Enquiry into the Press

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The Cabinet discussed a proposal for the appointment of a Royal Commission to enquire into ownership, management and control of the press and news agencies on 3 October 1946.

The following extracts give a flavour of what was said in Cabinet:

A.B

Even so, favour enquiry. Resultg. agitn wd. inspire solution. Evil situation already exists – morale being weakened by daily diet of lies & half truths. Inducing atmosphere of pessimism & daily denigration. Vast area of corruption – salaries of columnists & expenses. Newspaper spends only 12½ % of expendre on editorial staff. Proprietors aren´t newspaper men. D. Mail: compensn paid on change of executives – mainly out of E.P.T. During Squatting – Ev. Standard story re export of prefabs. Must find out who owns newspp. – who the nominees represent etc.

R.S.C.

All this depends on wtr. we have any remedy to apply.

T.W.

a) Wd. enquiry draw out the disgraceful points mentioned by A.B.? Doubt it.

J.

I doubt that. May get a whitewash. We shall then look foolish. Short of hostile xmn, doubt if facts will come out. Witnesses will be squared.

G.A.I.

If we drop this now, and N.U.J. carry their resoln at T.U.C., what then? Surely Govt. can´t admit they have no remedy. Northcliffe was the first to draw attentn to danger of monopoly in Press. Get hold of his pamphlet. Strong demand in U.S. for more informn re U.K.

P.M.

But what remedy? Can you have Freedom of Press w´out Freedom to Lie?

A.B.

Right to lie is democratic right: but public have right to ascertain wtr. speaker is a liar.

E.Sh.

Only way to counter a lie is to emphasise truth. Why are N.U.J. so keen? Because they fear monopolies, as threat to emplt. Their right course is direct action. If they are too weak to do so, R. Commn won´t help them. Right line is to see tht. pp. which do support us get help & informn: and to see we are in posn to counter lies in newspp. Our Party propaganda isn´t good enough: & doubt if Govt. prop. is either.

P.M.

How do you prevent a group getting power – or a paper distorting the news.

A.

a) Doubt if we cd. get the facts.
b) Don´t see how you cd. prevent a man from lying. Reluctant to start this w´out knowing what we cd. do. Wd. prefer to approach this fr. angle of improving machinery for putting our case.

P.M.

Suppose we find K. group controls 100 newspp. How cd. you check that?

A.B.

Ascending scale of taxation on advertising revenue.

P.M.

That wd. hit independent equally with chain newspp. Problem = check multiple ownership.

A.B.

Increased newsprint has gone into advertising vice news.

P.M.

Only new factor is increase in control by one man. Tell me how we cd. deal with that.

H.M.

The nub of the whole case of N.U.J. – reporters can´t tell the truth. New idea tht. you mustn´t appoint a R. Commn unless you know the answer & have a policy. P.E.P. have made a report on this. Reform newspp. or debunk them. Let public know the truth. Strong feeling in Party & movement.

P.M.

May have to hold enquiry now you´ve gone so far. But consequences worry me. "Daily pessimism." Alternative – directions what they are to say?

A.B.

D. Mirror circulation 3½ m. Maintd its independence because shares widely held. Result: managed by newspaper men. What if this was collared by a Press Lord?

P.M.

Risk of being driven into Govt. control.

E.Sh.

Any other form of enquiry better. Select Cttee?

H.M.

Too political.

R.S.C.

Powers to get evce on oath. Only by T. of E. (Evce) Act.

A.B.

Believe a R. Commn can take evce on oath. This shd. be looked into.

P.M.

T. of r. How to secure freedom (i.e. fr. control of interests as well as Govt.)

J.

I will, if asked, try to get a Judge. I have, however, ascertained tht. L.C.J. hopes you won´t ask for a Judge. Must be kept free fr. any suspicion of bias. Hope I won´t be asked to press a Judge to help in something so near the political. Wd. prefer Sir H. Hetherington. General support for that.

H.M.

Names shd. be scrutinised by Cab. – or at least P.M.

J.

Cd. we reserve final decision until we see t. of r. and names and powers.

Taken from C.M. 84(46)(3) - Meeting held on 3 October 1946