Editorial: Newspaper Monopoly and the Freedom of the Press
Mr. Herbert Morrison faced with a Conservative demand for inquiry into the Government monopoly over wireless broadcasting, parried with an attack on the newspaper monopolies and with the suggestion of an inquiry into newspaper ownership and the influence of advertisers over newspaper policy. There were also vague hints of doing something to stop misrepresentation in the reporting of news.
About the trend towards monopoly in newspaper ownership there is no lack of information. While the circulation of newspapers increases, the number of separate journals decreases, and more and more of the existing local papers come under centralised ownership and control. An official inquiry in U.S.A. discloses the same trend there. “In 1909 there were about 2,600 daily newspapers with a total circulation of 24,200,000. In 1945 there were only 1,750 papers, but their circulation was 48,400,000” (Manchester Guardian, 20/7/46). The same report comments on the fact that very few towns in U.S.A. now have competing papers, and news gathering is virtually monopolised by three press services.
This development is paralleled in both countries by the growth of monopoly in all fields of industry. It is helped by the great and growing cost of launching new journals and by the fact that no national newspaper can possibly pay its way without a huge income from advertisers. The centralisation of newspaper ownership in the hands of a diminishing number of concerns is inevitable and it is idle to talk of governmental action to turn back the clock and protect the little concerns against the big ones. While there is capitalism, that is while the accumulated wealth .of society is in the hands of a small minority, nothing can prevent the owners of small capital from being more or less at the mercy of big business, and still more, nothing can lessen the disadvantage of a small and poor working-class organisation in its efforts to make its views known.
The question of misrepresentation or of the “conspiracy of silence” in the capitalist Press about the case for Socialism is governed by the same basic facts of capitalism. A Labour Government may think it would be useful to the Labour Party if something could be done to secure more and more truthful presentation of that Party’s case in Conservative newspapers, but the Labour Press is no more concerned with giving publicity to the case for Socialism than are the Conservative or Liberal newspapers. Socialist propaganda gets no better show in the Daily Herald, or on the B.B.C. under Labour government, than in the Daily Express or on the B.B.C. under Conservative government. We have, however, always been well aware of the difficulties we are up against and are not discouraged. Capitalism, despite its newspaper chorus of propaganda, cannot forever disguise its evils from the workers who suffer from them.
Mr. Morrison’s statements provoked discussion about the desirability of legislation to interfere with the freedom of the Press. No matter what may be the motive of such suggestions, we, as Socialists, are not in favour of them. Completely unrestricted expression of opinion and discussion of differences is the way to enlightenment. Restriction, even on the plea of preventing misrepresentation, would not help the workers on the road to Socialism. We are no more enamoured of Labour Government restrictions on their opponents than of a similar policy applied by Conservatives. The end of that road is one-party Press dictatorship, as in Russia.
One hopeful feature in recent years has been the evidence, provided by elections, in this country and U.S.A., that the electors sufficiently mistrust newspaper and wireless propaganda to be less influenced by it than they used to be.