only about 300 vacancies in the British newspapers every year, and there are ten times as many would-be journalists. The selection is really one of the highest functions of management. It is a high-level job and should never be left to the junior personnel officer, just because he is picking junior people. On these young men and women everything will depend in the future. It is exactly the same with the selection of medical students. After the war we in medicine made the mistake of attempting a purely academic selection. It was a disaster. We found that in too many cases we were training second-rate students. The dean of one of our great medical schools told me that he has 60 places to fill each year. Five he fills from the Commonwealth with coloured students, five with brilliant chaps—the ten 'O' and five 'A' level variety—and 50 for something different, boys and girls with the capacity to do the job and who are not burned up by excessive swotting. I should add that the dean said that he more often found what he wanted in the public schools than in the grammar schools.
The features he was looking for were exactly the same as those of a good journalist: first, stamina and guts—the capacity to stick to it, to survive disaster and to come up smiling on the other side ready for more: secondly, enthusiasm for the job, whether journalism or medicine, and for life as a whole; thirdly, personality, the capacity to impress without being aggressive and to deal with people with honesty and integrity. Note that the capacity to write comes last on the list. You can learn to write just as you can learn to do shorthand or use a stethoscope. This is not to belittle the "A" level candidate or university entrant to journalism. The Thomson group have recruited 51 graduates in the last seven years from 500 applicants. For much newspaper work a degree is a tremendous advantage. But the winner may be the "O" level boy. I was taught by the great Sir Percy Sargent, one of the founders of modern brain surgery. He had a terrible struggle to matriculate; 541 I do not think that he ever got it, and in those days one could not qualify for medicine without the "matric".
In education for journalism the scheme is still only in its early stages; but so far as I have been able to see it, it is intelligently planned. Transfer from department to department is done at three or six monthly intervals, so that the boy or girl sees the work of every different part of a newspaper and works at it and sees how it is done. It is done with great care to develop those facilities in the young writers which need to be developed. There is class teaching, and that is good, too. It could be improved with more variety, more seminars and tutorials from senior staff of the journal. The difficulty is that it is hard for the seniors to produce a paper every day and find time to do the job. I suggest that the simple answer is a modest fee for every class conducted and more sending out with senior reporters to see how they do the job—field learning, in fact. There is much to be said for holding in London final examinations by the Council for the Training of Journalists.
One hopes, too, that there will be more in the way of post-graduate opportunities for journalists, just as we have post-graduate opportunities in medicine. Training for journalism is a specialised and costly business. It can be done only by big corporations, and unfortunately this means big provincial groups; and it is equivalent to asking medicine to run and pay for their own medical schools. The big nationals have already helped financially, and I hope that they will help a good deal more. One has to remember that they are the beneficiaries of all this training. I hope that they will help in men, as well as in money, by sending some of their staff writers down to the provinces to conduct classes and seminars for the juniors doing the job. I also hope that the big charities and foundations will not look askance on the need for more money for training journalists. It is a duty to play our part in training journalists for the Commonwealth and Colonies. If we do not, somebody else behind the Iron Curtain is ready and waiting, and we have done perilously little to train Commonwealth journalists so far.
My Lords, you cannot be a good doctor unless you are in love with medicine. 542 You cannot be a good journalist unless you have printing ink in your veins. Journalism is a miserable way of life for anyone who is not suited to it; and it is not the best paid way of life, anyway. But for the born journalist it is the only way of life. The journalist is subject to greater temptations than most of us. His surest shield is a firm professional ethic based on a thorough, decent training. In the long run, investment in training of their young writers is the best guarantee for the future which the newspaper industry can make.
EARL ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, in view of the fact that there are only about half a dozen speakers left on the list, it may be for the convenience of the House if we carry on and conclude the debate rather than adjourn for dinner.
Can those who are going to speak during the dinner period be guaranteed that dinner will still be there when they have finished?
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
My Lords, the noble Earl who initiated the debate made a most disarming speech, but he admitted that there was an increasing number of the British public who had got "fed up" with the Press, and I must admit that I am among those. Other noble Lords have already raised a number of the points which I had in mind to raise, and the comments I make are by no means of universal application. It is easy to find fault with almost any newspaper if one tries hard enough, but the faults I have to find are the betrayal by the Press of their trusteeship of the English language and their trusteeship of the morals of the nation.
First of all, they have degraded the English language into which the revised version of the Book of Isaiah was translated; the tongue in which Shakespeare wrote, in which Gibbon wrote and in 543 which Sir Winston Churchill wrote; and they have produced a jargon which they have inflicted on the people most of which is entirely of journalistic origin and bears no relation to the language which the public wish to talk. Further, everything has to be described as a sensation, a drama or a tragedy in order to gain attention. Adjectives are thrown about, and we have heard today how little educational qualification there is for most of their reporters. It is a pity that they were not brought up under one of my old teachers who told me that when I had written anything, the first thing to do was to look through it and see which paragraph I could omit altogether, and the next thing was to look at every adjective and scratch out those which did not add to the sense of the document. There are almost as many adjectives used in the popular Press at the present time as were used by the lesser Victorian poets who contributed to the Hymns Ancient and Modern. In that case the adjectives, I think you will find, were often merely to make a rhyme, and that does not apply in modern journalism.
The fault is probably at the top. The newspaper proprietors no doubt give their editors instructions to increase their circulation and to make more money. The editors, in their turn, brief their reporters and their contributors to produce more sensations, and every single thing, however simple it may be, if it is considered worth reporting has to be magnified and distorted. I suggest that one of the means of making the Press much more readable would be to go for understatement rather than overstatement. I have been searching for outstanding cases of understatement which I could quote, and, curiously, they nearly all come from the great military commanders. Julius Caesar reported veni, vidi, vici—which the modern schoolboy would pronounce quite differently. The great Duke of Marlborough (I have not his exact words) said: "Please tell Her Majesty that her troops have gained a glorious victory. Monsieur Tallard follows in my coach." The great Duke of Wellington described the Battle of Waterloo as "A devilish close thing." And the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Tunis, reported on the completion of the operations in Tunis in a few words which could be put on a 544 postcard. I feel that journalists have done a great harm to the British language by the glorification of overstatement. They do harm also by concentrating attention on nonentities and referring with disrespect to everybody, including the highest and the lowest.
My comments on this do not refer only to the popular Press. One of the most reputable and, I may say, grammatical papers in the country did a great deal of harm at the time of the Bank Rate Tribunal. I had to attend that Tribunal. My evidence was not called because similar evidence had already been given by so many people. It emerged that the whole affair arose because one of our leading dailies had put in one of their ordinary publications that there had been "inspired selling". The rest of the Press, thinking that this paper had got hold of something special, went away like an undisciplined pack of hounds and would not let the thing go. The result was that the representative of the leading paper was put in the box and asked about "inspired selling", and he had the humiliation of having to say that the word "inspired" meant nothing. If he had been brought up by my old teacher he would have cut out that word as not meaning anything at all. It just shows that it is not only the small but the great that can fall into those errors.
On the question of their trusteeship for the morals of the nation, I may say that some years ago I had an experience which I greatly disliked of being under the same roof with one of the "tops" in one of the popular papers, and he made a great part of his conversation the distinction between the fact that his papers gave entertainment and other papers gave news. The entertainment appeared to be a mixture of murder, sex, legs, a racing reporter and large headings. I very much doubt whether that is calculated to do the morals of the nation any good. The result of all this is that there has grown up an adulation of that sort of stuff. The argument on that occasion appeared to be (I did not follow the whole conversation; a lot of it I could not listen to) that the British public demand that stuff I submit that they do not demand it; it has been inflicted on them.
