The Relation of News to Global Peace


By DEAN CARL W. ACKERMAN of the Graduate School of Journalism of Columbia University

Delivered at Haverford College, Haverford, Pa., January 12, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 247-250.

YOUR invitation to visit Haverford College today permits a discussion of news in relation to world peace. However, there were friendly and sentimental reasons for my journey. As a graduate of Earlham College, I respect and admire the Society of Friends and for more than thirty years Haverford men have been personal friends. Nevertheless, it was not these ties alone which brought me here. I came because I have a concern. I wish to speak about a new approach to peace, to you as college students and, on your platform, to other college students, the majority of whom will soon be in the war.

By necessity this must be a personal experience, citizen to citizen, rather than a Dean speaking to students. Throughout the last world war, as a young man just out of college, I was a war correspondent in Europe and Asia. For three years I traveled and lived with the troops of many nations and with refugees, the suppressed and persecuted peoples of that era. If it were possible for me, as a graduate of a Quaker College, to hate anything, I would hate war. But when war becomes an instrument of international necessityand my own country is involved, I wish I were young enough to line up with you. Inasmuch as that is a physical impossibility, I am striving to keep alive, as an obligation to college day idealism and to two grandsons, the hope I had as a young man that universal peace is an attainable objective.

It may be stated as an axiom of war that more people, including soldiers and sailors, survive wars than perish or are incapacitated thereby. The great majority of college men will return to the United States at the end of this war. You and they will have something to say about global peace and what you say and do, personally and collectively, will have a profound influence on public opinion and the peace conferences. Therefore, as citizens we have a mutual interest in peace.

Because of personal experiences in war time and many years of travel and study in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America in peace time I have come here to discuss the relationship between freedom of international news and global peace.

Wherever you may go around and about the globe, wherever there is an inhabited locality, town, city or metropolis, you will find a universal interest in news. News is as essential in the life association of men and women as light, air, food and water are in the life of an individual. Where there are newspapers or radios this fact is so obvious as to be accepted as a routine factor of living. But even in the remote areas of India, China, Africa and the South Sea Islands where there are graduates of the School of Journalism with our armed forces, people seek news as avidly as their daily sustenance, because daily events affect their daily lives.

Ira Wolfert, one of our graduates who has returned from the Solomon Islands, describes how our soldiers make friends with the natives by telling them news about the war. Hollington Kong Tong, another graduate, is in charge of the dissemination of news throughout occupied and free China. Marshall Comerer writes from India, as Grant Parr broadcasts from Egypt, as Everett Bauman reveals in his letters from Argentina and as Ahmed Emin Yalman, from Turkey, told us recently on his visit to New York, news is the universal bond between peoples around the globe.

These and many other graduates of our School know, as every citizen should know that this universal bond of news is essential to community life wherever human beings are associated with each other. People everywhere share a mutual interest in news which is readily translatable into every language and dialect. News dispels rumors which lead to suspicion, confusion and strife. News provides a basis for understanding and peaceful intercourse. News is a universal form of communication.

This global perspective of news is more evident in wartime because when the free flow of news is interrupted by propaganda, people instinctively seek and search for information with the hope that they may learn the truth and the significance of what is happening.

Today all belligerent governments are using propaganda to fight their enemies in so-called psychological warfare. Wherever public information is used for that or for any other selfish or tendentious purpose, whenever it is written, timed and distributed to influence rather than to inform public opinion, it becomes propaganda. In time peoples generally recognize it as such, as if they knew that news is like water—it may be either pure or contaminated.

My concern is to know whether global peace is to be based upon propaganda or news. As a citizen, I want to know whether our government first, and the United Nations as our allies, plan to participate in the peace negotiations on a propaganda or on a news basis. If the present censorships, controls, restrictions and propaganda, as war time measures, continue throughout the next peace conferences the treaties will be made by propaganda. If that happens, global peace will have to be maintained by propaganda. In that case there will be no national or international freedom of news, psychological warfare will continue and lead inevitably to another war.

The question before us is whether the pledge of freedom of speech in the Atlantic Charter is to be enforced at the peace conference and whether it is to become one of the terms of the peace treaties. If it is to be enforced at the conferences there must be freedom of inquiry and reporting by journalists of all nations. If freedom of speech is to be a practical factor in international affairs, freedom of international communications must be provided for and pledged in the peace treaties.

Freedom of speech is of use to mankind only if the facilities and instrumentalities of communication may be used by all those who participate in debates on public questions.

