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Wednesday, 16 September 1942

Senator DARCEY (Tasmania) . - Honorable senators may have seen in the press recently evidence of an agitation by journalists and newspaper proprietors on the subject of the freedom of the press. Some people do not realize the difference between liberty and license. When I was in Sydney a few days ago, I saw an advertisement that the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald would give an address in St. Stephens Hall on Sunday afternoon. I went along because I knew that Mr. McClure Smith is a man of culture. He spoke for about 40 minutes on the subject advertised. He spoke of Plato, Socrates and Euripides, and of the value which the ancients placed on the freedom of speech. He told his audience that through the centuries the fight for that freedom had been carried on with a considerable measure of success. As the advertisement referred to a forum, I thought that somebody in the audience would ask some questions. As no one else did so, 1 approached the chairman and having said that I had listened with pleasure to the cultured address I asked permission to say a few words. The chairman said that the meeting would end at 4 o'clock, and asked if I could say what I wanted to say in two or three minutes. I spoke truthfully when I said I could not do so. He then said that he would try to provide me with an opportunity to speak at a later date. Subsequently at Tattersalls Club, I met Mr. Brian Penton, whom I know well. He gave me a cordial shake of the hand, and asked whether I was in the Senate when representatives of the newspaper with which he is associated were excluded from its precincts. I explained that, for the first time in my parliamentary experience, I had missed a meeting of the Senate because the aeroplane by which I was to travel from Tasmania did not keep to schedule on account of rough weather. When he asked me if I believed in the freedom of the press, I answered " Yes ". He then asked me to write a letter to his newspaper to that effect, but I replied, "Not on your life. I have spoken in front of your representatives for four years on the subject of finance, which I believe is the most important subject that the Senate could discuss, but your newspaper has not published a line of what I had said ". He left me, saying that he would see me again. Next morning, I sent to him a letter somewhat as follows: "Dear Mr. Penton: Referring to our conversation last night about the freedom of the press; I believe in the freedom of the press to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth on the political situation, the war situation and everything of national interest and concern. But what do I find? Politically, the press is strictly partisan. It will never report me. The press sticks only to the party which it represents in politics. Any one else will not get a hearing. That is the freedom of the press." I told him that when the Argus newspaper was formed into a company a few years ago, its overdraft was shown at £224,000. Consequently, one can easily understand the financial policy of the Argus. I asked whether this man's newspaper was in the same category. I told him that the overdraft is a potent weapon in the hands of the banks. It enables the banks ho tell the newspapers what they shall say. The press never has been, and never will be, free so long as the overdraft can be dangled over their head. As honorable senators know, I live in Hobart. For some years, I have been trying to get a few lines published in the Mercury, but without success. I give the following facts in order to show the prejudice and unreasonable attitude which the Mercury adopts towards me. Some weeks ago the Hobart Repertory Theatre, an amateur body, staged a play entitled " The Man Who Came to Dinner ". Later, when I went to Melbourne I met some friends who took me along to this play, which was being staged by a professional company. My friends enjoyed the production, but I have no hesitation in saying that the performance of the principal man in that play, an English comedian, was not to. be compared with, the acting of the principal man in the Hobart amateur production. He spoke too quickly, with the result, that the smart dialogue, which is the most enjoyable feature of the production, was hardly audible. When I returned to Hobart I told a member of the repertory society of this experience. He suggested that it would be very nice if I sent a few lines about the local production to the Mercury. This little body really represents the culture of Hobart. It now owns a little theatre, and is very active. Acting on my friend's suggestion, I wrote a report consisting of about a dozen lines, and submitted it to the Mercury ; but owing to the prejudice of that paper against me. the report was never published. This repertory society has been in existence for about twelve years, and in that period it has raised hundreds of pounds for charitable purposes, and, in recent times, for war purposes.

Right through the centuries people have fought for freedom of speech. Such names as Hampden and Pym come to the mind. In this fight many men lost their liberty, others' their estates, and others their heads. The newspapers exercise a strong influence in the moulding of public opinion. How often have we heard a person who makes a strange statement and is contradicted, say, in order to clench an argument, " it must be right. I saw it in the paper". Such people never seem to realize the motive behind press statements. In every country the press is strictly partisan and backs one political party, misrepresenting, or ignoring, other parties. There is no such thing as freedom of the press. The big armament firms own their own press and radio. By these means they can sway public opinion, and make and unmake governments. Of course, we know that the press should tell the truth and nothing but the truth; but it is hard to get the truth from a prejudiced press. I know of a case of a man in Melbourne who used to write for a diocesan paper. His church was advocating " social justice now ". After he had published several articles a note came from the banks to the particular paper that the articles must StOP. As the head of the church was absent at the time, this gentleman reluctantly stopped writing the articles. When the former returned he told the gentleman to continue with the articles. That church leader, whom I thought to be so fearless that he could not be bluffed by the banks, was Dr. Mannix. Later, he got a note from the banks, and as the result he informed the editor that he would have to stop the articles. So disgusted was the gentleman concerned that, he gave up his position. When I was in Brisbane some time ago the Catholic Church was observing what was known as Social Justice Sunday. I was shown a pamphlet dealing with the matter, and I was asked for my comments on it. I replied, " There ia no chance of social justice now, or at any time, so long as the present monetary system endures, because, that is the cause of all social injustice ". The churchman to whom I was speaking replied, " Since I came to this diocese I have expended £2,000 000, mostly by overdrafts from the banks ". Honorable senators will thus see that the banks can silence even the church. On another occasion, I visited a parish in which a church and a school valued at £30,000 had been built. The school was only half completed. I said to the Archbishop, "Your Grace, you are spending a lot of" money here. Where do you get if from?" His Grace replied that it wa.= a rich district. However, the school is only half completed, and the parish authorities know that if they dare to criticize the monetary system the banks will stop their overdraft. Again I say that even the church can be muzzled by the banks.

The press can lower the dignity of Parliament. It can point the finger of scorn at either branch of the legislature. By doing so it really helps to establish a dictatorship, because by such criticism it says, in effect, " Well, there is democracy for you ". Such criticism saps the foundation of democratic government. I was indeed glad to learn that the Senate bad dealt appropriately with the offending newspaper, and I hope that representatives of that journal will be excluded from the precincts of Parliament until the paper apologizes to the Senate.

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