545 Many of our countrymen lead drab lives. Whether they work all day in the City or all day in a factory, or whatever they do, a great many people lead very drab lives, and on the way home or on the way to work they like their minds titillated. They live in an era of make-believe, in which they can take vicarious pleasure out of other people's adulteries, and the young sparks can take vicarious pleasure out of the acts of thuggery which we see going on. It will be within the recollection of many noble Lords, as is in mine, that some years ago the reporting of divorce cases became so pornographic—what the butler heard, what the housemaid saw and that sort of thing—that the Government of the day clamped down on it. Ever since then, divorce cases have been reported in only the briefest possible terms and under strict control. I submit that this glorification of crime could easily be stopped if the only report that could be made would be, "The following have been convicted for offences against the laws of this country and against their fellow men" followed by the name of the criminal, the crime, the sentence and any remark the judges made.
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl? I am sorry to have missed his earlier observations. In divorce cases how would that work out, where no crime had been committed?
§ EARL FORTESCUE
I am not familiar with the regulations concerning it, but there is a restriction on what can be published, which has been for the benefit of all concerned. I am all for the liberty of the Press, but I think licence is very different from liberty. I should be inclined to suggest, as a number of noble Lords have already hinted, that there should be a governing body analo2011s to that which controls the doctors and the lawyers. We also have a Fine Art Commission. That governing body, to my mind, should be able to grant to individual journalists a licence which had to be renewed every year and which, on transgression, could be endorsed or cancelled, just as a motor driving licence 546 can be. It would make the journalists think, if there were a possibility of suspension of their licences for five years. Similarly, I do not see why the newspapers themselves should not be licensed. They could be licensed for whatever circulation seemed appropriate, but if they offended there should be the possibility of reducing their licence for the following year by anything up to 10 per cent.
§ EARL WINTERTON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl? Of course, he realises that he is now getting very near advocating what goes on in totalitarian countries.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
I can only say that I do not feel in the least totalitarian about this. I am all for complete liberty, but let us have liberty without licence.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
There are two sorts of licence, and I need not go into the distinction. Finally, I should like to say a word which has already been said by numerous other speakers, in favour of the local Press. I am certain that my neighbours who read the Evesham Journal have much nicer and healthier minds than those who read the popular Press of London.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl who initiated this debate for allowing me to take part in it. I have little excuse for taking part, and the only excuse I can think of is that at school literature was the only subject in which, though I say it myself, I really shone. I have occasionally contributed various articles to papers and I tried during the overseas information debate in this House to emphasise that the future for the battle of the world would be the battle for men's minds. I have always considered that the pen is far mightier than the sword.
We have heard of the great power of the Press. The Press in this country are without doubt one of the most powerful organisations, if not the most powerful, 547 in the realm. Their power for good or evil is immense. They can make or break anyone if they choose to do so, and if they all combine they can turn any Government out of office. There are to-day in this country millions of people whose only form of literature is their daily paper, and owing to the fact that nowadays everyone can read, or is supposed to be able to read, the power of the Press must surely be greater than it has ever been in its whole history. These millions of people who read their daily paper, and probably nothing else, are bound to have their opinions of general events formed by the paper they read. In fact, if we really boil it down, public opinion is to a great extent formed by the Press. Personally, I think that, having this great power, it is a feather in the cap of the Press that on the whole they use it in a responsible manner. It is very easy to criticise any organisation, and we have had to-day some severe criticism of the Press. Some is justified, but some of it is definitely not justified. The chief criticism that we have beard is that some papers distort the facts, and indulge in sensationalism and general bad taste which has an unsavoury or bad influence upon the public. But as has been pointed out today, newspapers are commercial enterprises which stand or fall by their sales and the amount of advertising they can attract.
I think it was the noble Lords, Lord Stonham, and Lord Silkin who thought that for newspapers to be commercial undertakings was really all rather wicked. But if one had them bound by a form of non-profit-making trust it would surely make them rather dull. A great section of the British public apparently do prefer triviality and sensationalism to serious information, and one cannot wholly blame the Press for this. Obviously, any paper is out to increase its circulation, and the Press are not paid to educate the public. I think it fair to say that every paper tries to be ahead of its readers and thereby raise their intellectual standards. But if a newspaper gets too far ahead of its public its circulation is bound to fall. Was it not the great Lord Northcliffe who said that, while it is damaging for a newspaper not to give the reader what he wants, it is far worse to give him what he does not want. The Report of the Royal Commission on the 548 Press is perhaps ten years out of date, but it has a great deal of sense in it. If I might quote the findings of the Commission on this point, they said in Chapter 15, paragraph 550:It is true that the newspapers with the largest circulation are not necessarily those most deserving of praise, but readers would not buy the mass circulation papers unless they enjoyed them: it is clear, therefore, that these papers do make a positive appeal.My Lords, if a member of the public is fit to vote, fit to choose his administrators, surely he is fit to choose his newspaper. He can buy The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail. But if he prefers to buy some more lurid paper can we really blame the Press? I think it is rather unfair to do so.
Noble Lords have complained of the distortion of fact in the Press, but we have also heard that a daily paper has to be produced every 24 hours, and it is often extremely difficult for an editor to establish the facts with 100 per cent. accuracy in the time available. If an editor were to refuse to publish anything unless he was 100 per cent. legally sure of the facts the majority of his news would be a week out of date. The answer to this problem I do not know—probably there is not any answer; only, I presume, greater efficiency, though whether that is attainable I rather doubt. The danger is, of course, that if the matter is in dispute or is of vital importance, a journalist's opinion becomes taken by the public as the truth, and then harm can be done.
All of us, I think, agree that the Press form part of our political machinery. We have heard here how the Press to a great extent are propaganda agents. My Lords, we have partisanship throughout all our political life, but provided that the political bias is not too severe I personally can see no harm in it. If we are to have a free Press giving all shades of opinion there is bound to be partisanship. I hope that one day the bias may be taken out of news, and that any bias may appear only in the leading article and other feature articles. I have always felt in England that as we are a democracy the public should have every opportunity to form a balanced judgment of public affairs. Without such judgment democracy can never give its best, but unless all sections of the public have access to unbiased news they can never hope to have balanced judgment.
549 I hope that the Press Council will, as I am sure they are doing, work towards the goal of unbiased news. I should also like to see the Press Council work to forge an arrangement where every paper, and especially daily papers, devotes a certain percentage of its space to serious news. Some daily papers frequently ignore the serious and the normal news to introduce something trivial which is new and exceptional. For instance, if were suddenly to rush out of this Chamber and jump into the fountains in Trafalgar Square it would probably be headlines in several papers and would exclude important news. But it would be an event of such triviality that it ought not to be reported at all.
While on this subject of news value of the exceptional and the human kind, I think it should be made more dangerous for newspapers to destroy someone's character for the enjoyment of the public. I have heard it said that the object of a newspaper is to "comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable." The private lives of the famous and notorious are sometimes pried into in the most shameless fashion—perhaps not as badly as in America, but often we run them a close second. The American Society of Newspaper Editors published a code of ethics which contained the admirable principle thata newspaper should not invade private rights or feelings without sure warrant of public right as distinguished from public curiosity".Unfortunately, the Society never stated when it considered "private rights" ceased to be inviolable or when "sure warrant of public right" begins. Without such a ruling the principle, like so many other principles, is, in fact, just empty words. I hope that our Press Council will build up a code of ethics which will lay down a definition of private and public rights in this matter.