Because of the instantaneous nature of international communications by telegraph, wireless and radio, news is not only the conveyor of information it is also the chief medium of global education in daily events, ideologies and policies which determine international relationships. Therefore freedom of speech as provided in the Atlantic Charter must be expressed in the peace treaties as freedom of international communications, otherwise freedom of speech will be restricted to a few nations and will not be universal. Freedom of speech without freedom of the press and freedom of the radio, the chief agencies of communication, would make the people of one nation as inarticulate in their intercourse with neighboring peoples as the deaf, the dumb and the blind.

In his book, "Barriers Down", Mr. Kent Cooper, general manager of The Associated Press and a member of the Advisory Board of the Graduate School of Journalism, reveals for the first time the history of his efforts at Versailles in 1919 and since then to bring about freedom of international news exchange.

Mr. Cooper discloses in factual detail how the chief foreign news agencies, Reuters, Havas and Wolff divided the news areas of the globe into spheres of service and influence before the last war. Then, he describes how the British and French news agencies, subsidized by their governments, prevented the establishment of freedom of international communications at the Versailles Peace conferences.

Over a period of years The Associated Press carried on a continuous battle with these foreign subsidized agencies, chiefly in Latin America. Although business competitors, The A.P. and the United Press Associations, loyal alike to the ideals and high standards of American journalism, finally succeeded in establishing freedom of international news exchange among the newspapers and radio stations of the American republics. This contribution by North American press associations, in cooperation with the newspapers of Latin America, preceded the Good Neighbor policy and prepared the way for it. The free flow of news in the Western Hemisphere has been a powerful factor in the development of public confidence in the Good Neighbor relationships. Freedom of international news communication is the foundation upon which the basic institutions of society, the state, the church, the school and the family have built inter-American peace.

For two decades Mr. Cooper and The A.P. carried on one of the most useful peace crusades in modern times. Knowing that world affairs are realistic and recognizing that we cannot arrive at global peace passively, Mr. Cooper presents in "Barriers Down" a constructive and practical plan for the education of the peoples of the world in global peace.

"Any country that comes out of this war with power to impose the terms of peace," Mr. Cooper declares, "should insist upon not only a free press but freedom of international news exchange. I come to this conclusion," he added, "because having had no freedom of the press on the European continent and no means of international exchange of unbiased news, this war that now is had to be."

Mr. Cooper then presents a Five Point plan for international education under global peace:

"First, guarantee freedom of the press throughout the world as we know it.

"Second, guarantee that at least one news agency in each country be owned and controlled mutually by the newspapers it serves.

"Third, guarantee that each agency may make such international news exchange arrangements as it chooses.

"Fourth guarantee equality to all in the matter of availability of all official news and transmission facilities, and

"Fifth, prohibit the international covert inclusion in any news service of biased international propaganda.

"If these constituted the basis of international news exchange and if they were implemented by the conviction of all free men that they shall always endure, a happier day for the world would ensue. International intercourse would rise to heights of perfection with the barriers down as to news exchange."

In 1933 without knowing the facts as related in Mr. Cooper's recent book, I urged the newspapers of the United States to advocate and support a plan for the establishment of freedom of international news as a new approach to peace.

At the Twelfth Annual Convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, held in Washington in April, 1934, the Committee on Press and Public Relations included an address I delivered in Columbus, Ohio, in its report with a favorable recommendation, which was followed by the endorsement of the editors.

The arguments advanced six years before Germany invaded Poland and precipitated this global war may be applied today with greater urgency.

"The map of the world today is black with prohibitions upon freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, of petitions, or of religion," this report said.

"Liberty in Latin or Anglo-Saxon form is limited everywhere excepting the United States, England, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and New Zealand. In these countries the press is either 'the voice of the people' or, as in England, it is open to the opinion of the people."

Continuing, this pre-war statement reads: "This perspective of world journalism is presented because there is a direct relationship between the freedom of the press and peace between nations. The time has come for the American press to recommend and support a new American policy in foreign affairs.

"That there is a relationship between freedom and peace is obvious. The chief nations threatening world peace today are Germany, Japan, France, Italy and Russia. In each of these countries the press is controlled by government officials or militarists who have the power to declare war or force a declaration of war.

"The chief nations which want peace today," the report added, "are the British Commonwealth, the five small but free nations of Europe and the United States, In these countries the press is free from governmental control or censorships. These are facts.

"The most important force in international affairs today is the foreign service of the American press associations and newspapers under the leadership and direction of men who are interested in and concerned with the free flow of information rather than with any form of propaganda by, for, and of governments, or political systems or peace societies."

"American newspaper correspondents abroad know from experience and as a result of daily contact with realities in every world capital that war follows the control of news as inevitably as darkness follows light."

