Closure of Newspapers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd December 1960.

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Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Woolwich East 12:00 am, 2nd December 1960

That is precisely the question for which it would be worth having an inquiry. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State asked what good an inquiry would do. But these things should be thrashed out for the future. Things are getting worse and a crisis is approaching. This is the kind of problem which should be investigated. Compared with the way in which the Press is organised and controlled, broadcasting in this country is a miracle of fairness and freedom.

Newspaper tycoons can buy and control provincial and national newspapers and change their political standards. Is it more democratic to accept responsibility for creating conditions for free broadcasting and a free television, or to stand aside, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, and let two or three exceptionally powerful individuals dictate what newspapers of What political complexion we should read?

In what sense is it freedom to allow a millionaire, however well intentioned, to buy up or assist in the assassination of anti-Conservative newspapers? The suspicion arises that if the boot were on the other foot the attitude of hon. Members opposite might be different. If we had Socialist millionaires making bids for the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, their policy towards intervention might change.

My hon. Friends have made the point that freedom of the Press is not only different from freedom for millionaires to buy up and control newspapers, but is, in many respects, antagonistic to it. Freedom of the Press entails the freedom of the reader to have several choices of newspaper; freedom of the journalist to write without "angling" by his subeditors and editors; freedom of the editor from the whims of proprietors; and freedom of the proprietors from undue pressure from advertisers.

Mr. James Cameron, a distinguished and successful contributor to the News Chronicle, summed up the situation about the dilemma we face by saying: To be free, a newspaper must be a commercial success; and to be a commercial success it must surrender to business interests that will necessarily destroy its freedom. Again, I hoped that this proposed inquiry would have looked at the whole relationships between the Press and television. This is raised by the continued holding, by the Daily News Ltd. of 21 per cent. of the shares in Tyne-Tees Television. We are faced, first, with the question whether the Press should be tied up with commercial television at all.

I recall the criticism when the first contracts were granted by the Independent Television Authority—criticism voiced especially strongly by the Daily Telegraph—that when we had two powerful empires like the Press and television, two empires quite powerful enough by themselves, it was folly to link them together, and that it was vital that they should stand independently of each other, vigilantly watching each other's activities.

To take a phrase of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), he said that the Third Estate and the Fourth Estate had between them a relationship not of sympathy, but an antipathy, and that this Press-and-Parliament relationship was healthy. I rather agreed with him and I wish the same relationship could exist between the Press, on the one hand, and television, on the other, so that they could watch each other vigilantly and criticise each other independently. Instead, by a direct policy decision of I.T.A., they are quite literally in each other's pockets, and I consider that that is an extremely bad thing for both parties.

I noticed in this morning's newspapers that a Viewers' and Listeners' Association has been founded to promote public service broadcasting. I have not carefully read all the morning newspapers. but those which I have read, and which have no financial interest in commercial television, have reported the foundation of that society, while all those that I have read which have a financial interest in commercial television have somehow failed to report it. The fact is that the whole controversy of the future of television and radio, which is a tremendously important controversy for our political life, has been largely distorted by the deliberate action of the Authority, which tied up the Press with television interests.

I cannot help quoting one of the newspapers with the largest commercial interest in television, one of the most faithful supporters of I.T.V., the Daily Mirror and Pictorial group, which editorially supports the proposition that the third television channel should go to I.T.V.—of course, wholly disinterestedly. I cannot help quoting from a recent Daily Mirror pamphlet, which said: Lord Beaverbrook's newspapers along with many others were interested in the prospects of commercial television in the early days but did not offer for a contract when it came to the point. The Express papers have since been heavily committed to an uncompromising and rancorous policy of proving, often at great cost to their resources of ingenuity, that commercial television does not work. If the Express group did go into television there would at any rate be an interesting exhibition of editorial back-peddling. There is some truth in that, but it is most interesting that the charge of being an interested party should be made by the Daily Mirror and Pictorial group. I cannot help thinking that the I.T.A. policy of tying the Press and television together has made the Press into a gigantic vested interest, one way or another, in the future of television. Even if we accept that there should be this tie-up, it should be a politically impartial tie-up and all types of newspapers should be given their footing in television, yet there is no sign of that happening with I.T.A. Reynolds News was squeezed out as a contractor and now the News Chronicle has gone.

It seems sheer administrative incompetence that a licence should have been granted to the Daily News Ltd. because it controlled the News Chronicle and the Star without there being any proviso that the Daily News Ltd. should go on owning the News Chronicle and Star as a condition of its having its television holding. I was glad that the Home Secretary said: … one cannot get away from the fact that when this contract was made this condition was not laid down, which might have been a very good thing,"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1960; Vol. 630, c. 1308.] It certainly should have been. The contract was given to the Daily News Ltd. because the News Chronicle and the Star were newspapers.

Indeed, it was said at the time, in reply to those critics like myself who argued that commercial television would ruin the weaker newspapers, that, in fact, it would shelter them, because they would be given shares in the new and great commercial venture. In that way, newspapers which were damaged by commercial advertising would recoup themselves from their television shareholdings. However, let us consider what has happened in the case of the News Chronicle and Star. That television holding was not retained by Daily News Ltd. when it got rid of the News Chronicle and Star.

It would be worth asking I.T.A. what contribution the Daily News Ltd. is now making to the future of television in the North. What use is being made of the great expertness of the individuals concerned in all forms of cocoa processing, and so on? Is that very helpful to the future of television in the North? This matter is scandalous and it should be cleared up, and the Daily News Ltd. should be asked to surrender its holding.

I come now to the question of advertising, raised, as usual, and with his usual effectiveness, by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker). I would hope that this inquiry for which my hon. Friend is asking would go carefully into the impact of advertising on the financial structure of the newspapers and on their editorial content.

I think that this kind of inquiry would show that the advertising agencies must share the guilt for the murder of the News Chronicle and Star. The News Chronicle and the Star did not please the agencies, and the hon. Member for Twickenham gave the evidence for this belief. He said that the News Chronicle and the Star had the most appalling failings. They were read, I think he said, by elderly country clergymen, and by people who could not be expected to be influenced by advertising. This is the most terrible attack that can be made on anyone, that he should not be influenced by advertising.