I, too, associate myself with other noble Lords in wishing to see the Press Council having the same powers in regard to newspapers as have the Law Society, the Jockey Club, or the British Medical Association in their respective spheres. Journalism should become a profession in which all have to qualify to an increasing extent, and in which one could be struck off for unprofessional conduct. As has been pointed out, we now have the National Council of 550 Journalists who are training young journalists on a three-year basic course, at the end of which there is a proficiency test. I understand that this proficiency test demands that they have a knowledge of British life and institutions. I also understand that over 80 per cent. of all junior journalists have enrolled in this course. I should like to see this training made compulsory.
I suppose it is impertinent of me to suggest this, but I should like newspaper proprietors not to interfere with their responsible editors unless they are themselves equipped, through a thorough training, to do so. Obviously, a proprietor is entitled to lay down the political policy of his paper, but I think be should leave the running of the newspaper, the choice of news, to the editors. I think the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, that to a great extent advertisers control the Press. But Lord Stonham did not, I think, introduce any evidence to prove this; and the ruling of the Royal Commission was against it.
One thing is certain: that whatever abuses the Press may lay itself open to, it is essential that the Press remains free and uncontrolled by any Government fetters. Any form of Government control would bring abuse of a far worse character. There is no doubt that the majority of the British newspapers are of a very high standard, and we must look to these quality newspapers, and to some of the popular daily newspapers, to curb, through the Press Council, the more irresponsible and vicious elements of the Press. I believe that Sir William Haley, the editor of the Times, has expressed his faith that the best kind of journalism will become stronger still; and I am sure he is right. But let the Press take heed lest the less good kinds of journal also become stronger. It would be a terrible disaster if ever any Government were compelled in the public interest to introduce controlling legislation.
Before I end I should like to quote the evidence of a certain Press Lord whose papers have a great circulation. When he was asked what principles he had in mind for a big popular daily newspaper he said:It should deliver the news without any bias and in a lively manner, in a manner that will satisfy those who want to read news and at 551 the same time to know that they are getting the news truthfully and honestly, but told in a lively manner and free from any element at all of anything that would be likely to interfere with or corrupt the morals of the people.That was stated in the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Royal Commission on the Press. If all our popular daily newspapers would put into practice those sentiments, and not regard them as just empty words, I feel that no-one in the Realm would have any qualms about the Press.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ LORD GREENHILL
My Lords, handicapped by a diffidence which I sometimes think is rather outmoded, I did not put down my name on the list of speakers, and therefore I am greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, for being permitted to precede him in the course of this debate. I felt urged to come into this debate because, like other noble Lords, I feel strongly about the Press and should like to express, however imperfectly, what I really feel about it.
As your Lordships will remember, the noble Earl, Lord Arran, who opened this debate, dealt with the matter under three headings. The first was the apparent trend to monopoly which was being obtained by Mr. Roy Thomson; the second was the labour relationship in the newspaper industry, and the third was the contents of the Press to-day. With your Lordships' permission I shall touch briefly on each of those, but I should say that until I heard the name of the Glasgow Herald mentioned I did not realise that I had an interest to declare; because I have a holding of shares (a very small one) in that company—an investment, I hasten to add, which was not too profitable; but there it is.
When I first saw the very general terms in which the Motion was put, I wondered whether the noble Earl, Lord Arran, had come here as a kind of apologist for the industry as a whole, or whether the Press Barons, who are conspicuous by their absence to-day, had asked him to say whatever he could say in favour of the Press in their absence. I confess that I am a little disappointed by the line he took. One of the first thoughts that occurred to me was that if a group of people, as for example the Labour Party, have a cause 552 for grievance against the Press, it is that in a Press which is privately owned (although nowadays, with the spread of unit trust investment, it may be said to be widely owned) there has been almost a complete bias against that particular political Party. One would have thought that a newspaper, as distinct from a political Party, should give an indication of the things those people say in support of their Party—with criticism, if you like—just as it would give an indication of its own policy, again with qualifications where they apply. My own feeling is that in that alone there has been a kind of bias which is contrary to what the spirit of the national Press should be.
In the first part of the noble Earl's speech, however, he indicated that this man was coming, as it were, as an interloper into the Press and acquiring a monopoly. I confess that I am sorry to see this growing tendency of the Press to fall into fewer and fewer hands; but I am afraid that that is part and parcel of the Press trend. I must emphasise, as was emphasised by my noble friend Lord Taylor, that although this is a privately-owned enterprise, it is a public service, and that whether or not the owners find it to their interest, it is their duty, justifying their existence, that they should treat their product as a national service and not merely as an investment for dividends to be earned. So that, while I do not like the trend that is taking place, I think the fault still lies with the Press as a whole, and that they should think that what they are giving to the public is not something they find they can sell but something that the public requires as one of the many services the people demand.
In regard to the labour aspect, I would say that I cannot pretend to have any deep knowledge of the relationship between employers and employees, but in so far as my personal experience is concerned I may tell your Lordships that some years ago I was asked to be one of a small number of independent assessors in a dispute between the owners of a newspaper and its employees, the employees being members of an organisation known, I believe, as "Natsopa". I am bound to say that, however great the differences between the two sides, the expression of their 553 differences was made in a calm and reasonable way, although forceful, too, which impressed the onlooker (I was an onlooker) with the reasonableness of their approach. The outcome, I am glad to say, was favourable to both sides. But that experience alone suggested to me that, whatever criticism the noble Earl had in mind, at least in that instance it did not appear to be justified.
The third item is one with which the noble Earl dealt in the course of his remarks and one about which I am bound to admit I feel very strongly indeed. I do not want to appear to be histrionic in this matter, but I have with me a sample of a newspaper account of a debate that took place in your Lordships' House on the subject of night clubs. It was obviously a matter of considerable interest. I do not intend to read this report; it has already had more publicity than it deserves. But when this sort of thing is permitted and exhibited as the normal; when publicity is given to one sentence which a noble Member of your Lordships' House said; when one sees the language in which it is clothed, and when one realises that this was not a report of the debate or even of part of it on the day following the debate but a report which appeared after the other reports of the debate had been given—in other words, they were having two bites at this rather nasty cherry—then I say that, although the Press may claim full freedom, surely we have reached a stage at which some kind of pressure on that freedom should begin to be exercised.
My reason for saying that is this. What I fear about the present-day presentation of news is its effect upon the great masses of our people. When we talk of the Press we are not speaking of a homogeneous body; when we talk of journalists we are not speaking of a homogeneous group; and when we are speaking of newspaper readers we have not in mind a recognisable unity of people for whom one caters as though they were one mass. There are all the variations. And any criticism I have to offer is not against newspapers such as those already mentioned in this debate over and over again—and there is no harm in repeating names of papers like the London Times, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, and there are others; but there are, unfortunately, 554 a number (I have referred to one horrible example) which obviously pander to all that is undesirable in the minds and thoughts of the people.
Although, as the noble Lord, Lord Strang, tried to emphasise, definite evidence is not yet available as to what the real effect is, my complaint is that, whatever a scientific analysis may show, the real danger at the moment is that those people who would regard with shame the stories that are, as we know, in circulation, see these things reported in the manner in which they are exhibited in this section of the Press and begin to regard that as the normal attitude towards these nasty, shameful things in which people indulge, and that becomes the normal attitude towards these matters. That is, I think, the great Danger which is being done to the minds of the public. I feel also, as the noble Earl, Lord Fortescue, feels, that the language is being degraded because the general public are copying as the rightful kind of language the sort of sensational stuff one finds in the section of the Press to which I have referred. It is something that can only be described as caddish and bullying when sonic inane matter is posted on the front page in letters two inches or more in size.