That proposition was first expounded ten years ago, but it had not the slightest effect upon international affairs. Neither will Mr. Cooper's book influence the course of global peace after this war unless the people of the United States are aroused to the realization that propaganda in wartime can lead to the freezing of international communications at the peace conference and in the peace treaties. A repetition of the old order of European peace conferences will not give you or my grandchildren global peace, but instead another global war.

The concern of American editors in 1934, Mr. Cooper'sconcern which prompted his book and the concern which caused me to speak on this subject today is the desire and hope that the people of our country, especially the men who must do the fighting in this war, will support this new approach to global peace. Only by an aggressive campaign of education in support of Mr. Cooper's Five Point program can we arrive at the Peace Conferences with the power to force favorable action.

Throughout the life-span of the Graduate School of Journalism, the globe we now seek to make peaceful has suffered successive wars and revolutions since 1912. Throughout that thirty-year period the globe has experienced the creeping paralysis of a Black Plague of governmental propaganda, censorship and control of news until today the plague has spread to and infects the people of every nation on earth. The only difference between the people in one area and another is the degree of their fever. Under these conditions we must wage a global war but this is not a healthy condition for the establishment of global peace. Therefore, after the armistice, newspapers and radio broadcasting companies must be immediately freed from censorship and controls in order that public debate and reflection may build public confidence in the terms and conditions of global peace. Without freedom of communications the peace terms will be propaganda terms, created by fear, pressed for acceptance in haste and drafted in the language of emergency rather than the Truth.

A French essayist of the Sixteenth Century coined that phrase: "choosing the language of emergency rather than the Truth." The "Discours Sur La Servitude Volontaire" by Etienne de la Boetie was published recently by the Columbia University Press. The author describes how custom becomes the first reason for voluntary servitude and how this leads to autocratic control.

"Men are like handsome race horses who first bite the bit and later like it, and rearing under the saddle awhile soon learn to enjoy displaying their harness and prance proudly beneath their trappings. Similarly men will grow accustomed to the idea that they have always been in subjection, that their fathers lived in the same way; they will think they are obliged to suffer this evil, and will persuade themselves by example and imitation of others, finally investing those who order them around with proprietary rights, based on the idea that it has always been that way."

For this reason there are journalists who are vigilant today because voluntary censorships and the voluntary acceptance of propaganda as war measures may become the custom and lead to voluntary international news servitude at the end of this war. For this reason they advocate freedom of international news communication at the armistice so that news may be substituted for the language of emergency.

Public opinion is the greatest force in every individual nation and in all nations collectively. When the people in all countries are free to be informed and free to act, public opinion, for the first time since the inventions of printing and radio, telegraph and airplane, will have a real chance to be practiced in international relationships. Human beings respond to honor, justice, honesty and integrity in their relationships only when they are public, not when they are secret. Until the millennium we cannot expect men in authority in any country to live up to the high standards of international idealism behind the locked doors of diplomatic chancellories.

If, as a result of this global war, public opinion is free to be informed and free to act; if, by the international force of the free exchange of news, people discover a new approach to understanding each other, global peace might endure more than a single generation. By freeing international news from governmental controls at the peace conferences, public opinion will immediately become the most powerful international force on the globe.

The only effective means as yet designed by the ingenuity of man to control the congenital weakness of human beings, including military men and statesmen in their exercise of authority, is public opinion. Men in industry, in business, in finance, in labor organizations, in colleges and universities, but above all in government, fear public opinion even if they do not respect the instrumentalities and agencies of communication. Expose by the printed word or by radio, or the fear of expose is a disciplinary force certainly equal to the law.

In the formative years of big business in the United States, it was the public expose of their ruthless and unsocial policies and practices which destroyed the era of autocratic control of state and federal governments by the men whose philosophy was symbolized by the famous expression, "The public be damned."

At times in recent years, when there have been grave national crises due to strikes or the reign of terror during

prohibition, the autocratic authority of strike leaders and of gangsters was broken only by an enlightened and militant public opinion.

Freedom of international news at the next peace conference and as an article in the peace treaties will fortify public opinion in every participating country and thereby enable peoples nationally and internationally to protect themselves from those who will seek to make war in the future. It will hold in check the propaganda pressure groups, which again, as in the past, will sow suspicion and utilize hate motifs to gain selfish economic or political objectives which also cause international rivalries and conflicts.

Complete freedom of international news has never existed in the whole history of the world. Surely, it merits recognition at the conclusion of this war, for it may be the first real beginning of global peace. The grave situation confronting you and our country today demands that we approach the peace conferences realistically and require a pledge from our government, that our delegates will fight for and not surrender freedom of international communications. That is the keystone of liberty and of peace.