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   Chapter 8 No.8

The Free Press By Hilaire Belloc Characters: 6731

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

I say that our interest lies in the question of degree. It always does. The philosopher said: "All things are a matter of degree; and who shall establish degree?" But I think we are agreed-and by "we" I mean all educated men with some knowledge of the world around us-that the degree to which the suppression of truth, the propagation of falsehood, the artificial creation of opinion, and the boycott of inconvenient doctrine have reached in the great Capitalist Press for some time past in England, is at least dangerously high.

There is no one in public life but could give dozens of examples from his own experience of perfectly sensible letters to the Press, citing irrefutable testimony upon matters of the first importance, being refused publicity. Within the guild of the journalists, there is not a man who could not give you a hundred examples of deliberate suppression and deliberate falsehood by his employers both as regards news important to the nation and as regards great bodies of opinion.

Equally significant with the mere vast numerical accumulation of such instances is their quality.

Let me give a few examples. No straightforward, common-sense, real description of any professional politician-his manners, capacities, way of speaking, intelligence-ever appears to-day in any of the great papers. We never have anything within a thousand miles of what men who meet them say.

We are, indeed, long past the time when the professional politicians were treated as revered beings of whom an inept ritual description had to be given. But the substitute has only been a putting of them into the limelight in another and more grotesque fashion, far less dignified, and quite equally false.

We cannot even say that the professional politicians are still made to "fill the stage." That metaphor is false, because upon a stage the audience knows that it is all play-acting, and actually sees the figures.

Let any man of reasonable competence soberly and simply describe the scene in the House of Commons when some one of the ordinary professional politicians is speaking.

It would not be an exciting description. The truth here would not be a violent or dangerous truth. Let him but write soberly and with truth. Let him write it as private letters are daily written in dozens about such folk, or as private conversation runs among those who know them, and who have no reason to exaggerate their importance, but see them as they are. Such a description would never be printed! The few owners of the Press will not turn off the limelight and make a brief, accurate statement about these mediocrities, because their power to govern depends upon keeping in the limelight the men whom they control.

Once let the public know what sort of mediocrities the politicians are and they lose power. Once let them lose power and their hidden masters lose power.

Take a larger instance: the middle and upper classes are never allowed by any chance to hear in time the dispute which leads to a strike or a lock-out.

Here is an example of news which is of the utmost possible importance to the commonwealth, and to each of us individually. To understand why a vast domestic dispute has arisen is the very first necessity for a sound civic judgment. But we never get it. The event always comes upon us with violence and is always completely mis

understood-because the Press has boycotted the men's claims.

I talked to dozens of people in my own station of life-that is, of the professional middle classes-about the great building lock-out which coincided with the outbreak of the War. I did not find a single one who knew that it was a lock-out at all! The few who did at least know the difference between a strike and a lock-out, all thought it was a strike!

Let no one say that the disgusting falsehoods spread by the Press in this respect were of no effect The men themselves gave in, and their perfectly just demands were defeated, mainly because middle-class opinion and a great deal of proletarian opinion as well had been led to believe that the builders' cessation of labour was a strike due to their own initiative against existing conditions, and thought the operation of such an initiative immoral in time of war. They did not know the plain truth that the provocation was the masters', and that the men were turned out of employment, that is deprived of access to the Capitalist stores of food and all other necessaries, wantonly and avariciously by the masters. The Press would not print that enormous truth.

I will give another general example.

The whole of England was concerned during the second year of the War with the first rise in the price of food. There was no man so rich but he had noticed it in his household books, and for nine families out of ten it was the one pre-occupation of the moment. I do not say the great newspapers did not deal with it, but how did they deal with it? With a mass advocacy in favour of this professional politician or that; with a mass of unco-ordinated advices; and, above all, with a mass of nonsense about the immense earnings of the proletariat. The whole thing was really and deliberately side-tracked for months until, by the mere force of things, it compelled attention. Each of us is a witness to this. We have all seen it. Every single reader of these lines knows that my indictment is true. Not a journalist of the hundreds who were writing the falsehood or the rubbish at the dictation of his employer but had felt the strain upon the little weekly cheque which was his own wage. Yet this enormous national thing was at first not dealt with at all in the Press, and, when dealt with, was falsified out of recognition.

I could give any number of other, and, perhaps, minor instances as the times go (but still enormous instances as older morals went) of the same thing. They have shown the incapacity and falsehood of the great capitalist newspapers during these few months of white-hot crisis in the fate of England.

This is not a querulous complaint against evils that are human and necessary, and therefore always present. I detest such waste of energy, and I agree with all my heart in the statement recently made by the Editor of "The New Age" that in moments such as these, when any waste is inexcusable, sterile complaint is the worst of waste. But my complaint here is not sterile. It is fruitful. This Capitalist Press has come at last to warp all judgment. The tiny oligarchy which controls it is irresponsible and feels itself immune. It has come to believe that it can suppress any truth and suggest any falsehood. It governs, and governs abominably: and it is governing thus in the midst of a war for life.

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