I am not asking that section of the Press to ignore the profitability of their enterprise, but I do say this. When we realise that we are talking now of a population of something like 30 million readers, of whom the great majority, although literate, are not very discriminating in what is presented to them, who are made to read not what they want to ask for but what the owners of that particular section of the Press think will appeal to them, then I think there is an obligation on that section of the Press which they ought seriously to undertake in order to see that they do not contaminate—as they are doing—the outlook of the people of this country. We know, and social psychologists can tell us, that you can make people almost think what you want them to think; you can make people believe almost what you want them to believe, if you repeat it often enough, if you say it sensationally enough, and if you print it big enough. Therefore, I say that the sooner the Press begin to sense (as, if I may say so, the noble 555 Earl made me think that he himself recognises) and realise there is a growing body of criticism against what they are providing, then the sooner is there a chance that the outlook and habits of our people may be improved with regard to buying the kind of newspaper about which I am now speaking.
I therefore hope that one of the outcomes of this afternoon's debate will be that we shall see changes for the better, and that we shall not be faced with demands such as were published recently under the name of Publish and Be Damned. There is a responsibility which the Press ought to undertake; otherwise they do not deserve the support of the general public.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, I have always been rather intrigued by the definition of the word "newspaper", so I looked it up in the Encycloptœdia Britannica and found that their version is:Any paper containing public news, intelligence or occurrences.What we have to decide to-day is whether our Press live up to those ideals. We have had, thanks to my noble friend the Earl of Arran, a very stimulating debate, although I have my doubts whether anything very conclusive can be reached. I myself am a prolific reader of the newspapers, and that is really my only claim to taking part in this debate. I read regularly almost all the Sunday papers, including the Scottish ones, when I can get them, and most of the daily newspapers. I am therefore reasonably conversant with their styles, their modes of reporting and their attitudes, and can therefore fairly accurately judge their qualities.
My Lords, a great responsibility lies on the general public in this matter. During the newspaper strike a few years back, one of the most often quoted comments on the train on which I travel was, "Thank heavens we have not got any newspapers; I can catch up on reading my paper-backed books". People did not seem to miss the newspapers. That, to my mind, is wrong; it may be a form of escapism: and even now many people are far more interested in the achievements of West Bromwich Albion, or in the winner of the 2.30, 556 than they are in the situation in Tibet, in the conflict within the motor industry, or in the situation regarding German rearmament.
There is an old French saying, "Chacun à son goût", and far be it from me to criticise people who take an interest in the affairs of their favourite football team. But it seems to me to be rather unreasonable to cast on the Press the whole of the blame for the fact that people are not more conversant with foreign affairs. Of course various newspapers have various political biases. If you read the Daily Herald, you get the Labour Party's point of view. I read Reynold's News. I often disagree with it, but I find it, in its way, a stimulating paper. I greatly miss one of their most famous correspondents by the name of Yaffle. I used to read him quite regularly. I believe that a lot of the trouble to-day is that people are politically intolerant. Because they are Conservative, they must read the Daily Mail or they must read the Daily Telegraph, and they must not read the Daily Herald. People who are Socialists say, "Oh, the Daily Mail is a wicked Tory paper", just as Tories say that the Daily Herald is a wicked Socialist paper. There is far too much of that attitude about. I do not think one can blame the Press for that—certainly not entirely.
I have just read that £131 million per annum is spent by the people of this country on the newspapers, and we have heard during the course of the debate which are the most popular newspapers. For my part, of the daily papers I like the Daily Telegraph, the News Chronicle and the Scotsman, which I think is an excellent paper; and of the Sunday papers, the Sunday Times and the Sunday Dispatch, primarily because I enjoy very much reading the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, and also because they have a very well-reasoned City column. I believe that the standard of journalism in this country to-day is not as terrible as has been made out. I myself have been the victim of one of these newspaper gossip columns, and things reached the stage where the matter had to be taken to court. The newspaper eventually apologised, quite reasonably and in full. They paid all costs; and naturally I took no further action. This particular gossip writer 557 has been in similar trouble on several occasions, but that does not necessarily mean to say that the paper is a bad one.
Newspaper reporters, as the noble Earl who opened this debate rightly said, are human beings. I myself have had a certain amount of experience with newspaper reporters, because I speak on political subjects in various parts of the Home Counties, and every now and again a local reporter approaches me. They are always courteous, and I find that if I am courteous to them they are always courteous to me. Something has been said about the local papers. I regularly read two: one is the Perthshire Advertiser. because Perthshire is my home, and the other is the local Hitchin newspaper, because I lived in that area for a number of years, and I still have a number of roots there. They are both excellent local papers; but, of course, they report only local news. One cannot always compare a local newspaper with a national newspaper, because a national newspaper, as its title suggests, has to cover national matters.
I find that, generally speaking, the newspapers are easy to read. Sometimes they are infuriating. The leader of the Daily Express frequently infuriates me as much as the leader of the Daily Herald does; but they have their public, and we must learn to be tolerant. If a columnist writes something that is libellous, the law has ways and means of dealing with it. As to this business of the bias of the Press, all newspapers must at some time or other be biased towards something or somebody. There is no such thing as complete impartiality. What we have to guard against is bias when it reaches the stage of being near the knuckle of libel. We must not forget that a newspaper has its public, to which it must sell itself. The public of this country have a remedy if they do not like a newspaper—the remedy of the boycott. A few years ago, certain newspapers published a great deal about the relationship of Princess Margaret and Group-Captain Townsend. Much of it was in the most deplorable taste. We adopted one very good remedy against a certain newspaper, and a great many people in my district did the same: we boycotted it until they stopped. We hear of boycotts against fruit salad from South Africa or against South African 558 sherry, or against trips to Ireland because of the cruelty to horses. Surely, my Lords, a boycott of our own newspapers which have misbehaved in that way would be more effective. I realise that one cannot boycott a newspaper in entirely the same way as one can a butcher who overcharges for meat, but there are remedies; and the boycott, applied even for a short time by a large number of people, can be effective.
My Lords, what suggestions can one make to the Government in this matter? I can think of only one specific idea—that is, that a newspaper columnist who makes libellous comments should be committed to prison for a long time. Possibly legislation along those lines would do some good. Frequently a fine of a few thousand pounds is not effective, and it may be that ill things really got to that stage the editor and columnist should be punished far more drastically. I have seen, as I am sure other noble Lords have seen, papers from America and the Continent and looked at the pictures on the front page of road accidents, with the dead people shown in close up. Whatever faults the newspapers in this country may have—and they are certainly not without them—they have not faults of this kind. We have a free Press and a Press Council which, by and large, does an effective job. Let us keep our Press free, because if we do not, we are well on the road to totalitarianism.
§ 7.52 p.m.
My Lords, I always follow with close attention the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, and the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard. The noble Lords represent the careful views of the younger Members of your Lordships' House, and if I am allowed, in a senile kind of way, I would say that I look forward with great interest to the progress of both those noble Lords.
During this debate we have had various criticisms of the Press for not reporting our debates more fully. We were told by my noble friend Lord Stonham that they were inclined to commit the outrage of referring to some noble Lords as "having also spoken". I hope that I shall not offend noble Lords if I miss out a number of names, though perhaps I may be allowed to 559 mention the interesting contributions of my noble friends Lord Silkin, Lord Greenhill and Lord Taylor and, if he will allow me, Lord Stonham. Perhaps in all these cases I should say that they "also spoke well". Perhaps that is the best way of lightening the burden after receiving the terrible insult of having been referred to as having also spoken.
We have all been brought into action by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, in his scintillating fashion. I think that everyone felt that he had performed a delicate task in a manner most acceptable to the House. The noble Earl made no secret of his own interests in the newspapers, and other noble Lords have referred to their interests, and I think that I should declare my own interest in the newspapers. References to Mr. Thomson—I think rather unfair and derogatory references—were made by the noble Earl; and I am bound to say that much about my wife's employer since we are putting one interest against another. My wife has the pleasure of editing a column in the Sunday Times, and I understand that the noble Earl edits one in the Daily Sketch. It is not for me to say which is the more glorious occupation.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, that happens to be untrue. I should very much like to have the honour of doing that, but so far nobody has asked me to do it.
My Lords, I am sure that after this debate the noble Earl will be promoted in his chosen profession and in time will edit columns in all the newspapers under the control of the noble Lord, Lord Rothermere. I say that in no denigratory spirit. There was a time, many years ago, when I tried to earn my living on the Daily Mail. I was not so successful as the noble Earl. I used to write what were called "leaderettes"—short leaders—and not many of them. Once I was asked to write one on women's fashions for the year; but being then, as now, ignorant of that branch of affairs, I went to the editress of the women's side and asked for her help. She said that the only thing that mattered was the first line, which she wrote down. It was:Woman this year is going to be very demure, very modern and very 'plain Jane'.560 This was received with acclamation, by Lord Rothermere, so far as I can remember—at any rate, by some very high people—and I was asked to concentrate more or less on that side of the work. But I was not a success and asked to go elsewhere.
Later I sought a living outside this group on a high-class weekly paper. As my first real assignment, I was asked to investigate drunkenness at my old public school. This seemed to have no future in it at all. I gathered that they had never been more sober than they were at that time, and that there was nothing to write about unless I made it up. I think that the whole assignment was designed for a better journalist than I was. I speak, therefore, as one who did not succeed in earning a living by journalism. But my wife has earned a living on the Sunday Times, the Daily Express, and even at times on the News of the World. And, so far as I can see, it does not affect one's character so much as one thinks, whether one writes for Lord Rothermere, Lord Beaverbrook or Mr. Thomson. I think that it leaves the human character relatively where it started. One of my sons writes for the Daily Mail and The Times Educational Supplement. So in this sense I certainly have an interest in the Press, although my sympathies he with the Observer, which has been praised by various orators this afternoon.
We may ask—indeed it has been asked—what are the objects of the Press? They are to entertain, inform, educate and elevate. I know that all these objects have been considered by the noble Earl. I am not sure how many of them he accepts, but I may have gained from him the idea that these were the possible objects. We all realise that newspapers have to pay their way; that, at least, is common ground. In these few remarks before the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, replies, I should like to concentrate on one aspect of this work only, the selection and presentation of news. Undoubtedly this is a difficult question and one which one is bound to illustrate with a few examples, realising that one or two examples taken in that way must be unrepresentative and in one sense can prove nothing.
561 We are told in the Report of the Royal Commission that evidence collected proved that the selection and presentation of news reflected the political standpoint of the paper in which it appeared. In most papers a study of the news columns would leave few readers in doubt about their political sympathies. With the help of my noble leader Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, I have obtained two of to-day's evening papers. One of them has the heading: "Shock for Hugh. T.U.C. decides to put Off decision to July 1", and on the back page: "T.U.C. shock for Gaitskell". We gather that that paper is not very favourable to the Labour Party. That is a reverse for Hugh Gaitskell. The other paper says this: "By the right 'Shun'! Ranks close round Hugh." I think that the Royal Commission might add a footnote, in printing a new edition of their Report, that things do not seem to have changed very much since they brought out their Report.
One could concentrate mainly on distortion for political reasons. Rather I would discuss the question, which has never been settled in this life, of what is "news value". How can a paper be expected to give, in a relatively short space, what is called a fair report of any episode? What is a true report of a debate in your Lordships' House? It is extremely difficult to describe, when you have only limited space, operations which have taken five hours or more, and therefore one cannot expect, especially when speaking at this time of day—eight o'clock—and when one does not happen to be a Minister, to have any chance of immortality in to-morrow's papers.
The only time that I have ever felt a little difficulty (it was too amusing and too small for me to be upset) was that once when I made in this House a joke which, while not improper, was of the smoking room variety—it was well received, and the report put "Laughter" after it; it was during the legitimacy debate—owing to my getting two inches more than my proper ration my name was removed and this was attached to the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. If anyone cares to look up the report of the debate on the Legitimacy Bill he will find this slightly 562 hazardous story attributed to the noble Marquess, whose reputation, of course, can stand that sort of thing much better than mine. Otherwise I have never had anything to complain about.
What is a true report of a public meeting? Obviously it must not contain anything that is untrue; but, equally, it is bound to involve the selection of a relatively few words or views out of a large number that in fact comprise the event. Then we come to the question: What makes a fair report? Even if everything stated in the report actually occurred, does that necessarily make it fair? I am sure we should all agree that it does not automatically follow. In my remaining remarks I should like to take one or two examples from the quality papers, because I regard our Press generally as being at least as good as any in the world; and, speaking generally, I regard our quality daily papers, The Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian, as setting an example to the whole of the civilised world in respect of their standards. That does not mean, however, that they are perfect, and it seems to me that it is up to us to point out their imperfections and to expect them to correct them as best they can.
Let me take one or two examples. What I am trying to put before the House—and this is not a question of Party politics—is that those who propound serious, constructive, long-term, fundamental ideas are going to suffer when it comes to the report of their speeches compared with those who deal in what is, at any rate, more sensational and ephemeral. That may, to some extent, be inevitable, but I feel that at the present time it is carried much too far, even in our quality papers. I will take two examples and then add a word or two at the end. Not long ago, on May 11, the Bishop of Johannesburg spoke at the Central Hall, Westminster, for an hour: it was a packed meeting, and a good many people were turned away. It was a very important and very successful meeting, and about £1,500 was collected. It was his first speech in this country, and it was one which had been awaited eagerly, both here and abroad. I was in the chair, though I hasten to say that I am not complaining about the lack of attention given to my remarks, 563 because, for a reason which your Lordships will understand, I was given rather more than my share. I say that to remove any suggestion that I might be piqued at the lack of space.
If we take the Daily Telegraph, the heading of their report was:Dr. Reeves is heckled. Empire Loyalist shouts at meeting.And out of eight paragraphs, I think it is fair to say that five deal with this alleged heckling. The Times had a heading:Hecklers led out. 2,700 hear Bishop of Johannesburg.I give them credit for the second heading, "2,700 Hear Bishop of Johannesburg". But Hecklers Led Out "shows the sort of note struck in the report. I think it is fair to say that four out of the eight paragraphs, speaking roughly, concentrated on the operations of the hecklers, who were, in fact, very few, and did not cause any serious trouble: there were no blows struck and they were removed at an early stage without any violence. It may be said that that was the news story; and, if so, how could the editors, who knew their job, fail to put out that kind of account? Incidentally, though I am not dealing at the moment with the more popular papers, the Daily Mail (I make this present to the noble Earl, Lord Arran, in view of my own association with this paper) had a perfectly satisfying heading for this meeting, though the rest of the account seemed also to be rather obsessed with this handful of hecklers.
I forget what it was, but it was something like. "Bishop Warns of Violence". It was a political heading and not a reference to the hecklers. The Guardian heading was:Appeal For a Trusteeship. Dr. Reeves' View on South West Africa.Then it gave an entire report without referring to the hecklers. I think that that report was, by and large, in view of the shortage of space, the right account. It is not as if there had been a not or any violence: a few people shouted a few remarks; they were asked to go, and they went. There is a difference between a first-class report and a second-class report, and I think we must take the view—and I do not make a general comparison between the three quality papers—that 564 on this occasion the Guardian showed that The Times and the Daily Telegraph were not quite at their best.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
If there was heckling—and I imagine that there must have been for it to be reported—there could not have been a complete report. Perhaps the Guardian was guilty of a minor sin of omission.
It is a matter of opinion. Three or four people may have been asked to leave, and they did not cause any trouble. I am a nervous man myself, and I can only recall that I was never in difficulty with them. It was not a rowdy meeting and I am sure would not compare with many meetings that most of us must have attended. Therefore I feel that to give the impression to the world that there was this violent antagonism to the views of the Bishop of Johannesburg was a false representation. That is one example.
Let me now take world government, which was touched on earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, opened a debate on what was, in effect, world government, though the Charter Revision Review was the title of it: at any rate, we had a general debate last year initiated by the noble Lord on world government. If your Lordships look at The Times report on that occasion you will see that the House met at 2.30, that one noble Lord was introduced and the House adjourned at 6.24, after about four hours of hard work. The only two noble Lords quoted in The Times as speaking were the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, leaving the conclusion that they each spoke for, I suppose, getting on for two hours and developed their views at some considerable length. I am taking an extreme case, of course, but I think the House will allow it on this occasion. But it was rather amusing that in the account of that debate in The Times the other six noble Lords who spoke—and there were some notable people, like the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, among them, and some smaller fry like myself—were not even mentioned. I am bound to say that that is where I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. I think that some of us would rather be reported as having also spoken; but if anybody had had the impertinence to say that an ex-Prime 565 Minister "also spoke", he might have lost his job.
§ LORD STONHAM
If the newspaper, in its wisdom, does not think what one says is worth reporting, I prefer to be covered in a decent obscurity.
I leave the noble Lord with his choice, but I would always rather have some indication that I had existed.
To take the same issue of world government—and it is the only other point I wish to dwell on—at the Central Hall on June 2 (I do not spend my whole life at the Central Hall, but I was there on Jane 2 as well as on May 11) there was a meeting to discuss the H-bomb and other things. It was a meeting in favour of world government, addressed by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, Canon Collins, Chairman of the Nuclear Disarmament Commission, and Earl Russell, President of the Nuclear Disarmament Commission. I should have said, even before the speeches, that this was a meeting of great significance. We know that if any member of my Party attacks anybody else in the Party, it is headline news. But when you get a real coming together in aspirations, at any rate, of people of eminence who take different views on some of the questions of the day, then I would say that any paper which fails to mention it at all is totally failing in its duty to the public. In fact, to the best of my knowledge that meeting was not referred to in any daily paper except The Times. We must give The Times credit for that, as compared with all other papers. But The Times, I am afraid, handled it in the way which seems to me to be becoming a little endemic. The Times was an improvement on the others, because they veiled it, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, in decent, or indecent obscurity. But The Times had this heading:Five escorted from Meeting. Lord Attlee Heckled.There, again, this heckling theme is biting into The Times, and, with diffidence, I hope that they will deal with other aspects of these important public meetings in future times.
I do not mean to detain the House further. I am not coming down breathing fire and slaughter, and suggesting that this or that should be done to the 566 Press. I am a little like the bank official—he was not working in my bank—who was very worried because he was getting only £750 a year. He went to a social psychologist and said, "How can I get more?" The social psychologist said, "If you are getting £750, I should go to the boss and say, 'I want £1,000, or else'". He walked in boldly to the boss, and said, "I am getting £750 and I want £1,000 a year, or else. "The boss said, "Or else what?"; and the bank official said, "Or else £750 a year." When we are tackling the Press we are a little in that position, and we must influence public opinion and appeal to their better nature. I do not think we could issue dire threats, and that has not been the spirit of the debate. I know that those who lead our Press are anxious to do a worthy job and are anxious to perform, so far as human nature permits, the task which I mentioned at the beginning.
Before I sit down I will give one other example, in a vaguer way, from recent debates. If I seem to keep referring to The Times, it is not from any animus, because their reports of the debates are of the same high quality as those of the Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, and usually fuller. We had a debate in this House on the Albemarle Report, initiated by myself. Anyone who sat through that debate, as I did, will feel that what was most pronounced about it was the religious note struck by a great many of the speakers—not by me at any length, as it happens, on that occasion, but by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, Lady Ravensdale, Lord Craven, the Lord Bishop of Norwich and the Lord Bishop of Southwell, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and other noble Lords. That has a very abiding memory with me. You will not find many signs of that religious note in The Times report.
I think it is worth asking ourselves why religion is played down so much in the reports which are to be found even in the most high-class papers. Is it supposed to be dull, or is it because it is dangerously disturbing and might cause embarrassment, leading to too much controversy? Whatever the reason, I say to those who manage the quality papers of this country and, indeed, to all who run our newspapers— 567 and I must share with other speakers our general pride in the Press—that they could enhance still further their claims on our admiration if they realised that our public is, at bottom, a serious public and, at any rate at their best, eager for moral inspiration and deeply concerned about things of the spirit. At any rate, I believe that those elements in the country are much stronger than is usually supposed. I doubt whether there is one of us in this House, or out of it, of whom what I have said is not true at some point of our lives. The rulers of our Press carry a heavy responsibility, and I hope and believe that this debate as a whole will enable them to discharge that responsibility even better in the years ahead.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (THE EARL OF DUNDEE)
My Lords, in a debate of so much interest as this has been, it would be wrong if no Government speaker were to take any part at all, but I must begin by saying that the Government have no responsibility either for the Press or for the Press Council. If I should be rash enough to comment on any of the most interesting questions which so many of your Lordships have raised, that must not be taken as an admission of any such responsibility. Neither do the Government contemplate introducing any new measures at the present time to restrain excesses of journalism.
But we are always delighted to listen to Parliamentary discussion of the subject. In the House of Commons, the condition of the Press was fully debated both before and after the Royal Commission of 1947, and again on a Private Member's Motion three years ago in which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, made some interesting observations. In the debate after the publication of the Royal Commission's Report in 1949 the late Mr. Oliver Stanley, whose death in the following year was so widely and deeply regretted by everybody, made one of the last of his Parliamentary speeches which was also one of his best and most brilliant. Among the other Front Bench speakers in the same debate—who also spoke quite well!—were the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and my noble and learned friend who now 568 sits on the Woolsack. I do not know why the newspapers have never been debated since the war in your Lordships' House, which usually has so much more time than the other place for this kind of thing. The Press spends quite a lot of time criticising us, and it seems a little discourteous that we should spend only one day in twenty years in criticising them.
I think my noble friend Lord Arran is to be warmly congratulated both on introducing this Motion and on the manner in which he introduced it. He has spoken from his own practical experience in working on one of those great popular national newspapers which are so often the main target of criticism against modern journalism. I think he made his observations with fairness and understanding and he has helped your Lordships a great deal by doing so, particularly perhaps by his timely warning against the dangers of foreign travel without due care and attention. In these popular newspapers with which my noble friend is connected, they seldom report your Lordships' speeches, but there is no doubt at all of the news value of your Lordships' delinquencies, which are quite unequalled by any other class of sinner.
We all know that there are many people who have been worried about the Press for a long time and for more than one reason. It is feared that the growth of combines will concentrate ownership in too few hands, so that the independence of the Press may be destroyed. It is frequently alleged that the journalistic duty of reporting facts objectively and accurately is not observed quite so faithfully as it ought to be. It is widely held that the popular Press, whose circulation is vastly greater than that of the quality Press, devotes far too much of its space to what the Royal Commission describe as triviality and sensationalism, which is dealt with in paragraphs 481 to 496 of their Report.
Whatever I may be able to say about any of these things must be subject to the qualification that Government interference to improve the standards of the Press would be a far greater and more positive evil than any of these rather ill-defined and by no means universal imperfections which we are all accustomed to notice in our newspapers. The concentration of ownership was one of 569 the chief matters into which the Royal Commission was directed to inquire. As your Lordships probably know, the Commission reported, first, that they did not consider chain ownership to be undesirable in itself, and further, that the concentration of ownership was not great enough at that time to prejudice either the free expression of opinion or the accurate presentation of news, or to be contrary to the best interests of the public. That was eleven years ago.
Since then there have been certain changes which have been referred to by my noble friend Lord Arran, although the actual changes which have occurred are nothing like so sweeping as those which the noble Earl appeared to apprehend. The Daily Mirror has bought the Amalgamated Press and Odhams has bought Newnes—changes which affect mainly magazines; while the Kemsley newspapers have been bought by Mr. Roy Thomson. The principal change is the substitution of Thomson for Kemsley. These changes do not constitute any radical alteration in the data upon which the Royal Commission based their conclusions. But at the same time, as some of your Lordships have pointed out, the financial difficulties of newspapers with a small circulation have continued to increase. A number have gone out of circulation, most of which were, however, weekly or monthly papers.
It has become practically impossible to start a new paper and exceedingly difficult to continue an old one unless you have already a very large circulation or vast capital reserves, greater than those which are usually available to any ordinary individual. Expenses have gone up very much, including, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, the cost of newsprint, which is now about six times as great as it was before the war, although I am told that the quality of post-war newsprint is different from what it was before the war, so that the price comparison may be misleading. The price agreement which had been in existence for some time between the members of the leading manufacturers of newsprint was put on the register of the Restrictive Trade Practices Act in 1957. The noble Lord has no doubt observed that a month or two ago the price-fixing agreement was abandoned. That happens more often than the 570 hearing of a case by the judges. It saves them a great deal of time.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, if the noble Earl will allow me to say so, although it is true, as I mentioned, that the average price for standard quality newsprint to-day is £58 10s., it was £60 in 1957 and £57 in 1955. It is still far too high.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
It was £58 10s. before the abandonment of the agreement, and it is too soon to say whether the scrapping of this price agreement will, or will not, lead to a substantial reduction in the price of newsprint. At any rate, a restrictive practice has been abandoned; and, of course, the Government now admit newsprint into this country without any duty and, since 1958, without any control.
I think many of your Lordships who have spoken are particularly anxious about the survival of the provincial newspapers, because a great many of them, especially the daily provincial newspapers, are what is called quality newspapers. Their circulation is comparatively small but their influence on informed and educated opinion in the area where they circulate is comparatively high and their social value is correspondingly great. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, said he was not going to talk about provincial newspapers but he did talk a great deal about the Scottish ones. I think, in fact, we are rather lucky in Scotland. The Scotsman, since it was taken over some years ago by Mr. Roy Thomson, has, in my own opinion, increased both in vigour and independence of outlook, without losing any of its status.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I was slightly surprised to hear the noble Earl refer to Scotland as the provinces.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
Yes, I do not regard Scotland as "the provinces"; I accept the correction. I was not quite sure that my noble friend would make exactly the same distinction and I was allowing for his Anglican attitude towards the position. The Scotsman, I think, has greatly improved. The Aberdeen Press and Journal, of course, was acquired only lately by Mr. Roy Thomson as part of the Kemsley group, but it had 571 been owned by the Kemsley group already for between 30 and 40 years, without, I think, any evident deterioration. The Glasgow Herald, which is owned independently, is in a very strong position in the West of Scotland. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, did not mention one of the most widely read papers in the East of Scotland, the Dundee Courier, whose late proprietor used to work every day in his office until he was past the age of 90, and whose fine traditions are still maintained by his descendants.
Now, really to come to the provinces, in the North of England they have a few good examples. If I may say so without giving any offence, I felt rather sad that the former Manchester Guardian abbreviated its name, because I had always thought that the word "Manchester" was much the most famous and honourable part of its title. Nevertheless, I wish it every success under its new designation. There are dozens—indeed, hundreds—of others, some of them owned privately and independently, some owned by combines, but all with the same financial problems. Occasionally the time arrives when a paper may have to choose between going out of publication or being bought by some combine. I cannot make any comment on the hypothetical speculation of my noble friend Lord Arran about what the Government's reaction might be if Mr. Roy Thomson were to buy all the newspapers in Great Britain. Some noble Lords suggest that he is going to buy the Glasgow Herald, others the Daily Telegraph. We must be careful not to fall into the very inaccuracies for which we are now condemning the Press.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, can the noble Earl tell me what the attitude of the Government would be if Mr. Roy Thomson carried out his promise to produce a paper to support the Labour Party?
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I do not know that he has ever given any such promise, but I think the Labour Party would be very lucky if that should happen. I am not going to answer any hypothetical questions at all. But as for the papers which Mr. Roy Thomson has actually bought, I think anybody who is acquainted with him will be aware that 572 it is his consistent policy to strengthen and develop both the editorial responsibility and the traditional character of the papers which he owns. Your Lordships will probably agree with me that we should like to see Press ownership more widely distributed; and your Lordships may also think it better that a paper should be bought by a combine which seeks to preserve its character rather than that the paper should cease publication altogether. I think that many of the journalistic faults which your Lordships have been discussing this evening arise, at least partly, from keen competition between one group of newspapers, or one newspaper, and another, for readers. That, in itself, so far as it goes, shows that we are far from anything approaching a monopoly in this country.
Some of your Lordships have condemned with great vigour a number of cases of misleading reports by the newspapers, and I certainly have no desire to excuse any instances of that kind. If, however, I might make one extenuating remark about some at least of the omissions and apparent distortions which occur, I would point out that for reasons of space newspapers have to reject about 90 per cent. of the news which comes in, and for reasons of time the remaining 10 per cent. has to be selected and sifted, cut down again and again by one sub-editor or feature editor after another, all in a great hurry, usually in the middle of the night. Your Lordships may well wonder how it is that most of our newspapers attain the fair standard of accuracy that they usually do.
The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has dwelt for some little time on political misrepresentation and distortion. I think I have been in politics for much longer than he has, and one thing I have learned is that all political Parties are apt to feel, when they have a debate, how wonderful their own side has been with the devastating arguments which have completely demolished the feeble and unsubstantiated arguments of the other side; and when on the next day they see in the opposition papers that the powerful arguments of the other side have completely demolished their own case, of course they are always apt to 573 feel that some complete misrepresentation has occurred.
§ LORD STONHAM
If the noble Earl will allow me to say so in regard to the debate arising from the Blue Streak project, I was complaining that the argument deployed by the Opposition was not put forward by the Press at all. The public was not even allowed an opportunity to decide.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I know exactly how one feels about these things. I have here a copy of the Daily Herald of March 9 of this year. On the previous day, the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition did me the honour of asking me a long and interesting supplementary question about inflation and banking. I gave him an equally long and, I hope, not altogether uninteresting reply. The Daily Herald of March 9 reported, as indeed was right, the noble Viscount's supplementary question verbatim; but then they addedLord Dundee remained silent.I think that is even more unkind than saying "Lord Stonham also spoke". That at least has the merit of being true. If the Daily Herald had done me the honour of saying "Lord Dundee also spoke" I should have been delighted. I should not have been in the least slighted or offended at being in the "also spoke" class; but I did think it was a little more unkind to say:Lord Dundee remained silent.Perhaps the thing which is much harder to excuse is the publication of statements in the papers on the strength of evidence which any sensible editor or journalist must know to be insufficient—possibly in the hope that if the statement proves to be untrue it will soon be forgotten, whereas if by some wonderful stroke of luck it turns out to be true, then the paper will get the credit of having been the first to publish an interesting piece of information. Of course, the most famous recent example of that was the alleged bank rate leakage in September, 1957. The subsequent legal inquiry exposed the incredibly flimsy grounds on which so many statements had been made in some newspapers, and the exposure was greeted by a roar of contemptuous laughter throughout the country. 574 Seldom has there been a bigger public laugh in this century. But, of course, it does not do the reputation of the Press any good, and it is a great pity that it should occur.
As for triviality and sensation, I think that life would be exceedingly dull without any trivialities, and even without a reasonable number of sensations. It is a little difficult to substantiate and define a charge of sensationalism. People who care greatly for the English language, like Lord Fortescue and many others, may well feel irritated when they see every day perfectly ordinary and normal events described in newspaper headlines as a "sensation", or as a "shock" or even as a "bombshell". That happens every day. But however regrettable it may be that people should use ghastly language like that, it can hardly be described as a breach of professional conduct. What I think the Royal Commission really meant was the persistent degradation of public taste by encouraging unintelligent ideas of news value. Perhaps I may quote only one passage from the Report of the Commission. It says at page 151:In the popular papers, consideration of news value acts as a distorting medium even apart from any political considerations: it attaches, as we have shown, supreme importance to the new, the exceptional and the 'human', and it emphasises these elements in the news to the detriment or even the exclusion of the normal and the continuing. Consequently the picture is always out of focus.… It results, where it is carried farthest, not only in a debasement of standards of taste, but also in a further weakening of the foundations of intelligent judgment in public affairs.Of course the worst type of sensationalism, as some of your Lordships have mentioned, is the intrusion of the Press into private grief or misfortune, or embarrassment, in order that the public may be entertained by the big headlines and the articles, perhaps partly true and partly imaginative, assiduously written-up around the victims of this publicity, with the most cruel indifference to their natural feelings. I do not know whether newspapers really increase their circulation by this kind of thing. If they do, then of course it is true that the public, as well as the Press, are to blame; and in the long run the only ultimate remedy is wider and better education both for the public and for the Press. I am grateful to all your 575 Lordships who have expressed their views on the question of education. But I think that callous and inconsiderate reporting is not by any means a new thing; it is a very old thing indeed. I may be quite wrong—and it is of course only too easy to find modern examples—but I think that it is not getting any worse, and I was glad to hear that Lord Taylor had the same impression. I think it may even be getting a little better.
The noble Earl, Lord Arran, alleged that the quality Press, too, was guilty of unkind and callous reporting, and he referred to an inconsiderate passage in an obituary notice in The Times. The great disadvantage which The Times has is that all its back numbers, for the last 150 years or more, are readily available to anybody here who takes the trouble to go and look them up. I have looked up a very old obituary notice in a very old copy of The Times. On Saturday, June 26, 1830, in the early hours of the morning, King George IV died. The Times does not seem to have had his obituary already in type (which I believe is the usual practice now), because all it could publish on the Saturday morning was a short notice which read:The long and severe illness of His Majesty King George IV was closed this morning at ten minutes past three o'clock, by death.We shall reserve our further reflections and our remarks on the character of His Majesty till Monday. Flattery cannot reach him now, and Truth may be of advantage to his successors.The following Monday, June 28, there duly appeared in The Times the full obituary of the King who was not yet in his grave, from which I have extracted three very short passages:The Prince of Wales soon acquired … an habit of prodigality the most reckless, unceasing and unbounded … an indifference to the sufferings of others, little creditable in him who so frequently aggravated or produced them.The late King, before his 20th year was supposed to have been initiated in all the vices by which an advanced and affluent, and corrupt society is infested … he led a course of life, the character of which rose little higher than that of animal indulgence.… not one, but a series of licentious favourites, are understood to have presided over the Royal Household of George IV.My Lords, I do not think any modern obituary notice, in The Times or any other newspaper, has been so successful 576 in the avoidance of flattery. I do not know what the Press Council, had they existed in 1830, would have said about it, and I do not know whether The Times would have paid any attention to the Press Council if they had said anything about it. I am certainly not here to defend the Press Council in any way. Indeed, I cannot think of anything which would do more harm to the work of the Press Council than the idea that they are sustained and aided by the Government. I should be quite willing to admit that the Press Council's favourable opinion of themselves is occasionally expressed in terms of excessive adulation; but when the Press Council are condemned as ineffective because they are not always obeyed, I would ask your Lordships to remember the real purpose of that Council and the conditions in which they were appointed.
I believe I am right in saying that at that time nearly everybody took the view that if the Press Council were given statutory powers like those of the General Medical Council the Council would be worse than useless. I am not going to say anything about the question of whether the Council should include some outside members. I think that that is a question on which there is a division of opinion among the Council themselves. The Council were set up by the Press as a purely voluntary body with no power at all to enforce sanctions. The purpose of the Council was simply to restrain undesirable journalistic practices by appealing to the professional conscience of editors and journalists, and to build up a code of ethics by continually expressing their views on the various cases which are submitted to the Council from time to time. That is what the Press Council are supposed to do. Therefore I feel it unfair to say that they are ineffective simply because some of the people against whom the Council have published adverse criticism make rude noises and refuse to accept their decision. And I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, agrees with me on that. I believe that one who made the rudest noises was the editor of the paper with which the noble Earl, Lord Arran, is connected.
§ A NOBLE LORD: The Daily Sketch.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, the Press can never be perfect. If, as 577 some of your Lordships have suggested, its faults are a reflection of the tastes of a public which has been taught to read a great deal without thinking very much, then we can expect improvements in the standard of journalism to come about only as quickly, or as slowly, as the advance of public education. I believe that the time may soon come when the Press Council will be able to exert some influence over the public who buy newspapers as well as over the men who produce them; and I think that in time the Council will be a very great and material help to the vast majority of editors, journalists and owners who want to do their job of presenting accurate news, free opinion, and literary entertainment, to the public in an intelligent and honourable way.
§ 8.47 p.m.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I am grateful to the many noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon, and it has been pleasant to hear the high tributes which have been paid to the Press, particularly by the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. There have been criticisms, of course, but they have been reasoned, as I knew they would be; and the suggestions made, if not always entirely practicable, have at least always been constructive. I am not going to reply to the several appeals made to their Press Lordships. I am a Press Lord without a Press, and I speak for no one but myself.
There is, however, one charge which I must again rebut. That is in regard to the influence of advertising upon the editorial side. In my own experience, admittedly limited, I can honestly say that I have never yet known any single case of an advertiser in any way influencing editorial matter. That danger is watched for and stamped on whenever it looks like happening. I confess that I am a little disappointed by the lack of 578 interest shown in the labour matter which I brought up. I had hoped that there would be support for my appeal for a simplification of the union structure, particularly from the opposite side of the House, but no one except the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, has referred to it—and I think that he rather misunderstood me. I was not in any way criticising the unions but was only suggesting something which I thought might be for their own advantage.
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Earl for one moment, I believe the feeling among some of us on this side of the House is that that is a matter upon which something should be said, if it were going to be said at all, by some trade unionist of great experience. There are such Members on our Benches, but I take it that the noble Earl was not able to get in touch with or persuade some such noble Lord to be present to-day.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, again this is not criticism of noble Lords on the other side of the House. I have put up something which I thought was useful and forward-thinking and which I hoped might have been taken up. Too many points have been made during the debate for me to answer, and I suspect that everybody has already heard far too much from me this afternoon. I am only going to say, unashamedly, that I am glad that I brought the matter up, even at the price of being called "Satan" by the noble Earl, Lord Winterton. I believe no harm has been done and that possibly some good may result from our discussion. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion standing in my name.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes before nine o'clock.